Truth About Sore Muscles After A Workout: Good Or Bad?

March 29, 2014


Anyone who has ever lifted weights has no doubt heard the term “feeling the burn.” The idea behind muscle building exercises is that by training the muscles and challenging them, micro trauma is occurring in the muscle. When a workout is complete, the muscle will recover and rebuild denser than it was before.

Often times the burn felt while working out leads to soreness later in the day. So the question pops up – is that soreness a good or bad sign about the workout that was just completed?

Is it sore or is it injured?

One of the biggest mistakes people will make is misidentifying an injury sustained while working out as routine soreness. Given the traumatic nature of a workout for the muscles, people can expect to experience what is known as delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS) 24 to 48 hours after a high intensity workout.

However, people need to be aware of signs from the body that the pain is an injury and not DOMS. The best way to determine whether the soreness is DOMS or an injury is whether or not the pain is bilateral. If both shoulders are sore following an intense shoulder workout, it is probably DOMS. However, soreness on one side or one muscle in a group could be an injury instead.

How long is it going to be sore?

As previously mentioned, soreness following a high intensity workout tends to last anywhere from 24 to 48 hours afterward. If muscle soreness lasts longer than 48 hours or begins to impact the next workout day on the calendar, it is possible that overtraining of the muscle has occurred.

When a muscle is pushed too far, too much damage may occur for it to recover and rebuild itself. In cases where this occurs, the muscle may actually get weaker and smaller because it is being over-trained and not allowed enough time to recover.

Is it continually sore?


Muscle soreness, though part of a good workout, should not be a routine part of any exercise regimen. Just because a muscle has been worked hard doesn’t mean it is going to be sore every time a workout is completed.

When soreness appears on a continual basis, it may be a sign that the body is being pushed too far, too frequently.

Signs of over-training include persistent soreness, muscle aches and joint pain. This can be the result of infrequent rest or pushing the body too hard, or both.

Over-training may not only lead to chronic pain issues, but it can also impact overall performance.

Is it in the muscle or joint?

Experiencing soreness following a workout is expected; after all it is the result of trauma to the muscles. However, individuals should be aware of the location of soreness. Soreness in muscles is one thing, but soreness in joints is another. Sore joints may be a sign of improper form or too much weight. Joint pain can become chronic and is not a good sign following any workout.

Soreness is a result of chemical reactions

Although the exact science behind it remains open to debate, soreness in muscles following a workout is the result of a wide variety of chemical reactions that begin to take place in the body during a workout.

As the targeted muscles begin to work harder and harder, hormones in the body tell white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets and growth nutrients to rush to the muscle.

Why exactly this happens, and why it results in muscle soreness, remains largely unknown at this point in time. It is not viewed as a bad thing, but rather a mysterious result that is likely linked to the muscle’s recovery and growth following intense exercise.

Your body is talking, so listen

At the end of the day, soreness is the body’s way of communicating what is going on internally with different muscle groups. Individuals should be aware of soreness in conjunction with recently completed exercises. Muscle soreness is a sign that your body has gone through trauma and the workout routine may need to be adjusted going forward to cope.

Mild soreness is seen as acceptable, but intense soreness is a sure fire sign that a workout regimen is too intense right now for the body’s current fitness level. Listening to soreness can help properly calibrate exercises, weight levels, and sets/reps going forward to encourage proper fitness and muscle growth.

One Comment

  1. Anjelica Rachela Tringas

    May 13, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    I found that no matter what my injury is staying active is key to rapid healing.

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