How Sore Should I Be After a Work Out?
We've heard from many patients who judge the effectiveness of a work out by how sore they are the next day. "No pain, no gain", right? But is that really a sign of a good training (or rehab) program?
Short answer: absolutely not.
First, we need to critically think about when and why we often feel sore after exercise. Most of the time, individuals will feel very sore if they try a new type of exercise or activity that they have never done or haven't done in awhile, if they significantly increase the amount of resistance they are using in a training session, or if they have been sedentary for a long time and are just beginning an exercise program. This type of soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and it usually begins 8-12 hours following exercise and peaks at 24-48 hours. There has been a lot of research over the years regarding the cause and treatment of DOMS. There are a few reasons that researchers hypothesize DOMS occur, and also many studies on different treatment techniques that may or may not help with the relief of DOMS. In our opinion, the best option is to do light exercise (such as walking) and some mobility work if you are experiencing DOMS. Being sedentary with DOMS can make you feel more sore. There are also studies that support the use of heat and/or ice to relieve DOMS and other studies that do not. We say: if using heat or ice feels good to you, go for it.
So are DOMS bad? Well, not exactly. DOMS are to be expected if you are beginning a new exercise program or have just started exercising again, BUT, you should not be looking to experience DOMS after every training session in order to determine if what you are doing is effective. And if you have been doing a program for weeks and are still having significant DOMS after every session, you should probably look at a different exercise program.
To clarify, DOMS are not the muscle fatigue you feel during a work out. If you are effectively progressively training (meaning increasing weight, reps, time, etc), you should still feel challenged by the exercises you are performing. However, you should be able to recover, and you should not be feeling a significant amount of soreness (and you definitely should not be experiencing pain) over the few days following training.
Proper recovery and appropriate progression of exercise is extremely important in our ability to rehab injuries, increase our strength, and improve our cardiovascular endurance. Any trainer, coach, or Physical Therapist can give you really hard exercises and make you feel exhausted at the end of a session. A better way to judge your progress is to assess how much strength and endurance you have gained both in the gym and daily life, how your quality of life has changed, and how much progress you have made toward the goals you set. Good trainers, coaches, and Physical Therapists will progress you properly so that you can reach your goals.
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