Ask a Trainer: If I’m Not Sore, Does that Mean it Wasn’t a Good Training Session?

I’m so sore.

That workout killed me.

I couldn’t even sit down to pee.

Walking down the stairs was a challenge yesterday.

I’ve heard these and so many other variations of “I’m so sore” in all my years as a trainer and coach.

In this edition of “Ask a Trainer” I’m going to dive into why being sore doesn’t always equate to a good training session.

I got this question from a new client specifically two weeks ago, but I’ve gotten it over the years many times. “I wasn’t really sore, does that mean I should have worked harder?”

First, what does being sore really mean?

When you train with resistance- whether it’s weights, kettlebells, or even your own body weight, you produce damage in the muscles during that session. There are small micro-tears in the tissue that after your training session need to be repaired and over time they grow back to become stronger.

When you train, you are also creating some inflammation in the muscle tissue and throughout the body.

When you are new to a training program or just to certain exercises, the reaction will be a bit more aggressive than if you have been training for a while.

If you remember back to your first week of training, you were likely pretty sore. If you also think back to a time when you did a new exercise that your body wasn’t used to- even if you consistently trained 2-3 days per week, you will remember feeling a new soreness sensation.

Think about the Valslide Leg Curls, Tricep Crushers on the Rings and Romanian Deadlifts.

Some of you may have heard me say that these are “sneaky” exercises and you often feel the effects more the next day.

Why is that?

These exercises have what’s called an eccentric component. Eccentric essentially means you are going against the gravity of the movement. So when you do the Valslide Leg Curl and you are working to straighten your legs- that’s eccentric. When you contract the muscle during the movement- that’s concentric, like when you curl your legs in or when you pull the weight up during a Bicep Curl.

The eccentric portion of a movement can produce the highest amount of damage to the muscle tissue, often resulting in some more aggressive soreness.

So why do you get sore sometimes and not others?

In reality, the goal of your overall programming should to be the LEAST sore that you possibly can.

That means that you’re training your body with exactly the right stimulus but more importantly, you are doing all of the right stuff in the other 23 hours of the day.

The better your hydration, nutrition and sleep are, the faster you will recover.

If you eat really well with a nice balance of protein, carbs and fats, you drink 60-100 ounces of water each day and you sleep 8 hours, your soreness factor will be really low.

If you are constantly sore and you have been training for a while, I would definitely consider looking at your outside the gym factors.

If you are new and you are sore for the first week, that’s normal. You just have to pay extra attention to your other factors (hydration, nutrition, sleep).

One other supplemental note: taking 500 mg of Magnesium each night has helped me tremendously. It has some muscle relaxing properties and also can help with deeper sleep so there’s a win-win when it comes to recovery.

So, do NOT make your goal to be as sore as possible. Instead focus on 100% intensity during your sessions and then doing all the right stuff after the fact to ensure proper recovery.