What does it mean if you're not sore after a workout? Many people associate sore muscles with a good workout, so they feel like if they don’t pull up sore the next day, then it must have been a waste of time. Or alternatively some people may only get sore muscles from certain workouts, and not others. Then this leads them to think those workouts are less effective than the ones they feel post-workout soreness from.
So now you may be totally confused and wondering “Well, if I’m not sore then did I have a good workout? And if I am sore does this mean it was bad?”, well keep reading!
What is post-workout muscle soreness and what causes it?
When we exercise, our muscles are continually contracting (shortening) and extending (lengthening). This is necessary to help us to move, lift weights and so on. However, when a muscle is lengthened a little more than it is used to, for example during a high intensity workout or hike, then it can experience small tears (called micro tears). This can then present as a dull, achy pain or even stiffness in your muscles 12-72 hours later.
The technical term for this is “delayed onset muscle soreness”, also known as DOMS. If you’re not sure what this means - have you ever done a tough leg workout and then gone to the bathroom the next day and not been able to sit on the toilet? That’s the pain we're talking about!
When you are new to an exercise program, post-workout muscle soreness might occur quite often (for example, after every workout) for the first few weeks. This is because your muscles are being used in different ways to what they have previously and they are learning to adapt.
This brings us to the next question:
What does it mean if you don’t get sore after a workout?
After a while of doing the same exercises or exercise program, you may find that the frequency (how often you experience it) and severity (how “bad” it is) of this post-workout soreness might begin to decrease.
This is because your body can begin to “get used to” that style of training, meaning that there might be fewer micro tears, which can result in less soreness and a faster recovery. In other words, this is a sign that your body is adapting and changing, which is a good thing!
Many people fall into the trap of thinking that if they don’t feel sore the next day that their exercise program is no longer working for them, which is not always the case. Your body is getting fitter and stronger, and who doesn’t want that? Let’s be real here, would we all keep working out if we experienced extreme soreness each and every time we trained? Probably not!
Once you establish a consistent workout routine, then you might find that you will only pull up sore when you do a new exercise that forces you to use your muscles in a different way. Or maybe when you do a “targeted workout” that requires you to work the same muscles (or muscle groups), such as your legs, over and over.
While post-workout muscle soreness might make you FEEL like you’ve had a good workout, it’s important to remember that not being sore the day after does not mean that your workout was useless or a waste of your time.
If post-workout soreness isn’t the only indication of a good workout, then what is?
If you’ve been working out for a while, you’re no longer feeling sore and are starting to question whether or not you need to try something new, the first question that you need to ask yourself is “Am I making progress?”
By “progress”, we're not just talking about losing weight. Ask yourself if your workout routine is making you fitter? Are you able to do more reps or lift heavier weights than when you first started? Are you becoming more toned? Are you able to push through a tough workout better than what you used to? Do you walk away from each of your workouts feeling like you’ve given it your all?
If you answer yes to most or all of these questions, then it is likely that your workout routine is still working for you and your body, even if it means that you are not pulling up sore after every workout.
In saying that, if you feel like you are no longer making progress, are bored, and you dread working out each and every day, then it might be time for you to switch things up and find a new way to challenge your body. As well as getting results, it is important for you to enjoy what you’re doing as, ultimately, this is what is going to keep you coming back for more!