Should I be Sore After my Workout?

Have you ever finished your workout, assuming/expecting/dreading that in the coming hours or days you’ll experience some of that infamous soreness we hear so much about? Only to never end up sore, and eventually wonder if you wasted your workout, or ‘did it wrong’? “Should I be sore after my workout?” is a question I’ve been asked many times, so in the following paragraphs I will shed a little light on why we end up sore, and when we actually want to end up sore.

While some will say your workout wasn’t good enough if you’re not sore the next day, others will say the opposite; I say, it depends. It depends on (and this goes for just about anything fitness related) what your goals are. Different goals should create different responses from your body, one of which is the common muscle soreness called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), but before going into whether or not you should be experiencing DOMS on the reg, it’s important to understand what causes the soreness in the first place.


What Causes Sore Muscles?

That sore feeling we’re all so familiar with is caused by small tears in the muscle tissue believe it or not. Muscles are made up of tiny compartments (called sarcomeres) that are connected on each end to another sarcomere, which are connected to more sarcomeres ultimately forming a long chain. The sarcomere is the contractile unit of a muscle and ultimately what is responsible for movement! Having said that, you can now understand that it’s damage to the sarcomere that results in soreness after exercise. Now that you know the cause of soreness, let’s dive into whether or not you should be sore.

When Should I be Sore?

The Beginning:

Muscle soreness is a fundamental part of most exercise, especially for those who haven't spent much time being active in the past several months. With that said, if you’re just starting out in the gym, or just getting back on track after a long layoff, you’re likely to experience more soreness initially, compared to what you’ll feel after a month or so of consistent training -regardless of your goals. This is due, in large part, to the lack of strength and coordination in your muscles.

After Changes in Routine:

To get the most out of your workouts (more on that HERE), it’s important to routinely change things up. The reason for this is simple: As you workout, your body is learning how to handle the demands of that workout, becoming stronger and ultimately making the work less taxing (and less taxing = fewer results). This is why a 10-pound dumbbell might be hard to lift at first, but noticeably easier after a few weeks. Keep your body working!

Goal Specific:

The level and frequency of muscle soreness is strongly related to your health and fitness goals:

Goal A:  Bigger Muscles (Most Soreness!)

If your goal is to have bigger, more defined muscles then soreness is something you will definitely want to feel after most of your workouts. By structuring your workout in a way that breaks the tissue down (also known as ‘hypertrophy training’) a response is triggered from your body that ultimately causes the muscle to rebuild, but bigger than it was before.


Goal B:  Increased Strength (Some Soreness...)

If your goal is to get stronger, your workout should consist of lifting heavy weight at a fairly quick tempo. By doing so, you improve the coordination of muscular contraction which results in more strength. Even though the majority of strength gains come from this improved muscle coordination, the nature of lifting heavy weight is going to break the muscle tissue down, albeit less than hypertrophy training will, resulting in some soreness.

Goal C:  Lose weight/Burn fat (Minimal Soreness..)

For those of you who want to burn fat and ultimately lose a few pounds, you should experience some soreness after you incorporate changes into your resistance training routine, as I mentioned earlier. However, for the most part you should be focused on long-duration aerobic types of exercise (cardio), since it is one of the best ways to burn fat.

So What’s Happening if I’m not Sore?

Just because you’re not sore the day or two following your workout doesn’t mean that the workout was pointless, or a waste. Will your muscles get bigger - not necessarily, but that doesn’t mean other important things aren’t happening. Some of these other results of exercise are listed below:

  • Stress Relief – A well-known benefit to exercise is its ability to relieve tension and reduce overall stress.
  • Stronger Heart – Exercise, as we all know gets the heart rate going, and the result of the increased heart rate is a stronger ticker.
  • Improved Circulation – As a result of a strengthened heart (which pumps blood throughout the body), circulation is improved resulting in healthier tissues and organs.
  • Improved CoordinationDuring certain exercises, particular muscles are targeted but other muscles are still working to keep things in order. The body’s ability to control the ‘other’ muscles is continuously improving with each round of exercise.
  • Energy Pathway Efficiency – Different tasks place different demands on the body, (which is why cardio is better exercise for burning fat) requiring energy either more or less immediately. Exercise introduces demands that require both immediate and slower forms of energy, which causes the body to use its different energy pathways ultimately making them work more smoothly.



So there you have it – There are plenty of positive things happening in your body as a result of exercise, but if your goal is to have bigger, more defined muscles then soreness is something you want and need to experience after your workouts. That’s not to say if your goals are just to stay healthy and not to have bigger muscles that you’ll avoid being sore altogether - any quality training program should routinely present challenges that the body isn’t used to which will, more often than not, result in at least minimal soreness. Embrace it!

Abs Aren’t Made in the Kitchen


Over time, the phrase “Abs are made in the kitchen” has become more and more popular. And while it’s true that nutrition plays a huge role in regard to how much fat vs how much muscle our body keeps, it’s also true that exercise is pretty important in regulating both of those elements as well. Not to mention, exercise is what gives the abs (or any muscle) the tone and shape that most desire. I mean, you never hear anyone argue that glutes, or biceps are made in the kitchen...


I’m not writing this as a ‘nutrition vs. exercise’ article, instead I intend to shed a little light on the importance of BOTH nutrition and exercise in the development of a nice midsection. I would like to go into more detail regarding exercise, however, due to the emphasis that I feel that phrase (abs are made in the kitchen) has put on nutrition.


Since fat is most often stored and accumulated along the midsection, the abs are quickly concealed and then, typically, emphasis is placed on eating correctly in order to reveal those long lost abs. Seems simple enough, and it’s true – by determining your caloric needs and a daily total to strive for (generally 500 calories below your daily caloric need), and then adhering to the rules you’ve set, you will no doubt begin to lose body fat! This can be time consuming though, and since one of the most stubborn types of fat is belly fat, taking extra measures to attack it is always a good idea. Still, the best way to bring the abs into the picture is through consistent exercise, in addition to taking on a healthier diet.

Along with toning and shaping muscle tissue, exercise has extremely beneficial effects on the body. One of the most advantageous effects (especially when the goal is to burn fat) is the increase in metabolism brought on by exercise. Simply put: the more intense the bout of exercise, the greater the increase in metabolism will be. By increasing your metabolism and implementing a healthier diet, you’ll be flying (hypothetically speaking) towards your goal of firm, visible abs... Assuming you’re targeting your abs the right way...


The Abs Are Muscle Tissue Too...

There seems to be a general misunderstanding regarding the development of the midsection since so many incorporate ab exercises into just about every workout (are you guilty of this?). Instead, the muscles of the midsection should be treated the same as other muscles throughout the body – with a little time deliberately focused on that area, one to two times each week. By properly working abs into your routine it won’t be long before your midsection is feeling more firm and you’re closer to seeing those lines. The mistake of sprinkling ab exercises into basically every workout is problematic, in part because you’re not giving the muscles sufficient time to heal. This prevents them from working as efficiently the next time they’re targeted which ultimately leads to a less efficient response. So again, it’s important to work the muscles deliberately and then give them time to heal so you can get the most out of each workout, while also protecting yourself from unnecessary injury.

Building Proportionate Abs

The majority of ab workouts you’ll see people doing not only focus primarily on the muscle that makes up the traditional six pack (the rectus abdominis), but also work this muscle in a way that pulls the torso towards the hips - think of a traditional crunch. The pulling down action of the abs is important and shouldn’t be ignored, but the emphasis placed on these exercises, compared to those which pull the hips up or rotate the torso left to right, is disproportionate and should also be addressed. Take a look at what others are doing for their abs next time you’re in the gym and you’ll most likely see a lot of exercises pulling the torso down with a few leg raises thrown in the mix and little to no rotational work being done. Or take a peek on Instagram and you’ll see a lot of abs that are toned near the chest and ribs with lines that quickly diminish as they move towards the hips.


A general rule I follow for how I distribute work throughout my midsection is:

  • 50% Lower abs
  • 30% Upper abs
  • 20% Rotation

Adjust this accordingly, based on your needs.

How to Workout for Fat Loss

Targeting the muscles of the midsection is important for developing the shape and tone of the area, but the exercises involved for that are only so demanding. By structuring your workouts to follow the principle of specificity (more on that here) you ensure that you’re introducing new and challenging demands for your body to learn, resulting in more work that your body has to do, which means greater (and more consistent) increases in metabolism and ultimately more calories burned. Speaking of calories burned - if your abs are hiding behind a layer of fat then cardio should be a big part of your workout regimen, here's why...


In addition to resistance training, cardio has huge benefits that are useful throughout all facets of fitness, but particularly for those who want to burn fat. By engaging in long durations of non-stop exercise (a light jog, or brisk walk) the body will realize the need for sustainable energy, and look for a longer lasting fuel source compared to what’s needed for say a 20 second set of bench press using dumbbells. The fuel source that the body begins to use during aerobic exercise is, you guessed it, FAT! Below you can see that 1 gram of fat contains more calories (energy) than 1 gram of carbohydrate. That alone can begin to explain why the body would use it for long duration activity – it’s got twice the amount of energy!


It’s true that nutrition plays a major role with regard to how much fat vs how much lean muscle the body stores. Still, as important as nutrition is, do not overlook exercise and the role it can play in altering body composition. Developing a sound plan of attack that includes both nutritional and fitness strategies is the sure fire way to produce the firm, visible midsection you’ve always wanted; it’s never just one or the other.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Workout

I think it’s safe to say that by this point it’s a well-known fact that fitness is important. Many have taken to the gym in recent years to regain control of their health, and as more evidence emerges regarding the impact regular exercise has on chronic conditions (obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer), it’s easy to imagine that more and more will take to the gym for the same reason.

The purpose behind getting in the gym is great, and for the first few weeks, most will notice changes that they’re happy with regardless of their level of fitness expertise (or even lack there-of). This is primarily due to the fact that the body becomes conditioned to a rather inactive lifestyle. This type of lifestyle will cause the body to lose muscle tissue simply due to the fact that it is not being used very much; since muscle tissue requires energy from the body to stay alive and healthy, why should the body prioritize putting energy towards it when you aren’t using it? By going from an inactive lifestyle to actively participating in cardio and (hopefully) resistance training, you’re signaling to the body that stresses will be introduced and strong muscles are needed.

Now for one of the most amazing features of the human body (although there are many): it wants to stay alive! Yup. If you go from lifting your television remote on a regular basis, to lifting a fifteen-pound dumbbell on a regular basis, your body will essentially say, “hmm, that’s a lot more difficult than what I’m used to doing” and a response is triggered that takes resources (nutrients from the food you eat) to build stronger muscle tissue… At least that’s the goal – Keep creating a change in the stimulus that the body has grown accustomed to!

By programming your workouts in a strategic manner you can keep creating that ‘remote to dumbbell’ difference which is a key component in prompting a significant response in the form of results. Below, I will provide the basic guidelines to 3 phases of periodization training, each of which should last for about 4 weeks (this is roughly how long it takes for the body to adapt to a repeated stimulus - at which point it's time to change). I will also provide a bit of detail regarding what adaptations are taking place, and why they’re important.

Muscular Endurance

The muscular endurance phase is important because it essentially begins conditioning the muscle and connective tissue to be able to handle a greater capacity of work in a way that poses minimal risk. Here, exercisers want to use lighter weights that are somewhat easy to control. It is important to start in this phase, since during an inactive lifestyle the tissues that are now being stressed have deteriorated (atrophy) to some degree. Given the relatively fragile state of the muscles (and subsequently the joints they hold together), the lighter used during the muscular endurance phase is essential since it allows the muscles to be worked through a higher rep range without excessive resistance that might lead to injury. Still, we don’t want to just rush through these sets, despite the easy to handle weight. To properly benefit from increased muscular endurance, choose a weight where 15-25 reps are possible each set and make your breaks in-between sets last about 90 seconds. During the lifting, a tempo of 4/2/1 is recommended-> here’s what that means, using barbell bench press as an example.


With the barbell un-racked, slowly control the bar down using a 4 count, pause at the bottom of your range of motion for a 2 count, and then concentrate on pressing the bar up through the contraction of your chest using a 1 count.

Here, the majority of the work is done on the way down, creating quite a bit of ‘time under tension’. This slow, consistent, methodical - but long - working duration is what prompts the adaptations of improved muscular endurance and is what prepares the tissue to handle the increased stimulus of the next phase (which is my personal favorite): hypertrophy training!





Hypertrophy (pronounced hyper-truh-fee) is the phase where muscles are triggered to actually increase in size. Since muscles work by using proteins inside that link together ultimately causing them to shorten, the value of hypertrophy training is largely due to the fact that it causes more of these contractile proteins to form. These additional proteins cause the muscle to increase its diameter, making it bigger, and often times more visible, while also giving it the potential to produce more force than before. The adaptation of more contractile proteins and larger muscles is, much like the previous phase, a result of more ‘time under tension’, but more importantly these adaptations are also a result of the increased load demand of lifting heavier weights than previously, during muscular endurance. However, during hypertrophy training, the execution is a bit different from that of muscular endurance. Here, a heavier weight, one where only 8-12 reps can be accomplished is necessary for each set, with rest intervals in-between sets at about 60 seconds. Increasing to heavier weight when starting this phase is vital for prompting that ‘remote to dumbbell’ response, which I mentioned earlier, as you progress. Aside from heavier weight, hypertrophy training calls for a 2/0/2 tempo; still using bench press as an example, here’s what that means:

With the barbell un-racked, control the bar down using a 2 count and with no pause at the bottom (and no bouncing), press the bar back up methodically using a 2 count. Squeeze the muscle you’re working (chest) once at the top of the rep and immediately go into the next. Repeat 8-12 times.

 For me, getting into a bit of a rhythm really helps me reap the benefits of this phase by keeping my working muscles under tension longer while helping me avoid any unnecessary pauses throughout. The heavier weight and the consistent tension cause a breakdown of the muscle tissue so significant that the body ultimately responds by enlarging the tissue… It’s part of that whole: The body wants to stay alive, thing.

By increasing the number of contractile proteins in a muscle, and it’s overall size, the potential for more force production is now there. To trigger this next very important adaptation, we move to the strength phase.



While muscular endurance and hypertrophy develop the working capacity and increased size of muscles, strength training works on developing the signaling system responsible for efficient muscle contraction. This is the phase where the hard work of muscular endurance and hypertrophy training comes together in the form of more effective muscle contraction, which translates to increased strength.


**Side note: it is important to understand that strength training requires force to be applied at a high rate. This can put excess stress on the connective tissue, joints and the core muscles, so it’s important to address these areas regularly throughout your development leading up to this phase.**

To truly reap the benefits of the strength phase, heavy weights are extremely important; weight where only 1-5 reps are possible. Along with heavy weight, this phase requires fast contractions. Essentially, you will want to try to lift the weight as quickly as you can while remaining in control and not sacrificing form. Despite the efforts to lift as quickly as possible, the amount of weight will typically (and should) prevent the movement from occurring fast. Since we’re working with a more exhausting weight and tempo, rest periods of 3-5 minutes are recommended. An example of strength training can be reviewed below:




With the barbell un-racked and core engaged, bring the bar down to your chest in a quick but controlled manner and immediately press it back up as quickly as possible while focusing on contracting through your chest. Repeat 1-5 times.

The demands that strength training places on the body fall primarily on the nervous system, as opposed to the previous two phases where the muscle tissue is the main target. For this reason, the fatigue that results from strength training might feel a bit different than other phases. I compared it to somewhat of a mental fatigue, which I’m sure most of you have already experienced at one point or another. Lastly, during strength training, some muscle growth  is likely to continue happening since the phase requires heavy weights to be used, but this will be minimal compared to the previous phase due to shorter rep ranges (which, again, are necessary to create increases in strength).


After the strength phase is complete, by this point it will have been at least 8 weeks (remember, each phase should last at least 4 weeks) since the last time you’ve worked through 15-25 repetitions of slow controlled movement. The large gap between muscular endurance and strength training creates a nice opportunity to begin re-stressing the tissues through the same cyclical format, except this time during muscular endurance you should be able to start with a weight that’s greater than what you used your first time through, which will prepare you to lift heavier than your first time through hypertrophy and the same for strength... Get the picture?

There are many other variables you can throw in the mix when formatting your own workout routines. This article is intended to help provide a basic understanding of the age-old concept: “keep the body guessing” and why that’s so important to do. So, grab a notebook and pen, get in the gym and start scribbling your workouts down in a way that follows the guidelines above.