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Does Soreness Equal a Good Workout?

Soreness = A good workout?

Yesterday was a heavy lifting day for me. Big legs – squats, walking lunges, RDLs, ham curls, and such. I left the gym sweaty – sweatier than most days. I was even a little shaky. My heart rate remained slightly elevated for a few hours. I was anticipating a wonderful soreness today.



It is atypical for me to experience very much soreness, 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?

Because of my personal experience of not typically experiencing a lot of soreness, I have had to identify other ways to measure a good workout. My preferred measure of a good workout is progression – lifting more weight, increased endurance, improved stability, etc.

I want you to ask yourself: 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 keep copious notes, of reps, sets, and weight selections. This provides me with evidence of strength increases. When doing this, expect to increase your weight 5-10% at a time. And keep in mind 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. During your journey you are very likely building muscle and losing fat (not necessarily weight!). Therefore, when your jeans really need a belt – that’s 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 is typically not a good measure, but will do in a pinch).

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 night’s 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 Takeaway

Note that my measures may not be your measures. This needs to be personal. But bottom line, 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 of the time? I know that I don’t!

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?


Becca is a certified personal trainer with Begin Within. She holds a Master’s Degree in Exercise Psychology and is passionate about inspiring and motivating others to reach their optimal potential and well-being.

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