Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rest Day Thoughts

In Search of Soreness

Why do you train? The word "results" is so over-used in the world of training, it has become a tired cliche. But I assume you are not expending all this energy without some outcome in mind, even if you only have a vague idea what that is, or even if the reasons you are training are evolving, which is normal. I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that if I were to ask you in casual conversation, why you train, why you work out so hard, you would be very unlikely to say, "Oh I just do it to see how sore I can get!" 

And yet time and again trainees of all levels measure the effectiveness of their workouts by how devastatingly sore they get. Time and again I hear people in the gym or see their facebook posts celebrating how crushed their abs are or how they can't move their arms to wash their hair, or they can barely walk up the stairs etc...
As if the workout can be considered a resounding success based on that fact alone.  

The effectiveness of a workout is measured by how much it improves or increases the qualities you're trying to develop, not by how much pain you're in afterwards. 

 (Yes you should know what qualities you're trying to develop! Do the ten general physical skills come to mind?) If I'm trying to get stronger I'm going to know I'm making progress when I'm putting more weight on the bar for a given rep scheme within a given time frame. This outcome is entirely independent of any soreness. If I've been trying to lean out and reduce bodyfat, I'm going to measure my progress by the appearance of greater muscle definition, a reduction in my waistline measurement, and a reduction in skinfold thicknesses. That's progress. Wrecking my abs so I can barely cough without pain is meaningless, and probably a colossal waste of time as well. If I'm trying to improve my cardiorespiratory endurance, I will measure my progress by my 5k and 10k time, for example.

Getting really sore independent of any measurable improvement in fitness has no meaning. 

It is merely a side effect that your muscles have been damaged and are in a state of repair. Do yourself a favor and focus on achievement, not the after-effects of your workout. Put soreness in its proper place, a side effect of hard work, not the goal itself. 

Often the reply I hear when counseling some trainee on this point is "but coach, I love that feeling of soreness!" That's all fine and good. It makes you feel that you've been working hard, it's a reminder that you did something positive. Not a thing wrong with that. But don't be delusional and derive all your satisfaction and validation from your body being trashed. That is not the goal. In particular people seem to LOVE the sensation of having sore abs. I think this stems from the idea that you're going to get more ripped if you can work the daylights out of your abs on a regular basis. Really that wrong-headed idea is the topic of another article. But suffice it to say it does NOT work that way. All you're gonna have from doing hundreds of ab exercises is really sore abs, not to mention the lost opportunity to do something ELSE that's actually meaningful and productive like a multi-joint compound movement!

Bottom line? Be performance oriented!


  1. Makes total sense! I don't really love being sore - LOL. The most recent time I was that sore, I was just proud of the fact that I went the prescribed KB weight! :)