Soreness = A good workout?

Yesterday was a heavy lifting day for me. Big legs – squats, walking lunges, RDLs, ham curls, and such. I use straps on heavy lifting days so that my grip does not interfere with the completion of my sets. As I am deconditioned, my straps left beautiful markings on my wrists. I finished my workout, taking the marks as an indicator of a mission accomplished! I left the gym sweaty – sweatier than most days. I was even a little shaky. My heart rate remained noticeably elevated for a good portion of the day. I was anticipating a wonderful soreness today.straps



It is atypical for me to experience significant DOMS, but I am always hoping. We have been conditioned to believe that soreness is the best indicator of a good workout. And while I know better, I am guilty of hoping for that good, deep soreness as confirmation of a good workout!

Was that a good workout?

My preferred measure of a good workout is progression – lifting more weight, increased endurance, improved stability, etc. I am currently coping with the psychological side effects of strength regression. My absolute strength has significantly diminished. In September 2010 I was consistently squatting 265+ for 4-6 repetitions. Yesterday, I struggled with 185. On a positive note, I have a new starting point! I do have my baseline workout which I will repeat on April 1st. But until then, how do I measure progress and success? How do I know when I’ve had a good workout? How am I determining that I am on the right path?

1. Progression. I am keeping copious notes, as usual, of weight selection. This provides me with evidence of strength increases. When doing this, expect to increase your weight 5-10% at a time. And recall that it takes eight weeks to improve your strength one fitness level (The Cooper Institute).

2. Body Shape. Whether trying to lose weight or build muscle, body measurements and appearance are great ways to measure success. I mentioned in a previous post that I hate when my shirts do not fit – this is a sign of my being on the right path towards my pullup goal. During my process, I am building muscle and losing fat (not necessarily weight!). Therefore, my jeans really need a belt – indicative of an improved body shape!

3. Elevated Heart Rate. Following a good strength or resistance workout, you will notice a lingering elevated heart rate. This can be measured by either using a heart rate monitor or through body awareness. (Taking your own pulse – not a good measure).

4. Feeling Off. I have no other way of explaining this, other than after a good workout I just feel a little off – which immediately begins improving following my first post-workout MEAL. This meal immediately follows my workout, so feeling off does not last too long!

5. Exhaustion. Sometimes exhaustion occurs within a few hours and other times it is exhibited in a good nights sleep!

6. Improved Endurance. I hate cardio (emphasis because I also hate that word, ambiguous as it is). Actually, I hate aerobic exercise. I monitor my heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, intensity, time, etc. I tend to be excited when I maintain my aerobic fitness – so any improvement is stellar!

The bottomline

Note that my measures may not be your measures. This needs to be personal. But bottomline, soreness is not the sole indicator of a good workout. IN FACT – more often than not – soreness is indicative of a poorly designed workout and overall program. Excessive soreness is a sign of overtraining. If you are working towards adopting a healthy lifestyle, do you really want to be sore all the time? I know that I do not!

How do you determine whether your workouts and program are effective and keeping you on the right path? 

How do you measure or rate your workouts? 

3 thoughts on “Soreness = A good workout?

  1. I think number 4, feeling off, is also known as ketosis. When your body starts to feel depleted of glucose and it can start to feed on fat. That’s usually why eating post-work out meals can make you feel a lot better pretty quickly.

  2. Ketosis is a chronic condition that can only be treated and corrected over a significant period of time, The body must go through a series of changes before it will enter ketosis. My ‘off feeling’ may better be attributed to absolute failure, glycogen depletion, or low blood sugar/blood pressure – far from a ketonic state. As for why a meal makes you feel better, that is related to replenishing blood sugar levels and various metabolic recovery processes.

    Again, Ketosis can only occur after prolonged periods of carbohydrate deprivation and cannot be quickly fixed. There is a strong correlation with diabetes and it is common among bodybuilders who are dieting.

    Some old research proposed post-exercise ketosis ( but the majority of evidence disproves this idea. Further, the evidence in support of post-exercise ketosis was limited to untrained subjects.

  3. Pingback: Are group fitness classes effective? | StrongBraveHonest

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