By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Jan 26, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Is soreness an indicator of a good workout?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 26 Jan. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/soreness-indicator-good-workout. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, January 26). Is soreness an indicator of a good workout?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/soreness-indicator-good-workout.

Dear Alice,

My trainer is getting annoyed because I am not experiencing soreness. I have been working out now with him and other trainers, three times a week, for three months now. Plus I do 45 minutes of cardio four times a week.

I think it's kind of odd that he bases his progress on how sore his clients are. I was always led to believe that soreness in muscles comes from working newfound muscle groups or aggressive workouts. During our workout I am feeling my muscles being worked and I have lost a number of inches and lbs since I have been working out. It seems to be a large issue with some of the trainers at this gym. I am wondering why! Also he had me doing 420 lbs on my legs. I am not a body builder nor do I want to be. I started to tone up. Advise please!

— Pushed too far?

Dear Pushed too far, 

It sounds like this topic is a sore spot for you and your trainer. You may be happy to know that you don’t need to experience muscle soreness to call a workout successful—it might not be the right measure of progress depending on you and your goals. Soreness can be a sign of muscle growth, but the feeling of your muscles being worked can also indicate a successful workout. In fact, pushing yourself to soreness all the time or not taking enough time to rest may lead to injuries and set you back from your goals. So, what is soreness anyway? Read on to learn more! 

Muscle soreness, or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is the feeling of pain, tenderness, or stiffness that you may feel after working out. Though research is still being done to determine its exact cause, there’s evidence suggesting that it’s caused by damage to muscle fibers and muscle inflammation. Anyone who’s physically active may experience it, and it’s true that soreness usually occurs with new workout routines, intense physical activity, or any other activity that uses your muscles in new ways. 

It sounds like you've been noticing other changes to your body, like a change in weight and inches. Progress means something different for everyone. It often has to do more with what you want out of your relationship with exercise than simply numbers on a scale or your inability to move the next day. Have you considered what progress at the gym means to you? Maybe it's worth thinking about what your goals are and what it would mean for you once you achieve them. 

It also sounds like you and your trainer might have different views on what progress is—have you talked to him about your concerns? Open and honest communication about what you’re looking for in your training sessions may help him design a plan more suited for you and your goals and could therefore leave you feeling more satisfied. Topics of discussion could include your fitness goals, specific exercises you feel comfortable or uncomfortable doing, or how intense you want sessions to be. Additionally, you may want to consider whether this trainer is the right fit for you. You might reflect on the following questions: 

  • Does he listen to you or the feedback you give? 
  • Do you feel comfortable discussing your concerns with your trainer? 
  • Does his approach fit with your fitness goals? 

Muscle soreness isn't always the best way to determine whether you had a good workout. Clarifying your goals and expectations with your trainer may help you be on the same page about your progress. Remember that your comfort and safety are the priority, so if you feel that your trainer isn’t respecting that, you might also consider finding a new one. 

Sweat smart, lift safe, and thrive strong! 

Additional Relevant Topics:

Nutrition and Physical Activity
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