"No pain, no gain" may be a common mantra in the fitness world, but it shouldn't always be that way. Sure, delayed muscle soreness (DOMS) means that you're building muscles that you may not be using regularly (a good thing), but it's not always ideal to feel sore after a workout. Read on for reasons why.
It could be an injury: While you may be used to that dull ache after an intense workout, make sure you understand whether or not the pain you're experiencing is normal DOMS and not an injury. Usually you can tell by whether or not pain is sharp or happens during your workout, since it can take 24 to 48 hours for normal DOMS to set in, or whether it's happening only on one side — if only your right shoulder hurts after lifting weights, for example, it could mean you've injured yourself.
More reasons why it's not always good to be sore after a workout after the break.
Maintenance is important: Regularly exercising your muscles builds and strengthens them, which means that the same exercises that made it once painful to walk won't have the same effect after you've been at it for months. But just because you're no longer sore doesn't mean that you should abandon your routine. Whether you always attend a favorite class or do the same interval training on the treadmill twice a week, you'll be maintaining the muscle strength you've already gained by sticking to a normal routine (you should, however, supplement with new workouts or exercises regularly).
You shouldn't always be in recovery mode: Muscle soreness can delay your progress if it makes it too painful to actually work out. Even though being sore is sometimes a good thing for your muscles, if it keeps hindering you from meeting your workout goals, alternate intense days with lighter workouts. Read more tips for exercising when sore here.
So the bottom line is that while that day-after feeling of soreness is a good thing — it means that you are working neglected or less-used muscles in your body — you shouldn't always feel like you have to push yourself. Make sure to vary your routine while also sticking to it, so you are still progressing (even if you aren't always experiencing soreness). And to help dampen the effects of muscle soreness, make sure you stretch after every workout (read our tips for more ways to ease DOMS here).