L2 Fitness Blog

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Friend or Foe?

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Everyone has experienced muscle soreness whether it was after your first workout ever, your first workout after some time off, trying a new exercise for the first time, incorporating an exercise you haven’t done in a while, incorporating a slow-eccentric tempo to an exercise, lifting a household item potentially in a compromised position with suboptimal form, or chasing your dog down the street at the speed of lightening because that sucker somehow chewed himself loose off his leash.

Albeit annoying and uncomfortable, muscle soreness brings along with it a sense of pride and accomplishment. That feeling is very regularly associated with the quality and effectiveness of a workout. A common comment from my clients, especially following their first session or two, is “My legs were shaking as I was leaving and I could barely make it up the stairs to my house! AND it hurt to laugh! It was awesome!!!”

Does Soreness = Progress?

Now, I’m not writing to tell you that muscle soreness should be avoided at all costs. The truth is, productive training territory comes with some muscle damage and, therefore, muscle soreness here and there. That doesn’t mean that your underlying goal of a workout should be to produce as much soreness as possible and write off any workouts that don’t produce soreness as an unproductive waste of time. The fact of the matter is: muscle soreness is corelated with progress, not causative of progress. This means that the soreness you get from a workout isn’t directly causing you to progress, nor it is necessary to see progress. However, if you’re never experiencing muscle soreness, your training could possibly use some changes to elicit a little more progress overtime.

When it comes down to it, you need to train hard and continue training harder overtime to see progress. You know that saying if it were easy, everyone would do it? Well, this overused, self-righteous statement has some truth to it. If the workouts you do feel relatively easy, never get you sore, and don’t progressively get harder overtime, optimal progress will just not happen. On the flip side, if you’re constantly sore, pushing boundaries every single workout, and unable to consistently train harder overtime due to lack of recovery, your rate of progress will be mediocre at best and consistently decline overtime.

How Often Should You Be Sore?

So how do you know you aren’t getting too sore too often?

There isn’t an inherent rule to how much and how often you should be sore; it really comes down to your overall recovery. There are many ways to track recovery: some complex methods meant to be used for high-level athletes and some more simple, subjective methods. However, soreness isn’t necessarily always indicative of a lack of recovery. The mechanisms behind muscle soreness are complicated and not entirely understood at this point. With that said, never-ending, nagging muscle soreness over a period of time is a good sign that something could be missing. Not to mention, pain inhibits muscle activity meaning that when you’re sore, your body won’t let you produce as much muscular force and, therefore, getting stronger is unlikely to occur when soreness is constantly occurring.

Muscle soreness is something that should occur at specific timeframes throughout a training cycle. As previously mentioned, training should be structured to get harder overtime. An important point to that, though, is that there should be semi-frequent periods of time dedicated to non-progressive training for recovery purposes. With that said, it makes the most sense to plan your most damaging, soreness-producing workouts for the week(s) leading up to a recovery-centered week (read: a de-load). If you’re sore week 1, day 1 of a training block, the accumulated fatigue over the remaining training block will hinder ability to progress.


Your training should be structured to start easier with less muscle-damaging activities. As a training block progresses and the training gets harder, muscle soreness is more likely to accumulate. This would be a good time to incorporate methods that inherently cause more muscle damage if a proceeding recovery period will follow shortly after.

If you’re interested in a professionally designed training program, contact us today!

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