What does it mean if I'm not sore after a workout anymore? Did I not train hard enough?
I remember the first workout I ever did in the gym.
I remember how good it felt to train hard and push myself on those first couple of sets I ever did, really getting close to failure and getting off to a good start.
And I clearly remember how unbelievably sore my body was the next day!
I'm pretty sure I hit back and biceps that day.
If you trained hard on your first day in the gym, you'll likely know exactly what I'm talking about.
When I woke up the next morning, I had NEVER felt more sore in my life.
My back was so tight, it hurt like crazy just to raise my arms and reach over my head!
And my arms could not be fully straightened. That's how tight my biceps and forearms were.
I was literally walking around like a T. Rex, with my arms half bent and my hands out in front of me for the entire day!
But you know the one thing that did feel good that day?
Knowing that I had trained hard and gave that session some good effort.
However after a couple months of training like that, I realized that I had stopped getting sore after my workouts.
I'd stopped waking up to the agonizing pain of a tight chest, or the feeling of not being able to walk up the stairs after leg day.
Every once in a while I would wake up real sore again, but it wasn't anywhere near as regularly as before.
So I wondered, was I still training hard enough?
Had I started to slack already?
You see, it's a common belief that waking up and not feeling sore the day after a strength training workout means that the workout wasn't effective, or that you needed to train harder.
However, this simply is not the case.
Let's explore the reasons behind us NOT getting sore anymore, and what it means for us as athletes wanting to grow and improve upon ourselves.
But first, we need to understand why we get sore in the first place.
What Causes Muscle Soreness In The First Place?
Muscle soreness, or sometimes called Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is caused by strenuous physical activity done at a relatively high intensity.
When we work out, the stress that we place on our muscles causes tiny tears and microtrauma in our muscles and tendons.
Along with this, your body is going to increase inflammation, which can cause muscle soreness.
There is one type of exercise that is the most likely to cause muscle soreness, and that would be eccentric training.
This term refers to placing tension on your muscle whilst it lengthens or stretches.
For example, lowering the bar down to your chest during a bench press is eccentric training.
You're loading the muscles of the chest, shoulders and triceps heavily whilst stretching them all at the same time.
This is the type of training that's most likely to cause muscle soreness.
Why Am I Not Sore After a Workout?
The most likely reason for you not feeling sore after your workouts anymore would come down to the fact that your body is smart, and adapts to the stress that you put it through over time.
As you train and put it under stress, it's going to grow stronger over time and become more and more used to that stress that you put it through.
This is why the first time you work out in the gym, it's almost certain that you're going to wake up feeling sore the next day like I did.
It's because literally everything you've done is new to you and your body.
Your body isn't used to the work that you put it through, and therefore it's going to feel sore.
However after a couple months of training like this, your body is going to have gotten used to the stress that you put it through.
This doesn't mean that your workouts aren't going to be effective anymore; it just means that you don't have to suffer through the agony of feeling so sore afterwards anymore.
If you asked anybody that's been lifting consistent for at least a year or two, they'll probably tell you that they very rarely feel sore anymore.
Or maybe only on leg days, as they do seem to have a bit of an exception there.
After that, you'll really only ever feel sore after workouts where you tried new exercises or implemented some sort of new training technique.
So You Shouldn't Ever Feel Sore?
Well, while soreness is not the primary indicator of an effective workout.
In fact, many people believe that feeling sore the day after a workout doesn't mean anything good at all, and it just serves as a hindrance to your future sessions and ability to make progress.
However the majority of people do think that muscle soreness does serve as a way of knowing that you hit your target muscles properly.
So while it's not bad if you aren't feeling sore after a workout, it might not be the best case scenario either if you're NEVER feeling sore.
If you're worried about whether or not you're actually making progress, you can check out this blog post to see 5 signs that you need to work harder in the gym.
Occasionally you'll still feel sore after a leg day or a chest day, but nowhere near as much as before.
To Recap: You likely won't be feeling sore too often anymore due to the fact that your body adapts to the stress that you put it under, and that it's become more accustomed to it. However it's likely not good either if you never feel sore, as this may be an indication that you're not training hard enough.
So How Do You Know If Your Workout was Effective?
Instead of looking at how sore you are after your workout, a better way to gauge the effectiveness of your session would be to look at how well you performed.
Contrary to popular belief, soreness is not what build muscle.
Being sore does not directly mean that you're building muscle.
Instead, the driver of muscle growth is mechanical tension.
That's basically the intensity of the stress that you put your muscles through. In other words, the amount of weight that you lift, and the number of reps that you perform with that weight.
As long as you're training hard, and are training close to failure, you're doing the right thing.
As long as the point at which you reach or approach muscular failure is progressing and increasing over time, you're on the right track to build muscle and reach your other fitness goals.
Your workouts are effective, and they're working.
See, you can train hard. Extremely hard.
You can train as hard as you possibly could, with the right form and everything else perfectly executed, and still not feel sore.
Remember, your soreness is caused by exposure to something new in your training.
Whether that means trying a new exercise, or trying drop sets for the first time, or lifting a weight that you've never attempted before, it's all the same.
If you're exposing your body to something new, you're more likely to feel sore.
In case you're worried about the effectiveness of your workouts and whether or not you're actually making good gains, you might want to look for other signs that you're making progress in the gym.
Can You Train If You're Still Feeling Sore?
Yes, you can if you want to.
Your performance during the workout might be a little bit hindered, but that doesn't mean that you can't train.
However it's probably not the smartest decision to try and max out or train to complete failure on heavy compounds if you're still feeling sore from a previous session.
That could lead to injury.
Instead, look to do some technique work, or something a little bit lighter so that you can focus more on form and lifting with intent.
How Can I reduce Soreness?
There's no way that you can guarantee you won't wake up sore the day after a workout.
However you can do some things to help your body recover quicker and not feel as bad.
Do Your Stretching
After your workouts, it's a good idea to do some static stretching so that you can loosen up the muscles and lose some of the tension in your body.
Simply just doing 3-5 minutes of it after your workout session can go a long way in reducing the soreness you wake up with the following day.
Another great way you can help to reduce the soreness you wake up with is to use your foam roller for a couple of minutes after your workout session.
This is once again going to help flush out some of the muscle tightness, soreness and inflammation that your workout session caused.
Get More Sleep
Your body recovers and repairs itself when you give it rest.
If you don't want to wake up feeling so sore after a tough workout session, try to get more sleep so that you can give your body more time to recover.
Try to get at least 7 hours a night.
Wrapping It Up
Waking up without sore muscles does not necessarily mean that your workouts aren't effective, or that you need to be training harder.
Instead, there are lots of other things that you need to be looking for to determine the effectiveness of your training, and whether or not you're on track to reach your goals in fitness.
Don't just look at how sore you wake up the next day, because it's hardly reliable at all!
Do you still get sore after your workouts?
Let me know down in the comments section below!