Question:Dear Anna I (we) want to FEEL the pain.......
I currently do your military class, step power class, 1 Flex it (try) and 1 Chisel per week. I´m used to not feeling very sore after the regular military or power class. However, I really was expecting (wanting) to feel the pain after the first chisel class. That tender, painful feeling that makes it difficult to sit, to stand, to walk, because your muscles are soooooo sore. Psychologically I feel like I´ve accomplished more in my workout if I feel this way the day after a class. Typically what happens is I do feel the muscles exhaust themselves in these classes and in the evening I feel the muscles being tired, however in the morning I´m able to fully sit, stand, and walk with no (or very little) tender, painful feeling.......
In the dressing room these types of discussions are happening so I´m sure this will answer my question and also resonate with others.
I (we) want that tender, painful, soreness; however, am I (are we) perceiving the lack of day after pain, incorrectly?
Looking forward to your answer!
This is a question fitness professionals get asked frequently. It wasn't until I began writing my reply to you, that I got a real sense of how confusing this topic would be for so many of you. The answer to whether the soreness you experience the next day is the best indicator of workout effectiveness, is simply, "No."
The reasons that's the case are much more complicated.
Anybody who has ever touched a weight knows the feeling...
It happens the first time you do squats or dead-lifts, the first time you do negative-only training and often the first time you do an exercise you've never done before.
As painful as this feeling is, ironically it can actually be quite addictive! I´m not sure when being able to sit, stand and walk normally become a bad thing. We workout to look and feel good, yet, at some point, walking like you just spent four consecutive days on a horse became fashionable.
Many people I hear from actively seek out ways to make themselves sore because they love that feeling of soreness. To them, it's an indication that they've made progress or that they've accomplished something in the gym.
Without that soreness to give them feedback, some people feel they haven't really done enough.
So, Christina, for you, the others in the locker room and anyone else who equates muscle soreness with workout effectiveness, you´re about to learn why you shouldn´t.
There are so many things you can do that will induce a kind of muscle soreness that doesn´t come from an effective workout, that soreness alone cannot be an indicator of results producing exercise. Sore muscles the day after doesn´t guarantee your workout was productive or that you´re going to achieve desired results. Similarly, not being sore the day after doesn't mean your workout was ineffective, or unproductive. As far as effectiveness, muscle soreness means nothing. If you´re sore, why you are is more important. If it´s from doing "the wave" one too many times at a sporting event, it won´t mean much. If you are not sore, the workout you did, and not the level of pain you feel the next day will determine its effectiveness.
First, I´ll talk about the physiological reasons for aching muscles.
Muscle soreness is also called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), or muscle fever. DOMS does not refer to 'the burn' that is sometimes felt during strenuous exercise; it is when the muscles begin to feel sore and stiff after exercise, typically between 24 and 48 hours later. "The burn" during exercise, is something on which I´ll elaborate later.
It is not clear exactly what causes delayed muscle soreness (DOMS). One theory is that muscle soreness occurs because of microscopic tears in muscle fibres, and another is that it is due to tears in the tissue that connects the muscle rather than the muscle itself. Further possibilities include inflammation, changes in osmotic pressure, and a change in the way the muscle cells regulate calcium.
Muscles are distressed when they are made to perform actions they are not used to, such as working out harder than usual, taking up a new sport, or beginning a new workout program. You would think that the greater the intensity of exercise that is performed, the greater the muscle soreness experienced afterwards, but that´s not always the case. Sometimes, regardless of how hard you push, there is no sign of it, post workout. Other times, you may not have found a workout or activity that strenuous and yet you´ll experience muscle tenderness.
Muscle cells repair and regenerate themselves in the days that follow intense exercise, and they get stronger in preparation for performing the activity again. After this recovery process, the muscles function more efficiently and are more resistant to damage. This process is known as adaptation. If someone has adapted to a specific movement, activity, exercise or type of training, the chances of experiencing DOMS is reduced. There is a higher probability of experiencing DOMS if adaptation has not occurred. Here´s an example.
If a 250 pound body builder were lifting heavy weight, with the main objective of gaining muscle mass, he may possibly feel debilitating soreness after a body sculpting class, in which he used much lighter weights, and did lots of reps. Would this suggest that he´s unfit or weak? No. It would mean he had not adapted to this type of training. He did something his body wasn´t used to doing and he got sore. That´s it.
If he continued with this high rep workout, the soreness would diminish. Certainly, he would stand to benefit somewhat from this type of training, however it would not move him any closer to his goal of gaining muscle mass.
Soreness can be an indication that what you've done will result in muscle growth but there is no guarantee.
Here is a list of things that may produce muscle soreness, none of which will produce the results you want when you think about getting or being in shape:
Going down many flights of stairs during a fire alarm; horseback riding; an afternoon of gardening; packing and moving boxes; washing windows; doing a stretch class; playing with children in a playground; having an arm wrestle; standing, walking or running in high heels; stripping furniture; doing 200 bicep curls with a three pound weight; taking a belly dancing class; doing a walk-a-thon; participating in a three-legged race; playing a game of "Twister"; lifting a stroller up a flight of stairs; climbing a tree.
These are all examples of very different activities you can do to feel sore in different places. For all 365 days of the year you could choose an activity, or a combination of them, that would make you sore every single day. Compare the physical outcome of that, to someone who is doing the workouts you´ve listed in your question (even if you´re rarely sore), and the result in overall fitness would be obvious.
Even though I teach some tough classes that sometimes result in a lot of muscle discomfort, it´s not my main objective. Your confusion about that is probably my fault. You all tell me how sore you are after a workout and I reply with an enthusiastic, "Great!" The reason for that reply is that I know what made you sore. It wasn´t from a hoolahoop contest. I gave you the exercises. If I don´t know the reason for your soreness, I´ll always ask why, first. You may or may not recall that when you tell me you're not sore after a workout, I give exactly the same reply. That's when I consider you've made progress.
My main objective is to challenge your muscles to promote adaptation. If I wanted to dole out pain, there are much more targeted ways of doing that. I would just beat you all with a hammer in time with the music. There's pain for you...lots of soreness, too. Woo hoo!
Here's a personal experience I had with DOMS to further illustrate my point.
During my last trip to New York, I did a high rep workout class with a friend. The instructor discouraged me from using more than 5 lb. weights and urged me to keep a set of 3 lb. weights nearby. I knew at that moment that I was in for a Mickey Mouse workout that would still leave my muscles screaming, despite that fact.
The workout consisted of hundreds (literally) of weighted arm circles (80´s style), isometric contractions and acid producing knee bends (still with 3 lb. weights). My friend Holly and I exchanged several glances during the workout, acknowledging each other´s unrelenting agony. Our arms were in the air at right angels for at least 20 minutes. All I could think was, "Someone pleeease just shoot me..."
Before I proceed with this story, it will be helpful to explain the physiology of `the burn´.
Once a level of exercise intensity is reached, muscle cells shift toward acidosis. This process can be described as an abnormal increase in the acidity of the body's fluids, caused either by accumulation of acids or by the depletion of bicarbonates.
'It was once thought that lactic acid was responsible for the immediate discomfort during intensive exercise. Lactate production itself is not what causes this discomfort experienced at high intensities. It is the proton accumulation (H+) that coincides with, but is not caused by lactate production, that results in acidosis, impairing muscle contraction and leading to the burn´. Len Kravitz - 2004
`Interestingly, the lactate production is proposed to be a physiological event to neutralize or retard the exerciser´s muscle acidic environment, reducing the toxicity of acidosis.
Lactate accumulation, associated with "the burn" is actually a beneficial metabolic event aimed at diminishing the burn (acidosis)´ Robergs, Ghiasvand, Parker - 2004
What was also discovered is that high intensities, achieved from minimal loading (very light weight) with long durations, increased levels of acidosis, also diminishing the benefits or lactic acid production.
`...On muscle loading, the exerciser stands to benefit from lactic acid assistance with more rapid fatigue, induced by higher levels of resistance. Without sufficient loading, exercise duration increases, creating toxic levels of acidosis.´ Brooks- 2005
Brook states here that if your body cannot remove acid as fast as it makes it, it becomes toxic. Based on this research, if you´re sore from legitimate muscle loading that´s fine (unless it´s from over training), but if it´s just from an accumulation of acid, that´s not a desirable result. If it´s not promoting growth or a beneficial form of adaptation, it´s not worth it.
I use these references to explain that there is "a burn" that takes place during certain types of exercise that will produce DOMS, but not the kind of burn that is favourable.
Consistently high levels of blood acidity will make you tired, lower immunity, create hormone imbalances, promote adrenal fatigue, insulin sensitivity and increase cortisol production (all of which greatly impede the breakdown of fat).
`Acidosis is an accumulation of more acid than the body can effectively process and is generally seen by medical science as a part of the pathology of several different diseases including impaired liver function. Teske - 2009
It occurs to me that some may conclude from the preceding information that high intensity exercise is not good for you, in general. Not so fast. I'll also point out, in that case, that the same problems can occur with too little exercise.
'We are animals. As we are not required to hunt and kill our own food, some simulation of increased blood flow, heart rate and muscle contraction must take place in daily living, in order to ensure essential cell function and regeneration. Without it, we are more prone to over 150 degenerative diseases, including liver malfunction, diabetes and arthritis, heart disease and of course, obesity, to name only a few...' Kerns - 2002
The point is to inject some logic into your approach to exercise. If you´re working hard yet not getting sore, consider it a blessing.
Back to my story.
With the hundreds of repetitions we were required to perform during this class, our bodies were mostly producing acid. More and more was accumulating with every 3 lb. bounce. The process was not accompanied by the type of muscle loading that would see eventual muscle growth. It was just pure acid.
Of the two of us, I would be considered more of a heavy weight lifter, doing mostly 10-15 reps per set, whereas Holly participates in group exercise classes, doing lots of aerobic activity and body sculpting classes (moderate weights with higher reps).
The next day my trapezius muscles and shoulders (which rarely get sore) were aching. Holly felt almost nothing. I didn´t get a better workout than she did, because I was sore and she wasn´t. It was likely due to her adaptation to higher reps from all of her group exercise classes, while I do little to no high rep training, or perhaps it was that she did a few minutes of cardiovascular training afterward. It didn't matter. Whatever the reason, two things were certain; I was not about to replace the 30 lb. dumbbells that rarely make me sore, with the 3 lb. weights that did. And, neither one of us got a great workout, but we did both waste our workout time, equally. The loads weren´t great enough to have any great impact on muscle development and the proof was in the participants. No one in the class (not even the instructor) looked fit.
Christina, you had hoped you'd feel sore after the Chisel class. You´re doing Flex It (moderate to high reps with moderate to heavy weights, with multi-joint movements); Chisel (higher reps with moderate weight doing isolated movements); Power Workout (cardio, weights, plyometrics) and resistance training on your own (programs I gave you, using heavy weight), plus I know you´re a long distance runner. You do everything - and you've mentioned that you rarely get sore; not even after a marathon. You´ve become a cross-training machine. Your body has reached levels of adaptation, doing so many various forms of training, that you´d have to do one of those things on my list to make you sore, none one of which would help you out in any way that would make a difference to you. The Chisel class was a different variation on one of your other workout themes, so to speak. That´s probably why you weren´t sore.
I understand that soreness makes you feel that you´re utilizing your workout time efficiently and wisely. The best thing anyone can do, to improve his or her results exponentially, however, is find out what kind of workouts produce the best results for his or her personal goals and leave the concern about achieving DOMS out of it. Think in terms of exercises combined with intensity levels and the results will happen with or without the pain, afterward.
There are so many additional factors that will influence your "day after" experience; how much energy (glycogen) is stored in muscles, i.e., what you had to eat in the last 24 hours - before or after your workouts; if you drank alcohol; how much sleep you got; if you had a long rest between workouts; if your recovery time was too short; genetic predisposition; analgesic consumption and overall health. Contrary to what you´d think, a sauna or whirlpools after a workout can increase muscle and tissue inflammation, making the pain worse the next day.
If you did your last weight workout in addition to something else, like a run, or a yoga class, that would have an impact on what you feel the next day. Even changing the order in which you did your exercises would change the muscle fibre recruitment pattern. Also, we each have a propensity to feel the hurt in some muscle groups more than others.
Maybe you always get sore triceps, regardless of how long you´ve been working them, which can definitely be the case. My inner thighs get sore (within hours) every single time I work them. All I have to do is flex my hamstrings and I´ll feel them the next day.
A certain amount of adaptation will always take place. Eventually, the amount of weight you use for an exercise in hypertrophy (muscle growth) will feel lighter to you as you adapt. Once this happens, to encourage more muscle development, either the number of repetitions you do, the number of sets, or the weight you´re lifting will have to change. These changes should be based on how challenged you´re feeling, during, and not solely upon whether this particular workout is producing day after pain.
A higher number of reps with lower weight will achieve a different result from fewer reps with higher weight and more sets, for example. Your personal fitness goals will determine what changes you make. You know now that if your goal is soreness, you may very well never see the changes you want.
So, how do you know what types of workouts to choose and in what kind of repetition range to do them, if you´re not using muscle soreness to gauge effectiveness? It really helps to know what exercises produce results.
First, let me say that I wouldn´t go as far as to say an exercise is bad, unless it is unsafe, or has contraindications for you, personally, however some exercises are just better than others. How to make that judgment is not based on whether everyone else is doing it.
There is too much to cover here for an in depth tutorial on how to be discerning, when it comes to exercise choices, but I will say this; the fitness industry is not unlike the fashion industry, as you have trends and classics (or variations of both). There´s also a natural evolution that takes place, as with most things. The wooden corset will never come back in fashion and neither will the front-loaded burpee... Ok, maybe the fitness industry is a little slow, but it should only be done under strict supervision, while wearing a harness and a back brace - head gear optional.
New trends can be great for awhile, providing a refreshing change, but how long will that be the case before you find yourself wearing acid wash jeans for a lot longer than you should? Before you jump on any fitness bandwagon, don´t assume that it will do what it purports. Ask your fitness providers questions - lots of them. And, make sure you get answers.
There´s one more very important point I´d like to make.
Professional athletes of all kinds train specifically to avoid muscle soreness. Their coaches won´t permit any practice that will affect the mechanics of their sport, or require more than 24 hours of recovery time. When a muscle is sore, it is considered to be in a recovery phase. No additional training takes place during this phase. So you can see, in this example, how working toward DOMS will impede progress. If athletes are winning medals by reducing muscle soreness, why should we feel our workouts are useless without it?
Muscle has no brain. All it knows is when it needs to adapt to a workload greater than what it's accustomed to. A targeted increase in workload will generally result in an increase in muscle mass, when other factors are accounted for, like nutrition and recovery. There is no benefit to destroying muscle, or connective tissue to the point where you can do permanent damage.
If you want to measure effectiveness, use a scale, a mirror, a measuring tape, pictures or a workout log. If none of these methods for measuring success works for you, and you continue to feel disappointed that you can sit, stand and walk normally, I'll be sure to bring my hammer next time I see you!
Thanks for your submission, Christina. I hope this has answered your question.