Updated: Jan 25
Ah, muscle soreness. That bittersweet feeling we get after a good training session.
On the one hand, soreness is satisfying because it indicates that we’ve stressed our muscles. But on the other hand, it can get in the way of things and make simple tasks like walking up a flight of stairs(or down after a Barre class)much more challenging.
But what is muscle soreness, and what does it mean? Should we strive to get it, or are we better off never feeling it?
What Is Muscle Soreness (And What Causes It)?
Muscle soreness occurs primarily because of two things:
First, as we train, we cause some degree of muscle fiber damage. The harder we train and the more new activities we do, the greater this damage is. For example, if you’ve never done a particular exercise before, it’s much more likely to make you sore. So, part of what we refer to as muscle soreness is simply muscle pain resulting from damage to the tissue.
Second, training also leads to metabolic stress. As we exercise, chemical reactions inside our muscles lead to damage to the integrity of cells. This process allows for fluids and inflammatory markers to enter our cells and promote inflammation.
The severity of muscle soreness will mostly depend on how much you stress a muscle and how used your body is to specific activities. For example, if you go to the gym after a long break and do a grueling workout, you’ll probably experience long-lasting and severe soreness. In contrast, if you train regularly, even a demanding workout won’t lead to significant soreness because your muscles are used to this type of stress.
Does Muscle Soreness Mean Anything?
Aside from the question of, “What muscle soreness is?” people often argue if this phenomenon means anything. In other words, does feeling soreness mean you’ve had a good workout?
Answering this question is a bit difficult but bear with me. On the one hand, muscle soreness alone isn’t a solid indicator of anything. Research finds that you can make positive fitness changes without soreness and that someone can experience soreness without seeing much progress. For example, running often causes soreness, but the activity builds no muscle for most people.
Never experiencing soreness isn’t a good thing, either. It indicates that your training is never disruptive enough, which means you’re likely not training as hard as you should.
So, experiencing soreness from time to time lets us know that we are causing muscle disruptions, which can lead to positive adaptations. But chasing soreness for the sake of it isn’t good because it can prevent us from training hard, which would limit future progress.
Can We Do Anything to Reduce Muscle Soreness (Or Prevent It Entirely)?
Getting rid of muscle soreness entirely is impossible, but good hydration and nutrition are beneficial in reducing it. Specifically:
Consume enough calories and avoid excessive dieting
Make sure to get plenty of protein, which repairs muscle damage
Aim for at least 85 ounces of water daily if you’re a woman and 120 if you’re a man
Training consistently is also beneficial because it allows your muscles to get used to that stress, which can reduce soreness. It’s also good to ease into new training programs and activities, slowly ramping the intensity up ov