Did you get in a good workout today?
How do you know whether it was good or not?
You see, there are a bunch of ways to judge its quality.
Just to name a few:
- Did you break a good sweat?
- Did you do more than usual?
- Did you get a good burn on?
- Did you decrease your time?
- Did you increase your distance?
Sure, some of these are more subjective measures than others. But that doesn’t mean one is a better or worse way of judging your physical activity.
Measuring success is relative, and will largely depend on your goals.
While numbers are an objective way of judging and mapping progress, they’re not the only way.
How you feel matters.
And, interestingly, a lot of folks — especially beginners — judge a workout by how they feel after the session has ended. Both immediately and for the next several days. And this is despite how they well or poorly they performed.
Specifically, they’re relying on muscle soreness to bang the gavel of workout effectiveness.
And while muscle soreness does tell you something about your workout, relying on its presence as a prime indicator of success can be a mistake.
Why Your Muscles Are Sore After A Workout
Muscle soreness occurs when you do something different.
And by different, I mean anything outside of your norm.
That could be ANYTHING.
- Performing an exercise you’re not used to.
- Performing an exercise you’re used to, but at a depth and speed you’re not — slower or faster for example.
- Performing for a duration you’re not used to — more continuous time, less rest, etc.
- Performing a volume you’re not used to — more weight, more reps, etc.
- Performing an exercise with more restrictions — improving or degrading your alignment, for example.
Change a single variable in a common equation and you just might be sore the next day.
Technically, it’s called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS for short). And it’s thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers.
The amount of tearing — and soreness — depends on how hard and how long you exercise. As well as what type of exercise you do.
Eccentric muscle actions, for example, seem to have a greater effect on muscle soreness.
A few examples of eccentric muscle action:
- squatting down, as opposed to standing up
- going down stairs
- lowering the weight in a bicep curl
In addition to small muscle tears, there can be associated swelling and inflammation in a muscle, which may also contribute to its overall soreness.
And yet, muscle soreness is often seen as a sign of doing things right.
Those jelly-legs you feel when attempting to go up or down stairs signal the onset of an adaptation process, which is helping you to grow stronger and improve endurance.
“If I can feel the soreness in the muscle, it means it’s working and I’m on the right path. If I can’t feel it, then I must be doing something wrong.”
I hear that a lot.
And while I understand it, it’s a bit misguided
The Darker Side Of Muscle Soreness
Yes, sore muscles can feel good. In more ways than one. It’s sensory validation of a hard-fought workout.
A pat on the back, if you will.
But do you want to be sore all of the time?
Muscle soreness has been shown to be associated with decreased strength, power, range of motion and neuromuscular function.
Ultimately, that constant soreness will have a negative effect on your performance.
And keep in mind, the increased inflammation that accompanies muscle soreness is a response to damaged muscle tissue. The more sore you are, the more damaged muscle tissue you’ve got.
If you’re not careful, and push yourself too far too fast, or for too long, you can cross the threshold of Rhabdomyolosis.
Those familiar with Crossfit debates, may be familiar with the term.
Rhabdomyolosis occurs when you’ve damaged the muscle tissue to such an extent that it breaks down and releases some of its protein into your blood stream. This can subsequently lead to kidney damage and even failure.
Not a good thing.
However, that’s the extreme end of things. And ground only walked by the irresponsible coach and uninformed trainee. Since you’re reading bodyweightcoach.com, you don’t fall into either of those categories.
So no worries.
The Problem With Using Muscle Soreness As A Guide
Muscle soreness tells you if you’ve done more than you can handle.
It tells you if you can handle a little bit more.
It tells you that you’ve recently done something new, different, or that your body wasn’t used to or even ready for.
But, it doesn’t really tell you how well or poorly you’ve performed. It may define quantity more than quality. So be careful there.
Right and wrong exercise can have the same results.
Wrong exercise may not be good for you in the long run — causing pain, discomfort and injury — but in the short term it can still help you drop weight, shed fat, and build muscle.
In that regard, Biggest Loser works. Crossfit works. Zumba works. The Drop-a-Jeans-Size Diet works. Everything works.
And if it’s different enough, you’ll be sore.
Muscle soreness is welcomed sensory feedback.
Just remember, it’s a signal that your muscles are damaged and your performance is compromised. It also means — especially for the beginner — that you’ll be better off helping the healing process through recovery methods, as opposed to continually upping your workout intensity and pushing the envelope.
Muscle soreness is one way of judging your workout. It means something. It just doesn’t mean everything.