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’.
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).
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.
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.