We've all experienced muscle soreness. It's not fun, even though many people tend to evaluate the success of their workout by how sore they became. Should you really get sore after a workout and how to alleviate that?
Here's what got me writing this post: My hip flexors and calves were really sore yesterday. That's because during the past few days, I've done about a million high knees with the jump rope and also lots of stairs.
I spent a good half an hour yesterday morning stretching my poor hip flexors and calves and they're feeling better now.
Sore is Not the New Sexy
I'm not a believer in this “sore is the new sexy” thing. What's that thing with all the things being new sexy anyway? First it was strong, now sore… Why are we looking at the next super sexy thing all the time?
But back to the muscle soreness…
There's no way that you have to get sore after every workout. It happens, of course, when you do movements that you haven't done in a while or you're trying a new exercise, but don't measure the effectiveness of your workout by how much pain you're in the next day.
Movements that Make Me Incredibly Sore
I remember the worst soreness from the years what I was still practicing track and field.
Every spring, when the snow finally melted and we got to do our training outdoors, our coach had as doing endless number of walking lunges along the lawn on the stadium.
Here's how we did it: We took a looong step, lift the moving leg as high as we could so that it made a big circle shape before landing, and then land in a really deep lunge, so that the glutes of the front leg were stretching like crazy and the quads were in fire.
At the moment, the movement that causes me the worst muscle soreness is the pistol squat. Everything from my quads to hamstrings to calves and even abs get sore when I'm practicing them. I feel it the most just above the knee.
But because I want to be able to do a full pistol squat one day, there's no way other than pracitice. Overdoing them is a bad idea though, I already quit practicing pistols once because I couldn't stand the soreness anymore, but I want to be smarter this time, take more rest and let my muscles heal. It gets better with time.
Why Muscle Soreness Shouldn't Be Your Goal On Its Own
You really can't measure the effectiveness of the workout by how sore your muscles got. Soreness is definitely a sign of a hard workout. It means that you created micro tears in your muscles. But the fact that a workout was hard doesn't necessarily mean that it was the best.
When your muscles get sore, it means that they are ready for rest. Light muscle soreness is fine and you probably don't have to skip your workout the next day, but if you are so sore that even just walking or sitting is causing pain, your body is trying to tell you something…
But what happens when you don't listen to it and still go and work out hard?
Ignoring the Muscle Soreness
Listening to your body may sound old, but there's a reason why we keep saying that–it's true.
Ignoring your muscles' message and still doing the workout when super sore is not the greatest idea.
Your muscles can't recover and grow. Muscles heal and grow during the rest, not during the workout. As said, muscle soreness happens as a result of overload when you make small tears in them. If you're breaking something, and then step on it to make it even worse, it will never get fixed.
Your muscles won't recover if you don't give them time to heal. Hence, the muscle growth will also be slower.
You may lose your motivation. When you're constantly in pain, working out becomes an irritating and painful chore. Constant soreness is physically and mentally taxing and you finally simply lose your motivation to work out.
It can be unsafe. Your ability to control your body and move it safely becomes really hard when you're sore. In the worst case scenario you end up injuring yourself.
Doing More Is Not the Answer
I once talked to someone who had just started working out. Her workouts looked pretty hard, considering that she was a beginner, and of course, she got super sore. However, I still saw her coming back to workout more every day.
Once she admitted to me: “I'm so sore that I could barely get in my car to get here today!” I asked when was the last time she took a rest day. She told me that se had been working out about ten days in a row since she started.
The craziest part is that in some days, she was working out even twice.
It wasn't because she was on a new diet or because wanted to lose 20 lbs by the end of the month. It was because she thought that she has to workout more to alleviate the muscle pain.
If you've been working out for years, you may think how anyone could think anything like this at all. But someone who is just starting out may really not know that breaking yourself even more is not going to help with recovery.
Even people who know they shouldn't work out when they're very sore, still do that!
What to Do When You Get Sore?
So, what do you do then if you get sore from working out?
If your muscles are just a bit sore and the soreness doesn't affect your everyday life, you can walk, sit and stand normally, it's fine to work out. That's what I personally do when I'm just a bit sore.
But if you get very sore, take a rest day. One missed workout does more good than harm to you. As mentioned, muscle recover and growth happens during the rest, so give it to your body.
Resting doesn't mean that you should stay on your couch and stop moving for three days. The better way is to incorporate some light moving into your next day, to keep the circulation activated and to muscles awake.
Stretching, foam rolling, walking and bike riding are all great ideas. I sometimes go for a short and very light run, but really, it has to be light if I don't want to return home with even tighter hamstrings. Water is always good for muscle recovery, so if you're lucky and live by the beach or have a pool, definitely use that opportunity and jump in the water.
Muscle soreness is your body's way to tell you that it may need some rest. It's a sign of a hard workout, but not every training has to get you sore so that it starts to affect your everyday life, makes you lose the excitement for training and increases the risk of getting injured.
If you're really sore, don't add more training on top of all that! Instead, take an active recovery day or two and return to your regular workouts feeling rested and healthy again.