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

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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RAZZOOZLE 5/31/2021
thank you Report
PATRICIAAK 5/19/2021
:) Report
MUGABI123 5/18/2021
Good info! Report
I'm sore just getting up in the morning. Arthritis will do that to a person. Report
:) Report
MILPAM3 3/6/2021
Good to know.
MASON_EMKAY 1/12/2021
Good info, thank you Report
NASFKAB 12/29/2020
Great Report
1CRAZYDOG 11/12/2020
Thank you! Report
JANIEWWJD 8/30/2020
Awesome article!!! Report
MAREE1953 8/14/2020
I see I've already read this at least twice. I still like it though. Good reminders! Report
CECELW 8/7/2020
Use wisdom when working out. No pain, no gain is definitely not a good idea Report
Thanks. Report
Pain. Sometimes you work through it, sometimes you stop. Report
thank you Report
Good article. Report
Good information in the comments too Report
Interesting...thanks! Report
Since I have been fasting 18 hrs most days (since October 2018), I no longer have muscle soreness after daily crossfit classes, although muscle mass percentage has increased and performance has increased. I expect I have improved levels of human growth hormone. Pretty neat discovery! Report
Thank yoi Report
A great benchmark, thank-you Report
Good information and advice. Thanks. Report
great article Report
Good advice, Coach Nicole! Thank you! Report
Great info! Thanks, Coach Nicole! Report
Good to know! I was wondering the same thing. Glad I'm not sore anymore! Report
Thanks for the info! Report
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:
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. Report
This was the info I was looking for. Thanks a lot! Report
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... Report
Thanks for the great information. I sometimes need the reminder that taking a day off from exercise is really ok. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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? Report
this is informative. I just started back and I'm a little sore. Report
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? Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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? Report
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!

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. Report
i never used to keep going until a certain part of my body wears out. now i do and i finally gained muscle weight! Report
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.... Report
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! Report
Great article. Report
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. Report