How do I know if I am working out hard enough or too hard?

Have you ever had a killer workout, and you weren’t sore afterwards?  Or, worked out and you were sore for like 5 days??   I have and its really frustrating trying to figure out:  1.  why the disparity, and 2.  how I can be more consistent.  Because let’s admit it!  Even though we want to feel that soreness, its kind of annoying, especially if you have to wear a skirt, or need to move quickly, right?! Its that moaning, “I’m so sore!!!” that is bragging rights to people who work out hard.  BUT, is it healthy?  What is too sore?  Are you doing more harm than good?

This can be a very confusing subject, full of myths and lots of differing opinions.  Many personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts (especially cross fit fans) will say you should feel very sore to know that you have broken down the muscle sufficiently.  This usually occurs one or two days after a hard work out and its called DOMS:  delayed onset muscle soreness. This soreness used to be thought to be caused by lactic acid build up, which is not true.  It is caused by the breakdown of the muscle cells and connective tissue (read all about that here).

This is MY take on this:

  • If you work to your capacity, feel your muscles struggle (“fatigue”) and burn while you are working out–and the next couple of days you are fine (maybe MINOR soreness), I’d say you had a great workout!
  • If you work to your capacity, etc.  and are very sore for several days (like impeding movement for more than 2 days) there is something else going on, like lack of nutrition, or hydration.
  • Is your purpose for working out to create more inflammation in your body or create a happy healthy body?  I say the latter and let me explain myself a little.

Like I said, we like to feel that soreness, mostly because it makes us feel tough–come on!!  admit it!!  But, that soreness is an indicator of inflammation which is not really a good thing–especially for people who are really stressed out already.

SO, I say a lot of soreness is NOT a good thing.  Yes, it will happen occasionally, but every time you work out is excessive.  If this isn’t kept in check, it can lead to injuries, weight gain, burn out (mentally and physically).

Here is another thing to consider:

Why do we feel like we have to beat ourselves up in order to be healthy? Why do feel we need to earn a badge of soreness to feel strong and fit?  I used to be this way, so yes, I am guilty of this–bragging about my super intense workout, and how sore I was.  But, then I really thought about it.

  • Are we really meant to be sore all the time?
  • If soreness = inflammation and inflammation is bad, is soreness bad?
  • Is soreness, especially prolonged soreness, an indicator of your body not being able to “clean up” and heal the inflammation effectively?  Is it an indicator of impaired systems?

Here are my answers:

  1. NO
  2. YES
  3. YES

I know this goes against everything most people have learned about fitness and strength, but the conventional thought (that soreness is good and should be bragged about) doesn’t make sense biologically, or psychologically.

Why do we need to beat ourselves up?  Tell me what you think!!  Leave a comment below.

Thanks!!  Elyse

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