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I was recently a part of a discussion which covered a common question:

  • “Should I be sore after every workout?”

The basic answer is no (not exactly).

Delayed onset muscle soreness (“DOMS”) is understood and currently believed to be microscopic tears in the muscle. It frequently occurs after unaccustomed exercise. It occurs in both:

  • Unconditioned individuals who are new to a particular activity or exercise; and
  • Conditioned individuals who make significant changes in frequency, intensity, duration and change in type of exercise.

It also more likely to occur in larger movements which require greater lengthening of the muscle and/or an increase in muscles engaged.

Once someone has experienced DOMS at a specific exercise intensity, they shouldn’t experience it again unless the intensity level is increased.

“So shouldn’t I experience muscle soreness after every workout then?”

No. One session which leads to DOMS reduces your chance of making you sore again from the same exercise and intensity for weeks or maybe even months. So if you are using a very slow gradual progression you are more likely to prevent DOMS.

DOMS also isn’t necessarily an accurate indicator of muscle damage. So it shouldn’t be relied on to determine if muscle growth will occur.

Lastly, DOMS that lasts for more then 72 hours can be detrimental to your progress. You may need a rest week, or be required to see a doctor.

“If I don’t get DOMS doesn’t that mean I need to increase the exercise intensity?”

Yes and no.

Increasing the exercise intensity is a good thing. If you are ready to increase and it is in line with your goals then it is recommended. You may however need to stay at a certain intensity for a little longer to become more efficient at it. Whether that is speed, technique or power. This is also relevant for those who want to maintain the intensity they are at.

It’s important to ensure that you can master the exercise intensity before increasing especially when it comes to weights training. DOMS doesn’t determine whether or not you need to increase intensity it simply tells you, you did something different. There is no point increasing weights if you haven’t mastered your sets and reps at the lighter weight.

Concentrate on engaging the relevant target muscles and full range of technique.

“So how can I determine if I had a good workout?”

Great question. Glad you asked:

  • Progress.

A strict exercise program will see an increase in duration, intensity or type of exercise. If you are able to follow this program then you will see the results to identify a good workout.

You can measure progress in many other forms depending on your goals, some examples include:

  • Decrease in resting heart rate
  • Girth measurements including but not limited to bust, waist, hip, bicep
  • Reduction in body fat percentage
  • Increase in aerobic capacity
  • “Feel good” post workout (endorphins)
  • Compare photographs of yourself
  • Use fitness technology devices to measure heart rate, calories burnt, duration of exercise

How do you determine a good workout? Did you use DOMS to determine an efficient workout?