Is Muscle Soreness Essential In Achieving Fitness?
One of the biggest misconceptions in the fitness industry is that soreness indicates the effectiveness of a workout. Being sore does not indicate a good workout. Soreness is a result of unfamiliarity; it results from moving your muscles in a new or different way. A good way to judge the effectiveness of a workout is by asking yourself if you were able to lift more weight than the last time. Examples include completing all of your reps, if you couldn’t last time, or finishing a timed circuit faster.
The soreness most people talk about is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is generally felt a day or two after the workout. DOMS is a result of the microtears in the muscle fibers caused by training. These microtears are how muscle gets stronger. As the muscle fibers repair themselves, they grow back bigger and stronger to handle the stress placed upon them while training.
These microtears happen during the eccentric contraction of a movement, the part of the movement when the muscle is lengthening. For example, on a pulldown, the eccentric contraction is on the way “up.” Your back lengthens (stretches) to allow for the full range of motion. Contrary, during a bench press, the eccentric contraction happens while you lower the bar to your chest. The chest muscles lengthen allowing full range of motion. Typically, when your body wants to move fast during a movement it happens during an eccentric contraction. It’s during this stretch of the muscles that the microtears occur. The slower the eccentric contraction, the more time under tension occurs in the muscle, which allows for more of the microtears to occur.
If you bench press for a few weeks, your muscles are used to the stretch of the eccentric phase. If there is not enough “new stress” placed on the muscle, DOMS will not occur and you will not be sore. One way to add “new stress” is to increase the weight lifted. However, sometimes not enough weight is added to make a substantial difference that results in muscle soreness. Do not get discouraged. Small jumps over time lead to big results. If you’re able to lift 5lb more than last week, you may not wake up sore the next day. If you lift 5lb more the following week, again you may not wake up sore, but that’s a 10lb jump in two weeks. Soreness does not equal progress!
I tell people that, generally speaking, the soreness you feel after the first time through a workout is the most sore you will feel from that particular workout. You may still be sore the second or third time after the same workout, but the soreness will decrease after each time through. Your muscles start to adapt and are no longer unfamiliar with the movements. This is why it’s important to change up workout programs every few weeks in order to keep making progress!