I rarely feel sore the day after exercise. Does that mean my workouts aren't doing any good?
- The pain you sometimes feel in your muscles in the days following a tough workout is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.
- However, it's an "ancient fitness myth" that you need to get DOMS for your workout to have been beneficial, according to personal trainer and author Laura Hoggins.
- DOMS is more common in beginners, so you should be prepared to feel it less often.
- Instead of chasing soreness, focus on how good your workouts make you feel, advised strength and conditioning coach Emma Kirk-Odunubi.
- Read more Working It Out here.
I'm concerned because I'm rarely sore after my workouts. I mainly jog and do some weight training, and when I first got into working out I could really feel it in a good painful way, sometimes for days after a session. I kind of loved it as I knew I was working my muscles and making progress.
But I've been into fitness, consistently keeping active, for a couple of years now and very rarely get muscle pain after workouts now. Is this a problem? Does it mean I'm not working hard enough or challenging my body enough? Please help!
— Pain-free and Perplexed
I don't blame you for feeling concerned.
It's become something of a brag on social media to talk about how much pain you're in the day after a workout, so it's understandable you might think feeling fine after training means you didn't work hard enough.
But that isn't the case.
That soreness that sometimes develops in your muscles after you work out is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, known as DOMS.
"You may feel this anything from 24 to 48 hours after a workout," Laura Hoggins, author of "Lift Yourself" and trainer at London's Foundry Fitness gym, told Insider.
"DOMS occurs when you work the muscle harder than it is used to, possibly by lifting a relatively heavier weight, possibly with more volume than usual, possibly moving in a new range of motion you hadn't accessed before, possibly with load, and the feeling is literally a micro-tear in your muscle."
Beginners will likely feel DOMS more often
I didn't really experience DOMS until I first got into weight training three years ago — I will never forget feeling it in my glutes for a record four days after one workout.
"If you are a 'beginner' in fitness, resistance training, or high-intensity exercise, then DOMS is more likely," said Hoggins.
But at the same time, it's when you're a beginner that you can make the quickest progress, often increasing your weights or distances remarkably quickly.
"As you build your foundations, you become more advanced, and so experienced performance gains are harder to come by," said Hoggins.
It's for this reason that, as you become more advanced, you'll likely only feel sore after an abnormally tough workout, explained Emma Kirk-Odunubi, who is a strength and conditioning coach, sports scientist, CrossFit athlete, and runner.
"Potentially your muscles have adapted to the workload you put them through — that's not necessarily a bad thing though!" she told Insider.
You don't need to feel sore after a workout for it to have been worthwhile
According to Hoggins, it's an "ancient fitness myth" that if a workout is decent, it'll leave you with the badge of honor that is DOMS the next day.
"Sure, depending on your goals, developing any kind of measured improvement in your strength or cardiovascular fitness needs you to challenge yourself, but it doesn't need you to hip thrust until you can't sit down for the 'gains,'" she said.
Soreness aside, what you need to be employing in your training program is the principle of progressive overload, as this is what will lead to improvements in strength and fitness.
Progressive overload simply means gradually challenging yourself more as you get stronger and increasing the intensity of the training stimulus — for example, increasing the weight or reps you're performing.
But a key factor in making progress and improving your performance is recovery.
"If we don't allow for that recovery, or we don't progressively overload, we may be hanging out with our good friend DOMS for a lot longer than needed," said Hoggins.
Focus on other aspects of your training
"How sore you are shouldn't be a measure of how 'good' a workout was," said Kirk-Odunubi.
"That measure should be on how it made you feel, whether you felt stronger, happier, or fitter, and it will help you to continue to see progress.
"If you don't notice you're getting any stronger, then maybe lifting slightly heavier, doing a different exercise or changing up your reps and sets of work could be of interest to you."
Maybe you only dropped to your knees once rather than twice in a minute-long plank hold, maybe you increased your range of motion in your squat, maybe you shaved a few seconds off your 5K run time. All these things should be celebrated, whether or not you feel sore the following day.
Some people really like pushing themselves to their limits every time they work out. Often this leads to DOMS and they have to have a day or two of rest afterward. If that works for them, fine.
People ask me how I’m not redder/sweatier after working out, and the truth is... I just don’t work that hard. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I don’t like annihilating myself. And you don’t need to. ♀️ Move a little bit, most days, consistently. It will get you stronger, fitter and most importantly keep you from feeling like you’re being punished. Unless you like working your body to extremes, in which case be my guest. I understand that there’s a certain thrill that comes from really pushing yourself. And I do that from time to time. But you can do that in various ways, like by doing something technically challenging with control. This pic was post barbell leg sesh at the weekend and ooooh child it sure did leave me red and sweaty (I think mainly because it was hot). But not all my workouts do. And that’s A-OK. My point is that you don’t have to kill yourself on the daily and be so sore you can’t walk the next day for it to have been a good workout and to make progress. Doing what feels good is what matters most.
Personally, I prefer to take the little and often approach. I don't like annihilating myself in my workouts; I prefer to move my body in ways that feel good, doing activities I enjoy, and pushing myself more on days when I'm feeling it.
It means keeping active is truly a part of my lifestyle, not a chore, and my results keep coming — despite rarely feeling too sore to move afterward. The most important thing is to do what works for you.
Wishing you well,
As a senior lifestyle reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you're struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world's most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she's always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.
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