What Muscle Soreness Actually Means…

unrecognizable female athlete stretching muscles of arms and back

Muscle soreness is often called DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – and it’s common to occur 1-2 days after a training session. It typically happens most after a new workout, a new movement, a different phase of training or when a different training principle is applied.

The newer you are to weight-lifting, the more likely you are to be sore. For intermediate and advanced lifters, the likeliness of getting sore lessens because your body kinda already knows what to expect. But sometimes muscle soreness also happens when you either didn’t sleep right or get the right nutrition in OR you are coming back from just a 1 week break. Maybe you’re a more advanced lifter and you complete a modest workout that you didn’t think was too intense but you end up sore-er then you thought you’d be – Why does this happen? It actually has more to do with recovery, then the actual exercise.

With that being said, muscle soreness isn’t always indicative of a good work out

Muscle soreness is, in simple terms, muscle damage.  Now before you freak out. Let me explain. We know that in order to build muscle you must actually first break it down or damage it in a sense and then it repairs itself in the hours and days following that specific workout. If you don’t break down the muscle fibers, you won’t actually be building muscle later. So if you want to build muscle, you do want someeeeee damage. 

The key here is some

We don’t want too much damage because it will take longer to recover and will prohibit us from training effectively in the upcoming days. We’ve alllllll been there. 2 days after leg day and you’re looking at the stairs going WHY or you’re about to sit down on the toilet and you’re wondering if you’ll ever be able to make it back up.

This extreme level of soreness could actually be a sign of over-working the muscle. It usually means you trained a little too hard or didn’t have the right recovery or a combination of both.

And when your level of soreness is that high, it might feel uncomfortable to workout or you might not be able to train with as much intensity in your upcoming workouts and that’s not gonna help you make them gainz because another aspect of building muscle is frequency and if you are hammering 1 body part only once a week even if you’re consistent all year you’re only hitting that body part 52 times… but if you hit twice a week that 104 times.. Obviously 104 times is going to help you build more muscle faster. But also keep in mind that you do need that recovery time for your muscle to actually repair and build itself so you don’t go thinking that more is better then I’m gonna hit it 7 days a week. Doesn’t work like that. But as I was saying if you hammer that body part and you’re too sore to hit it again for another week, you’re gonna build at a much slower rate than if you were to train that muscle with the same intensity twice a week. 

If you do find that ARE sore though, one of the best things you can do is M-O-V-E. Moving gets that blood flowing and breaks up the lactic acid and helps you recover. The intensity of your movement has to be appropriate, of course, you’re not going to be making and personal bests when you’re sore AF so take it down a notch. For example, if your legs are sore… do some low-impact walking or biking just to get the blood flowing in there. You could also train another muscle group and that will also get blood flowing all over your body and will still help to alleviate some of that stiffness. If you’re still sore and still recovering when it’s time to train legs again, you can still totally work out, you just have to Listen to your body and do what you can in that moment. Finding that right amount within each workout takes practice and a solid understanding of your body. 

A lot of new lifters think that you need to chase DOMS every single time that you workout but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Even I used to be that person that chases muscle soreness but I’ve come to realize that I actually make the best and the most progress – and my clients make the best & most progress – when we actually don’t feel very sore at all. I wanna feel like… “oh I could just tell that I workout out.” Like I’m just a little tender when I flex that muscle, or I just barely felt the soreness when I stood up from that chair just then. But I’m not limping or waddling or crying out in pain when someone touches me.

That little bit of soreness tells me that I trained just enough. Just enough to break down the muscle but not too much to ruin the rest of my week. 

Ultimately, How sore you are is not indicative of how effective your workout was. If you are REALLy sore, then you probably over did it. Instead, you want to aim for that right in between, goli-locks situation. I’m sure I’m gonna get a hell yea out of this statement so here goes… I’m a firm believer in doing as little as possible to elicit the most amount of change. All my lazy girls out there, you know. But this is exactly what you’re doing when you try to be a little sore and not a lotta sore. IF you’re a little sore, that’s perfect.

If you’re a 1-1 client of mine, you know that I ask you to rate your muscle soreness on a scale of 1-5 every week with 1 being no soreness and 5 being extreme soreness. I’m not looking for you to be at a 5. Ever.  Infact, if I see a 5, you bet your ass I’m going to be re-vising your training program because that tells me it’s way too much. After your first week or so, I want you to be between a 1 and 3 cause that tells me it’s just enough. If you’re at a 1 after the first week of your new workout program… then that tells me either the program isn’t challenging enough or that you didn’t lift as heavy as I expected. Basically I use this scale as a gage and so can you!

So what does muscle soreness actually mean? It’s a message from our body that we need to decode. Hardcore muscle soreness is not a requirement for muscle gains and it is not indicative of a good or bad workout – It’s simply a thing that occurs from time to time. 

If you have any further questions about this topic, feel free to reach out to me on instagram @funsized.nutrition and as always, i’ll catch ya in the next episode!

Share the Post: