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Soreness: Friend or Foe?

When we lift weights, we want to know if our workouts are effective. One measurement we look to is soreness. But is soreness as indication of an effective workout? Does it mean we haven’t properly recovered? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Soreness as a Helpful Tool

Soreness can be a measure of an effective workout, because it can indicate if someone used the appropriate muscles. Let’s take an example of someone bench pressing and doing push-ups. If his chest and triceps are sore the next day, he knows he used those muscles in the exercises like he should have. If his lower back is sore, he did something incorrectly and used his lower back in the movements.

Soreness Should Decrease Over Time

But what if his chest or triceps weren’t sore after the workout? Was his training ineffective? Not necessarily. If he’d done enough bench presses and push-ups during his life, he may not be very sore. Soreness will be much more prevalent when you first start training. This is expected and is a completely normal part of the process. As time goes on and you train more and more, you will get less sore overtime.

Lifters might not get very sore for several reasons, and one main cause is adaptation. The more often you train, the more adapted your body will be to the workload, and you will experience less soreness.

Proper strength training will initially make you very sore, but overtime you will feel better and see better results

Proper strength training will initially make you very sore, but overtime you will feel better and see better results

If someone isn’t accustomed to working out, or isn’t used to the volume of a training session, there will be soreness. This doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t recovered. If you are mildly sore, you can still give 100% effort and be at your top strength.

But experiencing an extreme and almost crippling soreness can be negative. It can decrease intensity and effort in the gym. It can also lead to injury if you rely on other muscles instead of the sore ones that are intended for the workout. This is why the less soreness you experiences over time, the better. Contrary to popular belief, adapting to a workout is a good thing. Less soreness allows you to push harder and train more, and this will lead to better gains.

Keeping Soreness at Bay

Since adaptation is a main cause for decreased soreness, the solution is to increase your workout frequency. Instead of training a muscle group or movement only once a week, increase the frequency to two or three times a week. Keep the volume low on each day, and you can increase it over time. Ever hear people constantly boast about training their legs so intensely they can barely walk for the next week? This shouldn’t be a common occurrence for seasoned gym goers. Hard training will make you sore and it can be a nice reminder of the effort you put in, but it shouldn’t leave you feeling crippled if you’ve been training consistently for a period of time. 

If you're constantly feeling crippled from your training session, something needs to be changed.

Strength training will make you feel very sore when you are new to it. As you increase your “training age”, soreness shouldn’t be as much of an issue.

If you push hard enough in the gym, you are going to feel the effects of training. Soreness is part of the package, but the key is to prevent it from becoming overpowering. Training shouldn’t inhibit your movement. It should improve it.

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