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Weight lifting--are you supposed to be REALLY sore in order for your body to respond?

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Quick question about weight lifting....I joined a gym about 10 weeks ago and did some weight lifting towards the beginning.  Each time afterwards I was SUPER sore for days.  I'm going to start weight lifting again, more consistantly, this coming week.  How should I expect my body to feel to know whether it's working or not?  Am I supposed to be sore all the time or does the soreness go away after your body gets used to it?  I've done research and I'm aware that I should allow 2 days of rest before I work the same muscle groups (I'll probably just work each muscle group once a week). 



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Soreness is common - but if you are in PAIN then its not good.  You need to make sure your form is correct.  

I did something wrong with a bench press or maybe another workout but hurt my left elbow weeks ago and its still painful to use it much.  this is not good.  

On the other hand when I have that soreness that the muscles feel worked over good can barely walk but its a good soreness that gets less each day this is the right soreness for a good workout.  The soreness will get better but when its not there at all its time to up the weights.

The first thing I would do is decide is it pain or soreness from lack of use.  You can lift every other day and sometimes lifting helps ease the soreness.  

If you are too sore to lift after 48hours you are probably doing something wrong and need someone with experience to watch your form and fix the errors.

DOMS are normal especially when you're a bit out of shape, new to weight training etc.  Mine are worst at around post-18 hours.  It's normal and if you actually stick with it rather than have huge breaks your DOMS won't be so bad in future.

I can't speak for anyone else but for me if I haven't lifted in a while then I'll be sore ofter the first session or two.  After that I'm not sore as long as I'm doing the same lifts even when upping my weights.

I think I was sore for about two weeks when I started lifting, and a change in routine might make me sore for one workout.

After that first soreness my post-workout feelings were of a very mild soreness/weakness that I actually enjoy, because it's just the feeling of having worked hard with no actual pain involved.

I did a strength and conditioning class at my school last year, and yeah, it's good to be sore. It means you worked hard. And since we lifted 4 days a week (The other day was a rest day where we just did a warmup and played games) there was always some muscle that was sore. Then my body would get used to the weight, and the couch would make us up them and I'd be sore again. If I wasn't at least a little sore I knew I wasn't lifting enough.

Soreness is neither necessary, nor a "good" thing. 

Now, having said that, I have to add the qualifiers: 

Muscles soreness is a sign that you have put a new or unique load on the muscles. It is especially associated with eccentric contractions. 

And let's define what we mean by "sore". There is the mild discomfort that one might feel after trying a new exercise or a new weight level, change in routine, etc, that goes away in a day or two and, other that noticing it is there, does not impede your exercise or daily life activities in any significant way. 

Then there is the severe soreness that often occurs when starting a new routine, exercise class, sport activity, etc. This is the soreness that peaks after 48-72 hours, can take 5-6 days to recover from, is very uncomfortable and can significantly impact your ability to exercise or perform daily activities. 

The mild soreness can be positive, since it may be a sign that you are working some muscles that were previously neglected or moving up to a new level of quality. 

The severe soreness is NOT necessary, it is not particularly positive and it is more of a sign of poor training than anything else. 

For a beginner, there is absolutely no need to experience anything more than mild soreness after your initial workouts. If you are coming back from an injury or a long layoff, it does not take that much of a load to stimulate a training response. A 15RM load, one set,  is more than sufficient. You can actually do that type of workout 2 or 3 days in a row if you would like, making small increases in weight each time. By taking baby steps you will increase quickly and steadily, with minimal discomfort. For a beginner, lifting too heavy and getting sore doesn't get you into shape any faster--it just hurts more. 

Experienced lifters who feel they need to be "sore" to have a good workout are misguided. If you need that feeling as a psychological tool/crutch to keep you motivated and feel like putting up with the discomfort, I guess that's OK for you--it's just not a sign of a positive physical response. By following good planned progression and periodization principles, it is possible to lift heavy and make steady progress with no more "soreness" than the normal fatigue one might feel after a good workout. 

I understand that athletes can be put into positions where they have to perform certain workouts or drills without adequate preparation, and that some exercisers--especially those doing crossfit, tabata-style workouts, HIT, etc--are going to experience the more extreme soreness at times just because part of their workouts involve trying new challenging activities and movements that can be quite strenuous. In that case, soreness is just something you endure as part of the "price" to pay for having so much fun! 

Lastly, the way you know your body is working "hard" enough is to choose the right intensity, set up the weights so that you achieve a maximum voluntary contraction (with good form) at the end of the prescribed RM level, and progressively increase the weights as necessary, and increase the intensity as you become stronger and can handle the heavier loads. Soreness has nothing to do with it.

So to summerize:

Soreness is a poor indicator of progress.
Pain is good indicator you did something wrong.

7 Replies