You see your fellow exercisers the day after a hard workout, seemingly feeling pretty proud about their sore triceps, their abs so tender that it hurts to cough, and their inability to climb stairs without wincing. And sure, you worked hard with your trainer, but if you’re not sore does it mean that you didn’t work hard enough? The answer is a stipulation-heavy combination of yes and no.
When you exercise, especially if it’s a new exercise to you and you go at it pretty hard, it’s likely that you’d feel sore afterwards. When you stress a muscle enough it develops microscopic tears. These tears, when healed, cause the muscle to be stronger, and eventually, larger. Note that it’s important to take a day or two in between workouts to rest your sore muscles. It’s during this recovery time that the real healing and growing take place. Not taking this rest period can inhibit your progress and make you much more susceptible to muscle injury.
And what about if you’re not sore on a regular basis? Does this mean that your workouts are more baby than beefy? The truth is, the most reliable way to tell whether your exercise is working your muscles hard enough is through the results you see. Are you slimming down the way you want to? Are your muscles getting toned and more defined? Do you feel stronger and more able to complete daily tasks without getting tired?
Now, that being said, if you work out a few times a week, and are never, ever sore in the 2 or 3 days afterwards, there’s a good chance that you’re not pushing your body to its maximum potential, as your muscles are never getting pushed past their level of comfort. Ask your trainer to push you just a little harder (what? Are we crazy?), and also to give you ideas for how to step it up a little bit when you’re exercising on your own.
And while some soreness once in a while is good, being sore nearly all the time after you exercise is a drag. One way to keep your soreness in check is through stretching. In fact, keeping your muscles loose and limber make you less likely to score a killer sore muscle the day after a workout, and it can help you recover more quickly. For this reason, and so many others, we always recommend that you devote several minutes at the end of every workout to stretching. Stretching is important at any age, but becomes even more crucial as get into our 40’s, 50’s, and beyond. As we age, our muscles actually get shorter and start to lose their elasticity. This can start a vicious cycle of moving and stretching less because it’s harder, and then being less physically fit because of not moving as much, and so on.
Your muscles tend to follow the “no pain, no gain” rule of exercise, and manageable muscle soreness after a workout does give you an indication that you’re on your way to getting stronger and fitter. However, any safe exercise, even mild, is great for your body, and can help you reach your health and fitness goals.