Guten morgen and welcome back to Jump Lift Sprint.
Today I want to address a question that has been grinding my gears for a while – ‘does muscle soreness mean you had a good workout’?
Even though my job is primarily to help people get in shape, I consider myself more than just a personal trainer – I’m a coach and educator too. Rather than merely teaching exercises, I also try to teach the underlying principles of training.
Working in a very busy commercial gym, media myths and ‘broscience’ are still all too prevalent.
Some people still believe that you have to eat boiled plain chicken breast 8 times a day to look good.
Some people still think that doing 2 kg tricep kickbacks will give them ‘toned’ arms.
Some people still do crunches to get rid of a gut. The list goes on and on.
I want to to help dispel some of these myths and guide new trainees in the right direction. One of the most common of these myths has to do with muscle soreness after training.
Muscle soreness can occur after resistance training sessions, usually appearing 24 – 48 hours later. It can sometimes last up to a few days in extreme cases. This muscle soreness is known by the term ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’, or ‘DOMS’ if you’re cool :)
DOMS is extremely common after someone trains for the first time (or after a long lay-off).
90% of the clients I train for the first time experience this phenomenon. Every muscle fibre in their body aches for 2 or 3 days following the session. (However, after a week, they no longer experience this to the same extent at all. We’ll get to why later.)
So what is the commonly held belief surrounding DOMS? It’s that many people think that DOMS after a workout means the workout was good!
In many cases, this could not be further from the truth.
Personal trainers around the world will nod their heads in agreement when I say that with most clients, if you make them sore, you make them happy. The next day they will gladly tell all their friends about you, and they’ll keep coming back for more.
Knowing the above, many trainers have fallen into the trap of knackering out clients just so they feel the vaunted DOMS the next day.
I freely admit I was guilty of this in the past, especially very early in my training career. I’m happy to say that I have now changed tact and no longer resort to such garbage, even if it loses me a few clients who want DOMS every session.
Now if you read this blog, you probably know the name Joe Defranco by now. One quote of his that really sticks out is the following:
ANY coach can make you tired – it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But it takes a true professional to make you BETTER.
Go to Youtube or Instagram now and you can see countless ‘trainers’ joker making people do all sorts of dangerous, pointless crap to get views and likes. And unfortunately, they do get views and likes.
In modern fitness, doing ‘insane’ workouts and going ‘#beastmode’ is a badge of honour for many people. The soreness the next day makes these people feel like they’ve done something incredibly worthwhile.
I could take a class right now and make you do 100 burpees with a weighted vest on. You’d be sore as hell the next day. But what did you achieve?
The point of training is to get better. This may be in terms of improving technique, adding weight to the bar, doing more reps, or doing the same workout in a shorter time.
Every time you leave the gym you should have improved in some way. I’m not saying not to work hard and push yourself to the limit, far from it. But you need to know when to push and when to back off.
You should leave the gym feeling fresh and happy. Not like you just had a cardiac arrest.
Longevity is the name of the game. As long as you’re improving, you’re making progress.
What’s the point of making yourself so sore you can’t train for three days? In those three days you could have hit the gym twice and made more progress towards your goals.
DOMS is simply a way of your body telling you it’s not used to the workout you did (which is of course a good thing sometimes).
Speaking from personal experience, when I take time off the gym, switch up the exercises, or add lots of volume in a short space of time, I get DOMS. It’s never debilitating or extreme, but I get it.
After a week of doing the same workout (while steadily increasing the weight and amount of work), I no longer get the muscles soreness.
That doesn’t mean I’m not making progress – if I’m getting stronger and handling more volume, then I’m making progress.
For those who believe DOMS is necessary for building muscle, studies have shown that it is not. (Of course, no one study is proof of anything, but experience has shown that you can improve your body composition without debilitating DOMS.)
Apart from simply not being used to the workout you did, DOMS may be a sign that your diet and recovery are not on point.
If you’re not getting enough quality calories in, DOMS may be more of an issue. Good quality protein, amino acids, and Omega 3 fats may all help to mitigate muscle soreness. Even coffee and tea have been shown to help.
Sleep is also super important – it’s where your body repairs itself and grows stronger.
Despite Nas saying ‘I never sleep, cos sleep is the cousin of death’ (one of the best lines of all time), I think we can all agree that sleep is important.
Better quality sleep = better recovery = less muscle soreness.
As a sidenote, lots of sleep experts are saying that sleep before midnight results in a better of quality of sleep than after midnight. This is true even when the total number of hours slept is the same.
I can wholeheartedly concur. Since I started sleeping at 10.30 to 11pm (like a grandad, I know), I wake up feeling so much fresher.
So there you have it guys.. Muscle soreness does not mean you had a good workout, so stop chasing the dragon and chase improvement instead.