Muscle soreness: how much is too much?

Ever had a really tough workout (or perhaps just a “normal” workout after a long break) and had a serious case of muscle soreness? Do you thrive for that crazy, hurts-to-sit-on-anything “pain”? You may not be doing your body a favor. Gasp! Say it ain’t so. Aren’t extremely sore muscles an indicator of a good workout?

Not so fast

There is a “cause and effect” with exercise. If we do something, we like to see results. Mix cause and effect with instant gratification, and you have the expectancy of muscle soreness. Soreness, to some people, is the next best thing we have to gauge how effective our workout was — after all, no one grows big and strong after one lifting session. Ladies, you won’t get “big”. Just sayin’.

Should muscles be sore after every workout? | Hello to Fit @hellotofit

But should we aim to feel sore after every workout to see effects? No. Now, before I move on, let’s clarify — the type of soreness that I’m referring to today is EXTREME soreness. The type that makes it very difficult to perform daily activities. Minor, “oh, I worked that” soreness can generally occur more frequently without long-term negative effects.

Channel your inner Goldilocks

Although there is a lack of research, there is no scientific evidence that proves excess soreness leads to better results. According to the American Council on Exercise, however, there is abundant research on the positive effects of progressive challenges.

For normal, regular health and fitness, it’s about finding just the right amount of overload. Remember that the overload principle states that a greater than normal load on the body is required for adaptation to take place. Too great a load over a long period of time, though, can have detrimental effects.

ACE also outlines a concept termed “exercise dosage”. Basically, intensity and frequency of exercise can be compared to doses of medicine. If a doctor prescribes a particular type of medicine, how many times a day you’re supposed to take it, as well as the dosage of the medication, you follow directions. Taking extra doses does not necessarily yield more benefits. And we all know what happens when you overdose on drugs. Exercising to the point of extreme muscular soreness can be roughly compared to overdosing on medicine (although hopefully result in no deaths).

Negative possibilities

Now, I’m not saying you can NEVER be extremely sore. It may naturally occur when you are coming back to exercise after a break, or even if you change up your exercise routine. You can “enjoy” those moments! But try not to let them happen too often. Why?

  • It’s all about those activities of daily living (ADL’s): we exercise in order to make our lives better — to walk up and down the stairs better, or lift boxes without straining our backs. Are we really improving our ADL’s if we’re constantly sore, or when we avoid walking up and down the stairs because it feels like someone’s pinching our quads?
  • Overtraining/overuse injuries: unfortunately, these injuries creep up behind us until it’s too late. By the time we notice that we might have done a little too much, some (or a lot) of damage has been done.
  • Ouch, the tightness: think back to the last time you were sore. Were your muscles tight? Or ask yourself the million-dollar question: did you stretch? If tight muscles are coupled with a lack of stretching, range of motion is temporarily limited. Frequently tight muscles have the potential to change our movement patterns all-together.Should muscles be sore after every workout? | Hello to Fit @hellotofit

Moral of the story

It can be darn challenging to figure out the Goldilocks-level of intensity that we should work at. And, it’s pretty much impossible to prevent occasional extreme muscular soreness. What we do need to be careful of, however, is working our hardest to achieve soreness every single time we exercise. Try channeling that effort into making a more progressive program, because long-term soreness is not the best indicator of better results.

If we take the time to make progressive changes, listen to our bodies, and tweak the program to best fit our needs, we’re more likely to: increase our fitness without injury, improve our ADL’s, and, in general, be more awesome.

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Linking up with Angelena Marie: Happy, Healthy & Balanced, Creating Better Tomorrow , B,old Fit Mom, and The Fit Foodie Mama for Wild Workout Wednesday.

By Jess

Jess is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and yoga teacher. She enjoys sharing her passion and enthusiasm for health and fitness with friends, family, clients, and readers.

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42 comments

  • Susie @ SuzLyfe

    September 9, 2015 at 6:58 am

    I always say that one of the most important rating and self assessment techniques for us all to learn is the difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort is one thing–it means that you are pushing your limits. Pain is VERY much another!
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Easier Health with Zarbees Natural Vitamin Drink Mix (Giveaway)My Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:20 pm

      PREACH!!!

  • Pamela Hernandez

    September 9, 2015 at 7:48 am

    I actually look forward to a little soreness. It does let me know I challenged myself or worked in a new way.
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted…Ladies Who Lift Big Workout PlaylistMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:20 pm

      Yes – it’s good to feel a little sore! It’s when it’s WAY too much that we can be more careful.

  • Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    September 9, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Great post! I always wondered about this!
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt recently posted…Apple Cinnamon Baked OatmealMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:19 pm

      My pleasure! DOMS rides a fine line between “good” and “too much” 🙂

  • Ayesha (PlumPetals)

    September 9, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Great post! It has taken me some time to find the balance between satisfyingly sore and unbearable! For me, stretching and hydrating are key.
    Ayesha (PlumPetals) recently posted…The Whole Life Challenge — What is it?!My Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      YES to hydrating and fueling the body for recovery. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Ellyn @ In Fitness and In Health

    September 9, 2015 at 10:11 am

    I love love LOVE this post! I was just talking to a good friend the other day about this very topic. While I love DOMS most of the time, there are definitely signs of overdoing it. I remember my very first personal training session a few years back – we did the whole posterior chain + quads and oh my god, I kid you not, I literally couldn’t walk upright the next day. I had to wear heels for a week because my calves were so tight and sore from the workout, I couldn’t put my feet flat on the floor to walk properly. Needless to say I needed to (and still need to) get better about stretching post-workout. Great post! Thanks for sharing, Jess! 🙂
    Ellyn @ In Fitness and In Health recently posted…Warm Coconut-Peach Breakfast Freekeh (+ A GIVEAWAY!)My Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      Wow, that is a crazy post-workout-soreness story! Stretching and rolling after a workout is hard to remember but it will be good in the long run 😉

  • Pragati // Simple Medicine

    September 9, 2015 at 10:48 am

    This is a fantastic post! I agree with Suz (above) that we should know the difference between pain and discomfort. I’ve found that a little magnesium or epsom soak plus movement usually eases discomfort. It’s my way of breaking up the lactic acid 🙂
    Pragati // Simple Medicine recently posted…Spicy Sofritas TofuMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:15 pm

      Thanks, Pragati! I haven’t tried soaking in epsom salt, yet. Sounds relaxing 🙂

  • Brittany

    September 9, 2015 at 11:24 am

    I’m usually only REALLLYYY sore when I work muscles that haven’t been worked OR if I decide to run half marathons under trained. Which I’ve done. It hurts. Haha.
    Brittany recently posted…100 Mile SeptemberMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      Haha that sounds PAINFUL!

  • Sam @ PancakeWarriors

    September 9, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Oh man I really don’t love being sore for the reasons you mentioned. I really love pushing a little past my limits but being extremely sore is never my goal. Ugh who wants that! Thanks for helping people understand why that’s not ideal
    Sam @ PancakeWarriors recently posted…Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix BarsMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Sam! It’s hard to get out of that mindset that we have to be sore every single time, but I’m with ya. Not good to feel THAT sore.

  • Jen @ Pretty Little Grub

    September 9, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    These are some great tips. Sometimes I feel like I’m hobbling around sore all the time and I’ve wondered how much is normal. This is very helpful.
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…Becoming a Morning Exerciser and Giveaway WinnerMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      Hehe some hobbling is nice, sometimes! Just not 24/7, maybe 🙂

  • Daisy @ Fit Wanderlust Runner

    September 9, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Great post Jess! I love the feeling of being sore after a good workout /run, but I’ve unfortunately learned when too much soreness is bad. I was over training and was really hurting my body. Definitely had to reevaluate my goals to find a balance.
    Daisy @ Fit Wanderlust Runner recently posted…Places to Run in San Diego: Pacific BeachMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks, Daisy! Finding the balance can be hard, but it’s worth it!

  • Erin @ Erin’s Inside Job

    September 9, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    I used to kill myself in the gym just so I would get that extreme soreness. I loved it. Then I realized that it prohibited me from actually doing anything for a day or two so I’ve calmed it down. I do still love me some soreness though 🙂
    Erin @ Erin’s Inside Job recently posted…Rosemary Sage Freekeh Protein Salad + A Giveaway!My Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      Haha yes! Being sore feels good, but not if it’s debilitating for a day or two! I’m learning to be okay with workouts that don’t leave me all tight and sore.

  • Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner

    September 9, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Good informative post! I sometimes feel like I don’t have a good workout if I am not sore. Crazy huh?
    Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner recently posted…Orange Theory-What’s All The Buzz About?My Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Haha I feel like that, too! But have to remember that being sore is not a good indicator of an effective workout 🙂

  • Les @ The Balanced Berry

    September 10, 2015 at 12:44 am

    YESSSSS. I love your approach in focusing on ADL’s and making progressive change. Great post!
    Les @ The Balanced Berry recently posted…Autumn Arm Toning WorkoutMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      Thanks, Les!! Hope you’re having a great weekend 🙂

  • jilll conyers

    September 10, 2015 at 4:42 am

    My body tells me the difference between pain and sore. And I actually listen! That’s a lesson that was learned early in my health and fitness journey. Great info Jess!

    Is it weird that I like that soreness 🙂
    jilll conyers recently posted…10 Best WordPress PluginsMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      You’re amazing, Jill! Differentiating between pain and discomfort is key. I like being sore too 😉

  • CARLA

    September 10, 2015 at 5:02 am

    ahhhh and the stretching gets me every time.
    I need to slooooow down and MAKE TIME.
    CARLA recently posted…4 ways texting enhances my relationships.My Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      If only we had personal stretch assistants to follow us around during our day-to-day activities….

  • Annmarie

    September 10, 2015 at 8:17 am

    The last time I was super sore was after my 18 mile race but usually it’s just some regular DOMS that I can handle without a problem and working out usually helps with it! 🙂 Thanks so much for linking up!
    Annmarie recently posted…RYKA Influence 2 Review + Giveaway!My Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 8:07 pm

      YES. Maintaining movement is key for helping with DOMS.

  • Carly @ FitLiving blog

    September 11, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Great post! I wrote a similar post about how soreness is not an indicator of the effectiveness of your workout. I love the way you tied in ADL’s… such a great reminder!
    Carly @ FitLiving blog recently posted…Myth: Women who lift weights are at risk for gaining too much bulkMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      I enjoyed your post, as well! Hope you’re enjoying your weekend, Carly 🙂 xoxo

  • Simona

    September 12, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Thanks for this post! I need to definitely show it to my boyfriend. It seems that for some people, if they do not feel terribly sore the next day they feel actually disappointed. As mentioned in the first comment by Sussie, discomfort and pain are two different things and you should not be feeling pain after each of your workout and moreover even looking forward to the pain.
    Simona recently posted…My top 10 tricks to get 10 000 steps every dayMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      Yes – I think it’s human nature to expect some sort of tangible result after a workout. I completely agree – we need to practice differentiating between pain and discomfort. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Lauren | Just a Pinch

    September 13, 2015 at 10:13 am

    I enjoyed this post, thank you! I’ve only had a few workouts recently when I could barely sit down and I was miserable (and clearly out of shape.) Now I don’t feel so guilty about not feeling that all the time 🙂
    Lauren | Just a Pinch recently posted…Why I decided to become a Registered DietitianMy Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      Glad you did 🙂 YES – you should never feel guilty for not being sore every time 🙂 XOXO

  • Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes

    September 13, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    I don’t mind a little soreness after a workout, but I’ve had a few workouts where I literally couldn’t walk down the stairs for a WEEK!! It wasn’t pain, like an injury, but DOMS for sure.
    Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes recently posted…Are you #BOSUSTRONG ? I think you are…..join the challenge with me!My Profile

    1. hellotofit

      September 13, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      OH MY that is a long time to be sore!!! You must’ve worked IT 🙂

  • Jessica

    September 22, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    1. hellotofit

      September 28, 2015 at 11:21 am

      Thanks!

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