Is Soreness Really a Good Thing?

Every now and then, I get the opportunity to go to a regular gym and get a training session in.  I live a pretty pampered life when I lift, since I work out in a private studio when there's pretty much no one around.  As such, I don't have to worry about particular equipment being taken, the creepy/greasy/smelly guys in sweatsuits, and dudes doing bicep curls in the squat rack.

During one of these trips to another gym last month, I overheard the following fragment of conversation from two bros:

"Sup brohammerstein?  That was a killer workout, I was so sore the next day."**


But, what if soreness wasn't really indicative of progress?  Is soreness just....soreness?  In a word, maybe.

I think it takes a special type of person - er, masochist - to take pride and joy in how sore they get after a particular workout.  "Normal" people shouldn't get any happiness from making themselves sore, and trust me, I'm far from a normal person.

In fact, there are times to beat yourself down because you want to test your mettle, or because, you simple want to beat yourself down.  I'd be the first one to tell you about how many stupid workout I used to do, and nobody was as guilty of the above conversation than me.  (If you want to know what I'm talking about just google Dan John's Litvinov workout for some of the punishment I've inflicted upon myself.)

So, is soreness good or bad?  First, it's important to delve into why someone gets sore, and the biggest indicator of soreness is muscle damage.  We need muscle damage in order to rebuild stronger tissues, and where muscle damage often occurs is the eccentric motion of a exercise, or the lowering of a weight.  Suffice to say, if you lift heavy things through a long range of motion, you're bound to get sore, especially if it's a challenging weight.

The other factor in soreness is the frequency with which you perform a certain exercise.  If you perform a deadlift, or a squat pretty infrequently, get ready for a painful next two days filled with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).  But, if you squat or deadlift frequently, you probably won't be all that sore during the following days.  But does a lack or soreness mean you're not making progress?  Far from it! 

Let me say this outright: soreness is NOT indicative of progress.   Capish?

Anyone can make you sore, but it takes planning and forethought to make you better.  For example, I'm pretty sure something like this could make you sore, but that doesn't mean you (or anyone else, ever) should be doing it:

Sorry, I have to throw in any Tracy Anderson jabs when I can..

Anyway, in a perfect world, the best training plan would get you better with minimal accompanying pain.  That way, you received what you want out of a workout, and have kept your risk of injury very low.  There's a time to be sore, but realize that it may not always be helping.

Soreness doesn't make you better.  Better makes you better.

**A few words in that conversation may have been altered....but they were some of the bro-iest bro's I've seen.