On a daily basis, I see friends family and a lot of fitness related hashtag posts proudly sharing their D.O.M.S “Badge of Honour” after a tough workout. D.O.M.S meaning, the pain you feel in the days following exercise or delayed onset of muscular soreness to get technical. I’m even guilty myself of the odd ‘day after leg day’ meme on social media, letting everyone know I’ve had a “hard” session in the gym.
Sore = Hard?
Howver, what is really important – and something that I get asked a lot by clients, is whether soreness is a sign of a good workout.
It is neither a sign of a good workout, nor is it a sign of bad workout just because you didn’t feel sore the day after. Im not sure when, or why but somewhere along the lines, being sore after a workout has become an indicator of how hard you have worked. I’ve even heard clients comment on how good an instructor is in relation to how crippled they were in the following days. It couldn’t be further from the truth. If Janet makes you waddle like a penguin for the best part of a week after her class week in week out, seriously, you need to find a new class.
So what is the soreness?
It’s neither the sign of a good workout, nor the sign of a bad one if you don’t feel it.
We’ve all had it and experienced pain the day after we have exercised and it happens because you have made your body do something it isn’t used to doing. Think back to when you decided you were going to join a new class/gym or start a new training programme for either the first time, or the first time in a long time. I can guarantee you were all probably sore, not just the next day but also the following week? Think of it as a shock to the system, your body wasn’t used to exercising or to those types of exercises and so you felt the soreness longer than would normally be expected. This is where a lot of people give up and think that exercises is not for them. It’s too painful and its left them incapacitated for a week and they’re not putting themselves through it again.
However, like with all change, the more you do the exercises, you start to adapt and your muscles become accustomed to it and you start to feel less sore post workout. It isn’t because your workouts have become any easier, it’s just your body has adapted and is able to recover more effectively.
No Pain..No Gain?
When you are working out, you should be pushing your limits to challenge your body, but not to the point in which you are unable to walk for days, or function as you normally would. Muscle soreness is unavoidable when you are changing up your workout or starting out as a beginner and yes you should feel some discomfort, but pain? No, exercises should not be hurting and if it does, its usually a sign that something isn’t right. We hear the phrase “No Pain, No Gain” all the time but actually, its totally inaccurate.
In a paper by the National Strength & Conditioning Association, they found that “High levels of soreness, is a sign that you have exceeded the capacity for the muscle to repair itself.”
So if soreness isn’t a way of determining how effective the workout was, then what is?
You should be looking at whether you are making progress in relation to your goals. Are you getting stronger and able to increase the weights you are lifting from when you started out. I always try and increase any resistance on a weekly basis by a small % to challenge my muscles. I keep a record of the weight I lift each session. This means I can see that I have progressed in terms of strength, regardless of whether or not I am sore.
We recommend taking photographs when you first start out and then at 4-6 weekly intervals. This allows you to see the physical changes your body will go through as a result of exercise.
Surely a workout is better judged by its results rather than how sore it makes you?
Be a beginner
One of the big problems I find today, is that nobody wants to be a beginner anymore. Everyone wants to start of at the top of their game and totally miss out being a novice. We see this so many times, unfortunately when it’s gone wrong.
We have had many clients coming to us for rehab training having jumped straight into an intense exercise programme as a beginner and ended up injured. Usually, they have done little or no exercise prior to the programme they start on. They then throw themselves 110% into something , way above their bodies capacity like Insanity. They literally cannot walk for the following week after the first session. However, they repeat this cycle, thinking that the soreness is a sign they are working hard. They keep pushing their body to the extreme not realising the pain they are experiencing is their body crying out letting them know its being pushed too far. In the end, injury occurs and then little or no exercise can take place which defeats their starting goals.
Our advice would be to always progress slowly from light to moderate intensity before moving on to anything vigorous. The most important thing here it seems is to know your limits. And know that sore doesn’t equal effective.