We’ve all heard this familiar phrase – “if your muscles are not sore, you did it wrong”. We’re also proud of our post-workout muscle soreness. It’s an indication that our muscles are benefiting from that harder-than-normal workout. But when does this soreness turn harmful? To find out when, and to pick up tips on how to train safely, we talk to Men’s Health USA contributor and personal trainer, Mike Mejia.
Is muscle soreness really a sign of a good workout?
Normal: Mike says that most guys who’ve been training for a while come to expect soreness, and trust it. That tight, slightly achy feeling a day or two after a good workout tells us we gave our muscles a good growth stimulus. The exact mechanisms that cause post-workout soreness aren’t completely understood, although the main culprit seems to be the normal training-induced muscle damage that prompts new muscle growth during recovery.
Dangerous: If the damage is too severe, however, your body can’t repair itself properly, and you make no progress. This is the case when you’re too sore to perform your next workout with the same intensity you used in the one that made you sore in the first place. I should add hereraining sore muscles isn’t a good idea. It only creates more damage, and it could make your muscles smaller and weaker.
Protect Yourself: The best way to keep soreness to a minimum is to make reasonable increases in the amount of weight you use from one workout to the next. Also, avoid adding a lot of sets to a workout. Build up your sets gradually. And when you try a new exercise or return to one you haven’t used in a while, take it easy. Use less weight than you think you should, and limit yourself to 2 or 3 sets.
How can I tell whether I’m overtraining?
Normal: According to Mike, the first sign of overtraining is those continually sore, aching muscles and joints.
Dangerous: Constant soreness means you aren’t giving yourself enough recovery time. Another bad sign is a chronic, dull ache in your knees, shoulders, or lower back. Another symptom of overtraining is a disappointing performance—you can’t lift as much or do as many reps or complete your workout in the usual amount of time. All these signal that your body is tapped out and needs a rest. Other clues include difficulty sleeping, a loss of appetite, irritability, and even suppressed immune function.
Protect Yourself: So if you’re a chronically sore, irritable insomniac who gets frequent colds and never seems to make any training progress, do yourself and your family a favor: Take a week off from training every 8 to 10 weeks.