Ever finished a workout feeling great only to wake up the next day unable to get out of bed or walk without difficulty? That soreness is caused by your training.
Some love that feeling because to them, it means that they’ve had an effective workout and others may hate it because, well, it hurts. But is soreness really a good indicator of a great workout and is it necessary to feel sore to feel like your training was worthwhile?
Not getting sore after training is not a bad thing. Soreness shouldn’t be used as a measure of how effective your workout is. Instead, you should focus on other factors such as whether you can lift heavier weights, push through your workout more comfortably or add extra sets or reps to your session.
In this article, we also tell you why you get sore after a workout, what to do if you are feeling the effects, as well as some ways on how to prevent it in the first place.
Why Do I Get Sore After A Workout?
So first, let’s talk about why we even feel sore sometimes after we’ve trained.
Being sore after a workout is something people experience if they haven’t worked the muscles they’ve just trained in a while. This is the case if they’re beginners, or if they’re starting a new program or exercise.
Basically, the soreness is the side effect of your muscles trying to adapt to the new stimuli that you’re presenting it with. This causes them to work harder than they’re used to, causing small, microscopic tears that can occur in the muscle fibers, hence the soreness.
This is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, more commonly known as DOMS. It tends to appear 24 to 48 hours after you’ve worked out. That’s why sometimes the second day of soreness can actually be greater than the first.
DOMS isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it isn’t a good thing either. It’s just something that happens to everyone if you’re trying something that you’re not accustomed to. Once your body adapts, then you’ll be less likely to experience it.
However, many people believe that being sore is an indicator that you’ve had a good workout.
This is not true.
It just means your body isn’t used to whatever training or workout you completed and once it learns to adapt, you’ll feel less sore, though this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s becoming less effective. So don’t stress if you wake up one day and you’re not feeling the effects.
Related Article: Low Impact Strength Training: 15 Exercises For Beginners
How To Tell If Your Strength Training Is Effective
Now you know that soreness shouldn’t be used as a reliable measure of how effective your workout is, so here are some other factors to consider when determining whether your program is a good one or not.
ARE YOU LIFTING HEAVIER WEIGHTS?
One of the most obvious ways of knowing whether you’re strength training is going well is if you are able to lift heavier weights than what you were previously lifting. Whether it’s hitting new PRs (personal record), adding an extra 10 kgs to the barbell or picking up the 12.5kg dumbbell instead of the 10kg, being able to use a higher weight means that you are getting stronger.
This typically comes down to progressive overload and loading the bar or dumbbell with more weight than before to keep giving your body something to adapt to.
ARE YOU LIFTING THE SAME WEIGHT BUT WITH MORE EASE?
You don’t always have to just be lifting heavier weights to know that you’re improving. Another identifiable variable that tells you your training is working is if you’re lifting the same weight as before but with more ease and good form. If a certain weight was a struggle before but it now comes more effortlessly to you, then you sure are doing something right.
ARE YOU ABLE TO COMPLETE MORE REPS OR SETS?
Adding more volume to your working sets, whether it’s additional reps or sets, shows that your work capacity and muscular endurance has increased. It means that you’re able to push for longer and for harder than you could before.
CAN YOU PUSH THROUGH YOUR WORKOUT MORE COMFORTABLY?
Some workouts can be really challenging to being with but if you find that you’re able to complete the same workout easier than usual, then you’re improving and beginning to adapt. This is another sign that your strength training program is working well.
DO YOU TAKE SHORTER REST PERIODS?
Reducing your rest time in between sets and being able to complete the same working set afterwards is a sign that you’re doing something right. It means that you’re giving your body less of a break but still being able to push through your workout, so you’re responding positively to your program.
DO YOU HAVE MORE ENERGY?
Exercising long-term has many benefits and an increased energy level is one of them! By becoming healthier, stronger and fitter, you’ll definitely feel the effects even outside of the gym. Not to mention, you’ll probably find that you’re feeling happier and have a spring in your step that might not have been there before!
What Should I Do If I’m Feeling Sore After A Workout?
If you do experience DOMS though, there are some things that you can do to minimize the effects so you can get back to feeling brand new as soon as possible.
For a deep dive into recovery, check out our article on Powerlifting Recovery: 9 Ways To Recover From Hard Training.
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release that can loosen muscles and relieve soreness. Grab a foam roller and use it to massage your aching areas, going over the trigger points in particular. This will release the tension and ease your muscles.
Staying hydrated is important all of the time, but it really helps when you’re experiencing DOMS. When your muscle breaks down, as it does during exercise, your body releases waste products and toxins that can contribute to your soreness. While your liver and kidney are the primary organs that help to flush them out, staying hydrated can help speed the process.
MOVE YOUR BODY
When you’re feeling the effects of DOMS, chances are you want to curl up and stay still.
However, this can have the opposite effect of what you want. Instead, incorporating some light movement into your day can help loosen the muscles and increase blood flow around the body. This increased blood flow means more nutrients and oxygen is being transported to your muscles which accelerates the recovery process.
The focus is on light movement so don’t do anything too strenuous like an intense heavy lifting or high volume session. Keep things easy like a leisurely walk or gentle jog. If your DOMS isn’t too bad, then even a very light strength session or even just bodyweight exercises can get that blood flow moving without adding more strain to your body.
If you need some ideas, the FitBod app can tailor-make workouts based on your individual skill level and preferences.
Stretching can do wonders for your body. Incorporating some light stretching can make you feel better by relieving the feeling of muscle tightness. However, you need to be careful not to overstretch which can definitely cause more harm than good.
Don’t stretch to the point where you feel pain. That is the bad kind of pain that you don’t want to feel.
Instead, stretch until you feel some tension in your muscle but not too much that it hurts. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds and then repeat.
Also, as you stretch, you’ll find that you will be able to gradually increase your range of motion so don’t expect to immediately be at your most flexible when you first start. Each time you repeat the stretch, safely challenge yourself to stretch a little further than before.
Need a good pre-lift stretch? Try the Russian Baby Maker.
EAT SOME PROTEIN
You should be consuming adequate amounts of protein in your day-to-day diet already but if you’re feeling sore, then it’s a great reminder to double-check your protein intake to make sure that you are.
Protein is responsible for the repair and recovery of your muscle tissue in the body and are the building blocks of muscle so it’s pivotal that you’re eating enough. Some examples of protein include your usual meats like chicken, turkey or beef. You can also incorporate egg into your diet or tofu, tempeh and legumes if you need a plant-based source.
Check out our article on how to structure your calories and macros for bulking.
Can I Still Workout If I’m Feeling Sore?
So let’s just say that you roll out of bed feeling pretty sore but you’ve already committed to another training session that very day. When should you reschedule your workout and when should you push through the soreness?
You can still work out if you’re feeling sore but as long as you’re working out different muscles to the ones experiencing DOMS.
For example, if you just had leg day the day before and your legs are aching, then don’t train legs again. In fact, it’s recommended that you don’t train the same muscle group for at least 1 to 2 days to maximize recovery time. Instead, try and do an upper-body day. This way, you’re still getting in a workout while still allowing for rest in the areas that need it the most.
If you are feeling very sore and you don’t think that a workout will help, then don’t work out. It’s about being honest with yourself on how much your body can take. Taking a day off because you’re sore is not going to derail your process. In fact, it’ll actually help it.
How To Prevent DOMS
While some people like experiencing slight soreness after a workout preventing severe DOMS is a great idea if you don’t want it to get in the way of your training. In fact, no one will benefit from severe DOMS so it’s important not to let it get to that level. Here are some ways on how to do so:
FOAM ROLL BEFORE A WORKOUT
This means doing some stretching and foam rolling before you workout. Giving yourself a massage via a foam roller can increase blood flow in those areas. It’ll loosen thos
e muscles so you’re less tight, giving you the mobility to move into different positions with ease.
Focus on any area you like but pay extra attention to the muscles that feel sore or tight in particular and spend a little bit more time there.
MAKE SURE YOU WARM UP
Warming up is such a vital part of any training session. It prepares your body for the exercises ahead so you can train safely and effectively.
Start by increasing your heart rate slightly like jogging on the spot or on the treadmill for a few minutes or even doing some star jumps. Then you can head into dynamic warm up exercises that are specific to your training.
For example, if it’s leg day, then prepare your lower body with some leg swings or lateral leg swings, bodyweight squats or lunges and glute bridges. If it’s upper body day, then focus on dynamic stretches for that area.
Executing a proper warm up specific to your training that day means that your muscles will be prepared and ready to go.
ALLOW TIME TO RECOVER
Sometimes less is more, so cutting down the number of days you work out to allow for a minimum of 1 to 2 rest days will help prevent DOMS or from making it worse. Give yourself time to recover and you might just find that when you do have your training days, you can hit them even better than before.
It is a common misconception that feeling sore is a sign that you’ve had an effective workout. However, it is merely an indicator that you’re trying something new your body isn’t used to. A good workout doesn’t necessarily mean you have to feel sore the next day. Instead, focus on other variables that tell you whether your strength training is going well like heavier weights, increased rep or shorter rest times. And if you do feel sore, then follow our guidelines to help you recover faster so you can get right back into it.
About The Author
As a health and fitness writer, Emily combines her two passions—powerlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under her belt, she spends her mornings lifting weights, her nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.