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athlete using a foam roller on his calf muscles

Is a workout effective if you’re not sore the next day?

You crushed an intense workout and felt the burn, but didn’t notice any muscle soreness the next day. Was your training effective? Aja Battle, ACSM EP-C, EIM2, a Piedmont exercise physiologist, explains what causes muscle soreness and how to know if your workout will get results.

What causes muscle soreness after a workout?

When you strength train, you create micro-tears in your muscles, says Battle. Lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises causes a small amount of damage to your muscle fibers, which respond by repairing and rebuilding to become stronger. That’s what creates strength and, sometimes, soreness.

Good vs. bad soreness after a workout

While some tightness and discomfort are normal after a workout, pain isn’t. Battle says the following are signs you overdid your workout:

  • You feel pain immediately afterward.

  • You notice swelling, redness or bruising.

  • You wince when you try to move.

  • You’re sore more than 48 hours later.

If this happens, take a break for a few days to heal or consult with your exercise physiologist or physician.

“The goal is to not be in pain,” says Battle. “Your workouts should help resolve pain.”

On the other hand, there’s “good” soreness, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS usually occurs the day or two after a workout.

“Your workout can still be effective if you’re not sore afterward,” says Battle. “But in general, the next day, you want to feel like your muscles got worked.”

Is a workout still effective if you’re not sore?

If you don’t experience DOMS after a workout, there could be a few reasons why:

  • Certain muscle groups are used to working hard. “For example, those bigger muscles, like your quads and hamstrings, are used to getting a lot of work during your daily activities,” says Battle. “But if you do calf raises, you’ll likely feel sore the next day because you don’t always use those muscles in that way.”

  • You’re not challenging yourself enough. If you’re consistently not sore, that could indicate that you’re not pushing yourself enough. When you exhaust your muscles, you’ll see better results. To increase the challenge, up the amount of weight you lift or the number of reps you perform. The last few reps should be challenging to do with correct form. When you start to lose good form, that’s a sign your muscles are fatigued and you should stop or take a break.

  • It’s time to switch activities. Another reason you’re not sore could be because you need to switch up the type of exercise you do. “For example, if you walk on the treadmill for 40 minutes and don’t feel anything the next day, try strength training instead,” says Battle.

The biggest key to getting good results from your workouts is consistency. If you enjoy physical activity, you’ll work harder and be more consistent, she notes.

“There are so many ways to be active—you don’t have to go to the gym or do only one type of class,” says Battle. “Find the activities you like to do.”

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