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The Truth about Muscle Soreness and Exercise 

Updated: Jan 20

The truth about muscle soreness and exercise

Is muscle soreness normal or needed?

You know it's important to do cardiovascular, stretching, and strength exercises. You ‘know’ it's normal to feel soreness from exercising. Some people even say it's helpful.  

Did you also know that there is not one study showing soreness is actually helpful when exercising for health?  

The idea that soreness is a sign of progress comes from the ‘no pain, no gain’ saying, which originated with coaches looking to motivate athletes to push their bodies to the limit in order to perform at their peak in competition.

That catchy saying has led the rest of us to believe that pain or soreness is necessary when exercising, that if you are not sore, you are not working hard enough and thus not making progress. Again, there is no scientific evidence to support this idea. 

Muscle soreness is inflammation

Muscle soreness is inflammation. Inflammation has its purpose with acute injury, but not when you are asking your body to grow stronger. You will hear people equate soreness with the ‘tear and repair’ that happens in muscle cells with strength exercises. But those tears are microtears. They are not supposed to hurt. When they do, the repair that needs to be done slows progress, rather than speeding it up.   

But you put ‘tear and repair’ along with ‘no pain, no gain and you get the misguided concept of a ‘good sore'. There’s no such thing! Not at the start of an exercise program or at any other time. It's the result of too much, too soon and your body now has more work to do before it can get stronger.  

Muscle soreness blocks your exercise habit

Muscle soreness makes it hard to start exercising. If soreness was part of exercising in the past, your subconscious brain learned from your body that this thing called exercise is something to avoid. Now, as soon as you think of doing it, your brain puts on the brakes. 

This causes some confusion as your conscious brain hears the message that soreness is normal and a sign of progress, but your survival brain gets the more powerful message from your body to avoid starting that thing you call exercise.  

Shift your mindset about soreness

If you have become accustomed to tolerating, even celebrating, muscle soreness, you may not realize how it affects your motivation to exercise. Instead of tolerating it, use soreness as a guide: 

  1. With mindfulness and self-kindness, meet yourself where you are with an honest assessment of how much your body is ready to do at the start. 

  2. Listen to your whole person so your conscious brain gets the most up-to-date, accurate, personalized information about how to exercise to be healthy now. When your body has pain, listen and change what you are doing. Choose your exercises wisely, based on what you want your body to be able to do for you. 

  3. Strengthen your foundational muscle memory to move well with the information in this video so you can gradually progress with a balance of strength, stamina, and mobility exercises so you can function as well as you can today and every day.  

Join us at Exercising Well to learn how to exercise without muscle soreness.

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