You Asked: Does Lack of Soreness Mean You Aren't Exercising Hard Enough?

16SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
8/22/2008 4:00 PM   :  53 comments

SparkPeople member WESTENDGIRL75 recently asked this fitness question: "If I'm not sore the next day after a workout, does that mean I'm not working out hard enough? I used to get sore often, but now I [work] until I'm too tired to complete the exercises with good form, and I still don't get 'sore' then next day? Should I be pushing myself harder, or be happy that my body can handle it?"

Want to hear what I had to say?


When you're exercising regularly for the first time, or after a long hiatus (weeks, months or years) from the gym, it's very normal to be sore. Sometimes the tightness and pain you feel when starting a new fitness program can last for a couple of weeks! But the body is amazingly adaptable, and it when the movements you do are no longer new and different to your muscles, that initial soreness goes away, even as you continue your workouts.

Believing that post-workout soreness is proof that you worked as hard as you should is similar to thinking that the degree to which you sweat measures your workout intensity. Neither of these assumptions is necessarily correct.

Assuming that you're referring to strength training, it sounds like you're doing your repetitions correctly. You should be lifting as many reps as it takes until you can't do another one in good form. If you feel sore and exhausted during the workout or particular exercise, then you're doing what you should be. That might not necessarily translate into delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, which occurs 24-48 hours after your workout and is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle tissue.

The Bottom Line: If you're not sore after a workout, that does not mean you didn't work out hard enough. However, keep these things in mind when it comes to strength training:
  • Vary your program. If you've been doing the same exercises since day one, it's time for something new. Refresh the exercises you do every 4-8 weeks.
  • Increase your weight. Don't fear bulking up by lifting heavy weights. When you can do 15 reps in good form, it's probably time to increase your weight to continue seeing results.
  • Lift to fatigue. Do as many reps as it takes until you can't do another in good form. If you're not doing that, then you really aren't benefiting much from your efforts.
  • Look for signs of progress. One of the best indicators of whether you're working hard enough, doing enough reps, or lifting enough weight is that you're able to notice progress. Are you getting stronger? Lifting more weight than before? Then your workouts are probably fine. If you've hit a plateau or gotten weaker, then it's time to re-evaluate.
  • Watch out. Being sore all the time is NOT a good thing. It can mean that you're or not giving your body enough rest to recover and get stronger.


Need answers to your fitness questions? Post in the comments below and I just may answer your question in a future entry!


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Comments

  • PHIX95
    53
    Actually those microscopic tears and then the rest you give your muscles is how the muscle rebuilds and gets stronger. So if you don't have the DOMS, you are not building new muscle, you're maintaining. So in a way, you need to be sore in that 24 hr period after the workout every time, which is hard.
    Good article by Tom Venuto, who has written some books and is a pretty well-known body-builder:
    http://www.ironmagazine.com/article
    118.html
    - 11/3/2010   2:50:45 AM
  • 52
    Good article. I lift weights until I can't do it with a nice form. I also walk until I am tired or run the same way. When my legs want to give out I can tell that I have walked enough. I also walk for the enjoyment of walking and don't push myself so hard. - 10/27/2010   9:11:18 PM
  • 51
    This was the info I was looking for. Thanks a lot! - 10/4/2010   7:22:23 AM
  • 50
    so, i saw the mention of feeling weaker after/despite strength training. I thought I was just imagining it or something but I do feel weaker even with strength training, and it takes many months to see/feel progress... - 7/25/2010   9:10:18 PM
  • 49
    Thanks for the great information. I sometimes need the reminder that taking a day off from exercise is really ok. - 7/28/2009   10:16:25 AM
  • 48
    That's gread advice. I have often wondered the same thing. I thought, since sweat wasn't dripping off of me, I wasn't exercising as hard. I would be exhausted after the workout, but I wasn't sweating like everybody else. - 4/24/2009   9:04:19 AM
  • USFGIRL86
    47
    Wow what great advice. I've always wondered if what I'm doing is enough and now I know how to recognize it. If I'm too tired to lift another rep correctly then my workout is complete for that muscle group. I love questions like this, these are always in the back of your mind or you can never find the correct or reasonable answer. - 4/12/2009   11:53:04 PM
  • 46
    Good question and good article.

    I have another question.

    After strength/weight training a certain muscle group, how long should you let your muscles rest before working that muscle group again? - 4/8/2009   9:25:26 AM
  • 45
    this is informative. I just started back and I'm a little sore. - 3/18/2009   10:16:20 AM
  • 44
    I have always kept a binder with my workouts divided into areas. If I'm not pressed for time, I will pick a different one each time I work the same muscle group. So basically, I'm just cycling through let's say 6 different workouts for core, etc. Although some of the workouts employ variations of the same exercise, they're not in the same order. Does that matter? Is what I'm doing the right thing to do, or should I just stick with the same workout until I don't see any progress before switching it up? - 3/3/2009   11:42:02 PM
  • 43
    This is a great question-- something I have wondered about for many, many years. I am 52 and can count on one hand how many times I have been sore after a workout or activity! I just always chalked it up to the fact that I have a lot of flexibility-- not sure if that would have anything to do with it, but I just never get sore, no matter how hard I work. - 1/22/2009   12:15:50 PM
  • LAWAKUA
    42
    How bad you feel the next day is a very poor measure stick of how good a workout is. The measure stick should be are you seeing the results you are looking for.

    One item I will disagree with Nicole on is the need to go to failure. She states that not doing so results in not benefitting from your effort. Failure or fatigue is not what causes the muscle to adapt (change, improve). The overload is and that can be accomplished in many ways other than going to failure. In fact many so called expert trainers fail to realize that although muscles recover very quickly (24-48 hours) the nervous system does not after an intense workout and always trainig to failure can be very counter productive. As long as the overload is progressive it will create positive improvements without going to failure. - 12/30/2008   6:36:54 PM
  • 41
    Good question. I have often wondered the same thing. It is nice to know your body is getting healthy enough to adapt and need bigger challenges. - 12/27/2008   3:15:06 AM
  • CATMELISSA
    40
    thanks for the imfo i just started walking , no weight yet , i so have a question im trying to create time to walk any tip? - 12/26/2008   5:46:06 PM
  • LISALU910
    39
    I've wondered about this too. I have been doing upper body strength training for many months now and I've progressively added more weight and more moves. But I have NEVER been sore after a workout even though I do them to the point of fatigue. (When a move becomes too easy after 15 reps, I increase the weight). Similarly in my running program, I have consistently increased my speed and mileage and had little soreness. I always heard "no pain, no gain" so I wondered if I was working hard enough!

    - 12/2/2008   8:53:27 PM
  • SISTAHS
    38
    Thanks for this blog, I was beginning to think I wasn't pushing myself hard enough. Especially, after spinning classes when my T-shirt would be soaking wet but I had no soresness the following day. - 11/19/2008   3:20:43 PM
  • BOWIECHICK
    37
    i never used to keep going until a certain part of my body wears out. now i do and i finally gained muscle weight! - 10/31/2008   11:42:43 AM
  • 36
    Great article! I think this article goes with the active recover, if you are stretching the muscles and doing your cool downs you should not be sore the next day. but to me, I also think I need the somewhat soreness for myself, cause than I know I have broken down the muscle tissue to add muscle.....but not so sore you cannot walk!! and again muscle has memory , so if you keep doing the same exercise day in day out you will not have any progress..again muscle soreness.... - 10/29/2008   7:36:53 AM
  • 35
    I really needed this information. I had been wondering the same thing. I was trying so hard to work out until I was sore, and it just wasn't happening. Thank you. Now I know what to look for! - 10/11/2008   3:38:56 PM
  • 34
    Great article. - 8/28/2008   12:52:47 AM
  • BELLS153
    33
    THANKS 4 THE ADVICE - 8/26/2008   9:16:38 AM
  • 32
    I have a question. I can not think of how to put your ways to vary to my means of exercise, so am asking for your help. Yoga & walking are my main exercises. Neither makes me sore, but I know my balance still needs work at times in yoga. - 8/25/2008   5:28:28 PM
  • FIGSANDOLIVES
    31
    Great!! I was wondering the EXACT same thing recently..
    At my gym, they have weights in 5-pound increments. I feel like 5-pound weights are becoming a bit easy, but the 10s (depending on the exercise), are too much!! How can I progress if I feel stuck in the inability to increase ? - 8/24/2008   8:44:00 PM
  • XOIYACREATIONS7
    30
    i dont like motto no pain, no gain. if you're in pain than you pulled something. now i know we all get sore after workouts especially if we havent worked out in weeks. but that's not what i'm talking about. if you're in too much pain that you cant do everyday activities than you're doing too much if you're a little sore well that just means that the exercise is new. so no more of this no pain, no gain mentality. - 8/24/2008   3:08:57 PM
  • AMARLEYNC
    29
    no - 8/24/2008   11:05:34 AM
  • MICHAELA2780
    28
    It just dawned on me (as I was reading) that I haven't felt sore after a strength workout in weeks...BUT I do see progress - my arms are definitely more toned, and I can almost complete 2 full sets of 15 before losing good form. For me, this means it's time to change up what strength exercises I'm doing! Thanks for the article! - 8/24/2008   10:29:40 AM
  • 27
    I thought that lack of soreness meant that I needed to increase my time or activity. Thanks for the info.

    Tammy. - 8/24/2008   8:55:31 AM
  • 26
    I have a question that I've been trying to get a clear answer on. When using strength training at the gym to lose weight..... Is it better to do more reps at a weight that is somewhat heavy or is it better to do less sets/reps with a heavier weight. For example - Is it better to do 8 sets of 12 abdominal crunches at 40 pounds, or is it better to do 2 sets of 10 at say 60 pounds?? - 8/23/2008   11:55:06 PM
  • 25
    I recently increased my weights to get better results. - 8/23/2008   9:18:14 PM
  • HIRUDO
    24
    Hi

    I have a question: I have been trying to take a daily walk and find myself with terrible shin splints. I wear orthodic inserts in my shoes to deal with over pronation -- but these don't help. What else can I do? - 8/23/2008   12:31:14 PM
  • 23
    I live by the rub of a things olive oil I liken it to keep a car running good , remember the oil rub everything before all workout, and you want be as sore. I learn this as a High School runner in the late 70's for an older person who ran with a few great ones of the past. Having seen it work I stand by my rub today. - 8/23/2008   10:03:52 AM
  • HONEYBEE04
    22
    I asked my trainer about this because I haven't been sore in months, but I work out every day. She said that because I do so much cardio (45 to 90 minutes six days a week), the lactic acid that causes fatigue and soreness doesn't have time to build up in my muscles.

    Of course, the next time I trained with her, she completely changed up all our exercises and I was sore for two days. Moral of the story: Never make your trainer think she's not working you hard enough! - 8/23/2008   8:41:45 AM
  • 21
    Just the article that I needed. I remember back to high school when the first week back to a sport was always the most painful and it'd get easier and painfree after that... but I still wondered because I've been working out at Curves as a trial membership and I've only been very mildly sore once, the day after a workout and in only one muscle group. I figured I'd still be progressing even without the soreness, but now I'm sure I'm doing what I need to be stronger. Thank you! - 8/23/2008   8:18:49 AM
  • 20
    I rarely am sore from my workouts, when I am I ask my fitness instructors " WHAT THE HECK DID WE DO ?" LOL They know what they have changed a little bit to work on something differently. I have freinds here on spark who are always surprised because I am rarely sore and they are sore all of the time when they work out. So thank you for the explanation. I know my workouts are benificial because I am stronger and stronger! - 8/23/2008   6:24:42 AM
  • 19
    i kinda do have a question. a few weeks ago i started getting pain my ankle. now it has spread to my knee and hip. but only on my left side for all of it. i have seen my doc but she says there is nothing wrong according to xrays. what do you think could be causing this on one side and not the other? - 8/23/2008   12:53:18 AM
  • 18
    This is a great question and is one I have had and never thought of asking. Thank you. - 8/23/2008   12:25:14 AM
  • 17
    this was a great point- I often over do & pay for it later! - 8/23/2008   12:04:41 AM
  • 16
    This is useful information. I have started walking and felt the burn in my legs but as I continued my walk, I no longer felt the pain. Also, I wasn't as tired as when I first started walking to lose weight. - 8/22/2008   11:28:26 PM
  • 15
    That's good to know - I often thought my lack of soreness following (what I would consider a very intense workout) meant I wasn't doing something right. All I need to do is add some variety.

    But does the same go for cardio? Because I'm no longer sore after a good cardio workout - although I'll be winded & sweaty - I thought it was because I stretch before & after. But now I'm wondering. - 8/22/2008   11:17:11 PM
  • NEWZAPATOS
    14
    Very informative, thank you for the advice about varing the program.
    Smile1 - 8/22/2008   11:08:02 PM
  • RTMMPM
    13
    Thank you for this. It explains how I should go about the number of repetions that I should be doing. - 8/22/2008   10:09:54 PM
  • 12
    I used to do a program called Body for Life and when I completed the exercise portion, I was very sore. So, I too thought that I wasn't doing enough. As far as measuring progress, remember to keep up with your measurements and not just the scale. - 8/22/2008   8:38:16 PM
  • 11
    Nichole,
    I am often awakened with leg cramps. I drink water, eat a banana every day, stretch carefully. Last night the cramp was in my shin and then my thigh but usually it is the usual, calf or foot. Any ideas what I am doing wrong or what I can do to stop this? It interferes with my sleep, not to mention how much it hurts.
    Con - 8/22/2008   8:13:02 PM
  • RANITAS
    10
    very helpful and answer some of my questions - 8/22/2008   7:33:38 PM
  • RAPUNZEL53
    9
    This was very helpful to me. - 8/22/2008   7:08:50 PM
  • 8
    This is a very informative. I needed to read this article to help me with my workouts. Thanks a lot. - 8/22/2008   6:59:28 PM
  • 7
    I felt the same when attending bootcamp and not burning as many calories as my friend.
    I wasn't sore afterwards, and was told by the instructor it was due to my fitness level being higher!!
    Which came as a pleasant shock. - 8/22/2008   6:13:38 PM
  • 6
    I am with everyone else here...I thought that maybe I wasn't working hard enough because I wasn't sore any longer as well. I have been changing up my exercises every 2 weeks and can at times feel the muscle where I made the switch to but, I am not as sore as when I first started. Also, I have read that if you are stretching (as you should) after your workout you won't feel the soreness either. - 8/22/2008   5:26:27 PM
  • 5
    If you repeat the same program you shoud not feel sore after a while. But if you use different techinques (i.e. from doing chest press to doing chest flys) to train the same muscle group as the first time (i.e. tweaking) it's not uncommon to feel it the day after. Higher resistance or different angle of pull often cause a little discomfort the next day, but I wouldn't call it "soreness". So you should feel something each time you tweak your program. But if you have been working out with the same program and you're still sore, you need to reassess your workout routine. Just my humble opinions. - 8/22/2008   5:07:54 PM
  • 4
    Thanks, I thought I needed to do more because it stopped hurting to exercise.
    It's good to know I'm ok, with what I'm already doing. - 8/22/2008   4:51:32 PM

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