Experiencing muscle soreness in the days following a workout is perfectly normal. Lifting weights causes microscopic tears to your muscle fibers, followed by an inflammatory response from the body (for healing purposes). Both of these events cause muscle soreness. You must know, however, that eccentric contractions are responsible for a major portion of the tears. Since we put a lot of emphasis in the videos demonstrating the exercises on the eccentric portion of the lift, it is very normal if you feel sore the day after a training session.
Now, it was thought for years that being sore the next day was a sign of a good workout. But it is not necessarily the case. You can have a perfectly good workout, beat all the scores you wanted to beat and not be sore the next day. And that’s perfectly fine. Your focus should always be kept on progression and execution, they are the main drivers for muscle hypertrophy. Know however that a change of program will often create much post-workout soreness in the first week or two. It is the implementation of new exercises that causes that condition more often than not. Increasing the weight you use for an exercise might also cause you to get more sore than usual the next day. It is perfectly normal, as the mechanical tension was increased within the muscle from that increase in stimulus (weight used).
If you never get sore however, you might want to re-evaluate the level of intensity of your workouts. If you have read my book: Wanna Look Good Naked? That’s Ok, you know that I recommend training within the 8-12 repetition bracket and making sure that the last 2-3 reps of a set are hard to complete. It is the training intensity that produces the best hypertrophy results. If you never get sore, make sure for the next few weeks to focus on pushing every set to the limit of what you can achieve (with perfect form of course). You should get sore every now and then if you train hard enough.
Also please understand that many beginners don’t experience muscle soreness for many weeks after they start lifting weights. And all of a sudden, they start getting sore. It is because they have finally reached a point where they are strong enough to use a weight that is heavy enough to cause damage to the muscles. It’s good news. They are moving in the right direction.
DOMS, or delayed onset of muscle soreness, can take up to 48 hours to occur. Bigger muscle groups (like the quadriceps) often become sore 2 days after a training session, while smaller muscle groups (like the biceps) feel sore the very next day. The delayed onset doesn’t impact the growth of the muscles, it just happens that way.
When you start lifting weights, you are learning a whole new set of skills (each exercise is a new skill in itself) and there is feedback available to improve the quality of your learning. Soreness is such feedback! If you work your pec muscles but never get sore in that area, there might be something that you are doing wrong. If you work your quad muscles, your quads should be sore the next day (at least once in a while). If you really struggle to “feel” a particular muscle working when you train (we all do in the beginning by the way, it is absolutely normal), I suggest that one day, when that muscle group is sore, you do a few sets of 1-2 exercises for that muscle at a light weight (50-60% of your max) to improve your mind-muscle connection. You’ll become better faster at contracting that muscle when you feel it because it is sore! It hurts, but it works.
To sum things up, soreness is not necessarily the indicator of a good workout. Your weights going up is a much better indicator that you are progressing. However, if you never get sore, you might want to take a close look at the level of intensity of your training sessions. Meaning, do you finish your sets while you still have a couple of reps left in the tank? If so, the intensity of your work might be insufficient to produce the results that you wish to achieve.
I’ll end this blog by mentioning that I have worked for many years with young lifters who thought that they could “fix” their soreness and reduce the amount of time the condition lasted by eating more food. While it is true that if you do not recover adequately soreness will last longer than it should, thinking than eating more will make soreness disappear is wrong. You cannot “cure” your soreness with more food, more sleep or magical supplements. The only known “remedy” for it is to perform some form of light to moderate intensity cardio work the next day. Get the blood flowing through the muscles, it will bring nutrients and healing factors to them. Lastly, please never take Tylenol or Advil because your muscles are sore. As I have mentioned before, soreness is due in part to an inflammatory response that triggers healing and rebuilding of the muscles from the body. It is an absolutely necessary part of the muscle building process. Taking those pills inhibit the inflammatory response and your muscles won’t grow as much as a result.