Fitness: Better to be sore rather than sorry?

cassie signore focus on healthby CASSIE SIGNORE

What does it mean if you’re not sore after a workout? Many people associate muscle soreness with a good workout and feel if they’re not sore the next day then it must have been a waste of time. People also may only get sore from certain workouts versus others and it leads them to think certain exercises are less effective than others. Post muscle soreness shouldn’t be your indicator of a good workout and here are some reasons why:
When we exercise our muscles are continuously contracting and extending, also known as shortening and lengthening, and this is necessary to help us move, lift, perform etc. When a muscle is lengthened more than it’s used to, it can experience small tears called micro tears. This feeling is the dull achy pain or even stiffness in your muscles 12 to 72 hours post-workout and it’s not a bad thing. Your body is getting used to your new fitness routine. For example, if you’re only used to running on a treadmill and then you decide to go for a run outdoors, you will most likely be sore the next day. Running on the treadmill is a lot different than running outside. Outdoors you have the constant change of your terrain, even if you’re running on the road, including hills, dips, and shorter inclines. Treadmill is very flat and also not typically recommended for people with bad knees, elliptical “running” would be better for your joints because it’s a more fluid movement.
Another example would be the dreaded “leg day.” Typically when many gym goers change up their leg workout they experience that next day soreness, often seen with the “can’t sit down or walk down the stairs” feeling the day after. When you are new to an exercise program or just changing up your routine, post muscle soreness might occur quite often mainly because your muscles are being used in a different way then what they are used to and they’re learning to adapt. An example would be if you’re used to working out on the leg press (fixed machine) in the gym and you then try squats in free weight area, it will feel a lot different the next day. Even though you’re working out the same muscle groups, you’re making them perform in a way they aren’t used to.
So what does it mean if you’re sore after your workout? After your body had adapted to your current fitness routine and then starts to get used to your new fitness routine, you may find the frequency, how often you’re experiencing soreness, and the severity of muscle soreness decrease. Your body begins to get used to the new style of training meaning fewer micro tears leading to faster recovery times. A good way to also help combat next day soreness would be to warm up before your workout and stretch after your workout. Foam rolling is also recommended because it will help relieve muscle tension. The fact that your body is changing and adapting is a good thing in the fitness realm. Of course that means knowing your limits and knowing what your body can handle.
Overall, many people fall into the trap of thinking if they don’t feel sore the next day than their exercise routine isn’t working out for them. That’s not always the case. Your body is getting fitter and stronger and, again, begins to gain a shorter recovery time. If we all kept feeling sore each and every time we trained who would want to work out? Probably no one.
While post muscle soreness might make you feel like you’ve had a good workout remember it’s not about being sore the next day that counts. It’s the amount of effort you put into each workout each day.
Cassie Signore is a NASM certified personal trainer, a yoga instructor, nutritional coach, and works at LA Fitness.