top of page
  • Nate Johnson

4 Reasons You Get Sore

Whether the day after an intense training session, or after a long day of gardening, pretty much everybody has dealt with soreness. But especially for those in the gym, it can be a familiar experience.

But why does it happen? Is it a good thing or bad thing and how do we know?

Today we will be getting into all of the ins and outs of soreness, why it happens, how we can manage it, and how we can use it as an indicator in the grand scheme of training.

1. The Science

First, let’s get a little bit into the science. Contrary to popular belief, muscle soreness is not caused by lactic acid buildup. In actuality, it’s not really lactic acid in the first place.

After an intense training session, lactate can develop in the muscles, but usually dissipates an hour after the training session. For this reason, lactic acid (lactate) cannot account for what is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which occurs days after a training session.

When you train your muscles, micro tears develop in the muscle fibers that incur a small amount of damage. If your recovery and nutrition is on point, particularly your protein intake, your body then seeks to repair that damage. The end result is larger muscles!

But is soreness a good thing? Is there such thing as too much?

2. Novel Stimulus

Soreness often occurs when your muscles are exposed to novel stimulus. This is any activity that imposes a stress on the muscles that is new. This is especially the case for someone who trains for the first time. Totally foreign ranges of motion are being loaded, and for this reason, places a novel stimulus upon the relevant muscle groups. What can happen during the first week or two of training is unusually high levels of soreness. Most of this will dissipate as the training stress becomes more predictable and familiar.

But is soreness an indicator of effective training? Not necessarily. Effective training is demonstrated by a long-term increase in performance given a certain task. For example, let’s say that you just made it past your first two weeks of training. The initial phase of pretty significant soreness has passed. However, you notice that all of your lifts continue to go up! Has progress ceased to happen because you’re no longer sore? Not at all! Your body has effectively adapted to the stress you have placed upon it, and now the training dose is appropriate to your level of response.

That isn’t to say that soreness is a bad thing. It can actually be a useful indicator. If you feel super beat up and sore every time you come back for another session, then you probably need to dial it back a little bit. On the other hand, if you don’t feel fatigued at all, then you probably need to dial up the intensity.

3. Too Much Too Quickly

Excessive soreness can occur as a result of too much too quickly. In exercise programming, a progressive increase in training stress usually prevents this from happening. Feeling destroyed several days after a workout is an indicator that you’re overdoing it.

For example, let’s say that you squat for three sets of 10 reps leaving three reps in the tank per set on your first day of a new program. And for some reason, the following week, you squat for three sets of 10 reps, leaving no reps in the tank. That’s a huge jump in intensity! So much so that it doesn’t make sense from a programming standpoint. It's also unproductive as it can lead to excessive soreness and can increase injury risk.

Let’s say that in an alternate example, day one of your new program starts the same squatting three sets of 10 reps and leaving three reps in the tank. The following week, you squat three sets of 20 reps leaving three reps in the tank. Now your volume has doubled!

Such a drastic increase in volume can lead to excessive soreness and increased injury risk just like a drastic increase in intensity. When writing a program, we make sure not to ramp things up too quickly to bypass the risks associated with an approach that is too aggressive.

4. Eccentric Loading

Lastly, certain characteristics of weighted movements can elicit muscle soreness. One of the largest contributors is called eccentric loading. Eccentric loading is defined as muscle lengthening under load. For example, the RDL! When you begin the descent by pushing your hips back and keeping the weight close to your legs in a controlled fashion, the hamstrings are being eccentrically loaded. It turns out that a controlled loaded stretch is great for muscle growth, but it also greatly contributes to muscle soreness.

That isn’t to say that every exercise involving eccentric loading will always make you sore. As explained earlier, there is a lot of context around that. However, the types of movements that fit into the categories of novel stimulus and “too much too quickly” have an impact on soreness as well.

Pulling all this information together, we see this play out often during the client journey. When you first start training, the soreness you experience is primarily because of novel stimulus. The exercises are foreign due to the loaded ranges of motion that might be new to you. Many of them involve eccentric loading, and the workload might be a bit of a shock to the system.

However, after your body has a chance to adapt to the stress that you have placed upon it, most of the soreness goes away after a couple weeks.

You may experience it from time to time, as new exercises or workloads are introduced, but these changes are gradually introduced so soreness will not be nearly as intense.

So if you’re reading this after your first workout with us and you feel pretty sore, don’t sweat it! It’s part of the process. If you’ve been training with us for some time, then you’ve probably experienced a lot of this first hand. It isn’t exactly a mark of progress, just something to keep in mind as you progress.

Want more info about training with us? CLICK HERE and fill out the form. I'll contact you within 24 hours to schedule a zero pressure phone to discuss your goals and the details of the program!

47 views0 comments
bottom of page