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Soreness Isn't A Sign Of A Good Workout

At some point in our fitness journeys, we've learned to associate soreness with a productive workout.

I was recently doing weekly check-ins with my coaching clients. A comment came up in a message from a woman I coach. One that I hear often.

She said, "I didn't necessarily feel super worked from today's workout, will see if I'm sore tomorrow!"

I come across variations of this comment from both new and veteran clients; thy think soreness is a measure of a good workout. This comes from a "no pain-no gain" mindset that is deeply rooted in us.

At some point in our fitness journeys, we've learned to associate soreness with a productive workout. We think if we didn't get sore, we didn't workout hard enough, and we didn't move any closer to our goal.

It's time we change that mindset, because being sore doesn't mean you had a good workout. Chasing soreness is a waste of both time and energy, especially when your goal is to transform your body.

My friend and colleague Dean Somerset said it best:

The soreness you feel the day after is called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS.) This is experienced when you do a new exercise or workout, or a workout that you're getting back to after some time off.

Think of it like when you go skiing or get on the tennis court for the first time in a year. Or the first day back in the gym after a few weeks.

You can also experience DOMS if you emphasize the eccentric phase of an exercise, or work a muscle in the stretched position, like lowering the weight very slowly when you do bicep curls or holding a lunge in an isometric position.

But after a couple of workouts, you don't get DOMS as you did the first time. You might not feel it at all. That doesn't mean that your workout was less effective. You've just become familiar with the exercises and your body is recovering well.

That's a good thing. Because when you're not sore you have don't need to dial your workouts back or take time off from working out.

Lots of people workout to make changes to their bodies, such as losing fat, gaining muscle or improving the shape and tone of certain areas. If that's your goal, focus your efforts and energy on aspects of nutrition and fitness that are well established in science and practice to make a difference.

These include:

  • Calorie targets and macro-nutrient ratios
  • Meal timing and supplementation
  • Sufficient sleep and recovery
  • The number of workouts per week
  • And the number of sets, reps, and amount of load (weight)

DOMS isn't a measure of an effective workout, so stop trying to make yourself sore every time you workout. There are other criteria for what constitutes a good workout for you to consider.

A workout is good when you...

  • You improve on any measure. You can set a goal to complete your workout in less time by taking shorter breaks, do more repetitions and sets, or use heavier weights.
  • You improve your exercise form. Quality over quantity!
  • You leave the gym feeling energized with an elevated mood.

More importantly, a good workout is one that leaves you feeling like you did something good for yourself and moved you closer to your goals.

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