For many, the feeling of soreness after a workout can provide a sense of accomplishment, making you feel like you really pushed yourself. While the feeling may be enjoyable, soreness is not an indicator of progress or the effectiveness of a workout.
What is soreness?
Soreness comes from damage to muscle tissue caused by stress and overload. To put it another way, do more than your body is currently used to and you’ll end up sore. A long walk after a few weeks without exercise can cause muscle soreness, but few would call that a good workout.
This may sound bad, but it can be a good thing! Overloading the body is important for making progress, and at some point you have to push beyond your current ability level. The other side to this overload picture is adaptation, which is what happens when the body “catches up” and gets used to what you are asking of it.
For a better understanding of this “overload and adaptation” thing, let’s take a look at something called General Adaptation Syndrome.
General Adaptation Syndrome, a 3 stage set of physiological processes, was discovered by scientist and physician Hans Selye in 1926. This set of processes prepare the body for danger and increase the chances of survival.
Selye identified 3 predictable stages that the body uses as a response to stress:
- Alarm Stage. A burst of energy is provided. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, preparing for the “fight or flight” response.
- Resistance Stage. The body attempts to resist or adapt.
- Exhaustion Stage. The body fails to adapt to the stressful stimulus and will gradually deteriorate over time
What does all of this mean?
If you are constantly chasing soreness in your workouts, you are not allowing your body time to adapt. As stated above, if the body does not adapt it will deteriorate over time. At best, this will limit your progress in the gym. At worst, you’ll end up sick, injured and unable to train.
Here are better ways to measure the effectiveness of your workouts:
- More weight for an exercise
- Less rest needed between sets or to complete a session
- More sets of an exercise
- More reps performed at a given weight for an exercise
- For athletes, a noticeable transfer of power, speed, or endurance to your sport.
- For the rest of us, an easier time with everyday tasks (stairs, carrying bags, yard work, etc)
Remember, soreness isn’t the goal. Progress is. Train hard AND train smart!
“I don’t want to get bulky. Lifting weights makes you big, and I don’t want to look like a man.”
This myth is repeated far more often than it should be. A quick look at any social media platform shows you this just isn’t true! If you are seriously concerned about building too much muscle or having an undesirable physique, worry no more. With a little information, we can hopefully put this thing to rest once and for all.
These are my answers to the two most common questions I get from people with concerns about resistance training.
1 – Can a resistance training program make me bigger? Yes, but this is not a guarantee. While many start lifting with the intent to get bigger, there are three very important things to keep in mind:
1) A caloric surplus causes weight gain. Building muscle, and gaining weight in general, requires you to eat more. The quality and quantity of your nutrition affects your appearance and physical performance. Don’t want to get bigger? Keep your nutrition in check. Honestly, it is that simple.
2) There are ways to train without putting on size. Nutrition aside, there are other factors that go into a resistance training program – frequency (number of training sessions per week), training volume (amount of work per session), and training intensity (percentage of your maximum capacity). All of these factors can be adjusted to improve fitness, speed, power, strength and conditioning WITHOUT putting on size. This approach is used by weight class athletes like boxers, martial artists, wrestlers, and others that need the benefits of strength training without gaining additional weight.
3) Women are at a disadvantage when it comes to building muscle. Testosterone, the primary muscle building hormone, is less present in women than men. This doesn’t mean women cannot build muscle, it just requires more work. Which takes us to question number two…
2 – Can you get “big and bulky” casually training a few times week? If only it were that easy! Unless you’re blessed with perfect weight room genes, nope. Even under the most ideal conditions, it takes A LOT of work. Gaining serious muscle takes hours upon hours of training, precise and often restricted nutrition, a schedule built around exercise, and anabolic steroids in many cases. A few hours a week in the gym isn’t enough to make this a possibility.
For women afraid of “looking like a man” or “getting bigger”, you can lift, get stronger, get leaner, and enjoy the many benefits of resistance training with no worry of this outdated myth based on false assumptions.