Is Muscle Soreness a Good Indicator of a Workout’s Effectiveness?

Until I put a poll out on Facebook earlier this week, I was convinced that 112% of the world’s population believed that soreness was one of the best indicators of a workout’s effectiveness. Turns out that, at least in my little virtual corner of the world, it’s probably pretty split.

Here’s the truth: When you perform a physical activity that you aren’t accustomed to performing, you will probably experience some soreness from it. This is because your muscles and connective tissues haven’t had to adapt to this sort of activity before. The level of soreness you experience at this point is dependent on several factors to include genetics, diet, previous experience, your anatomy, and how many times you’ve watched The Last Jedi. The bottom line is, it’s normal at this point. And if you don’t experience a lot of soreness here, it likely just means that you are well-suited to this form of exercise, not that it isn’t a good workout.

The problem typically shows up when a person stops experiencing this initial soreness. For whatever reason, we start to assume that if a workout doesn’t maim us for a few days, then it ISN’T WORKING ANYMORE!. Think about this for a minute, isn’t improving your ability to do physical things one of the reasons that you are on a workout plan to begin with? You want the soreness to subside. This is a good thing. Who do you see limping and waddling from muscle soreness the most often? People who look like they’re in great shape and have been at this for a while, or people who are just starting out? We humans adapt.

In addition, one study (that I’ll link to in the comments) has even shown that a lot of the soreness experienced after a training session probably comes from the connective tissues between the muscle fibers, not the muscles themselves. And as a final note, muscle soreness is not always an indicator of muscle damage, and muscle damage is not even the be-all-end-all of muscle growth like we used to think it was.

Put it all together, and you’ll come to realize that muscle soreness usually just means you haven’t adapted to this sort of exercise yet, not that what you’re doing isn’t effective. If you’re making strides in your training method of choice; if you’re moving up in weight on the bar or reps you can do without stopping, or your run, bike, or swim time is decreasing, rest easy. This is working. It’s effective. And the fact that the soreness is diminishing means that your body is getting better at it.

Follow me on Facebook here! And as usual, I’m happy to answer questions or speak with you if you’re looking for a coach!


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