January 28, 2013

Weekend Roundup / Why Soreness Doesn’t Matter

My weekend didn’t get off to a great start – but that didn’t mean I couldn’t recover. On Thursday night, I ended up getting quite upset about something – and literally staying up all night long stressing out. Not good at all! At 1am, I went online to cancel my Friday morning Refine Method class, since I could already foresee this being a bad night. I didn’t want to give up on my challenge (especially after my very public commitment to extend my work out daily challenge till March!), but thought I could perhaps go that evening instead of getting up so early. However  when I found myself still awake at 5:30am, I realized that I might as well head to Refine instead of lying in bed – so I proceeded with my original plan.

Don't think about it. Just do it.
Original photo credit: Austin Evan

Turns out that I was not the only one with doubts – every single other person who had signed up for the class had canceled, which meant I was the only one there! At first I was terrified, and wished I had stayed in bed too… until I realized that I was basically getting a private session for the price of a group class. Now I was thrilled I had braved the cold!

Becca totally kicked my butt (and my abs… and my arms…), and I realized that I tend to cheat with a lot of rest breaks when the instructor focuses on other people. Not so for the solo class – there was nowhere to hide! I was proud to discover that I could do more military-style pushups than I had thought possible, and even more excited when my muscles (especially my abs) were incredibly sore for the entire rest of the weekend. Obviously it was an awesome workout, right?

An email from Brynn at Refine set me straight:

“Sorry, I’m going to answer your question with a long-winded statement 🙂 While I totally understand the natural inclination to associate soreness with a good workout, soreness is actually not a sign of much of anything and one of the biggest fitness myths out there. Check out our blog for a convo on the topic. New movements that you haven’t performed or haven’t performed in a while, increasing your weight and eccentric movements (this is the lowering phase of an exercise, like lowering the weight in a biceps curl) will all make you more sore, but that is not a sign of fat loss, calories burned or strength gains.

I know its gratifying to feel an area you want to change sore, but sadly that doesn’t mean you are changing that area–its just one of those things, not “spot toning.” In fact, high repetition/low weight exercises (think barre classes) are one of the biggest contributors to delayed onset muscle soreness, but in this case it is probably a sign of your connective tissues being repeatedly stressed. Disc planks, which you performed Friday, are a good example of an eccentric exercise (your abs are controlling the discs on the release) and a great exercise, but the increase in soreness is NOT a sign that they are any better than a regular plank or a host of other exercises.”

I had long known about spot toning being a ridiculous fitness myth (seriously, does anyone actually think you can spot tone anymore? I guess so or plenty of infomercial companies would be out of business), but I had never thought about soreness as being another potential myth. What Brynn said made perfect sense though, particularly when I checked out the great article on her blog, No Pain, No Gain? (seriously, go read it). Since most articles discussing the phenomenon approach it from the perspective of someone who is unhappy with the soreness and try to reassure them that it will be okay (like this Greatist article), I realize that perhaps that was why I had always seen soreness as a good thing – not because there was any scientific evidence to back it up.

Fortunately, my soreness didn’t stop me from enjoying the weekend. I spent most of Saturday indulging in some excellent meals and drinks with friends (and sneaking in a quick 20 minute arm workout thanks to Mina Lessig’s Tank Top Arms, Bikini Belly, Boy Shorts Bottom, a DVD I hadn’t touched since college). Then on Sunday, after a killer kickboxing class, I got to take a Rioja tasting class at New York Vintners. The tasting was phenomenal, and I am now quite excited for my upcoming trip to Spain! It’s nice to already have some wine knowledge going into the trip, since I’m planning on paella before and vino after as the perfect way to carb up / celebrate running the Seville Marathon 🙂


7 thoughts on “Weekend Roundup / Why Soreness Doesn’t Matter”

  1. This is interesting and I certainly get the point that soreness does not always equal more effectiveness. But to me, the reason I love soreness is because I know it is a sign I pushed myself. Like, I can go out and train for a marathon and experience some soreness throughout the training. But it usually is nothing like how I feel after a good, solid race where I know I pushed my limits. So I guess I don’t care as much about not ‘gaining’ anything as much as knowing I did the best I could. I still love soreness!

  2. Amy, that is a good point! I have long struggled with knowing how much to push myself in a workout (which is part of why I love Flywheel instead of regular spin classes). However, for Refine and other resistance-training workouts, it works for me to look at the amount of weight that I’m using – so I can use that as a proxy instead of soreness.

  3. Ah this is kind of a bummer!! But soreness still means you worked out, and it’s all good in the end 😉 But Seville!!! Ah you lucky duck! I have a feeling if I traveled all over like you I would be doing crazy destination races along with it\

  4. I love that this myth is being dispelled! And the more you take class, the less sore you’ll be. I rarely get sore anymore unless I take a week or more off and then go back. Or try a new workout, which means new movements.

  5. Dori – one thing I really like about Refine is that you ARE always mixing it up. Even if it’s not a definitive indicator of a particularly tough workout, it is ONE way to know you gave it everything you had 🙂

  6. thank you so much for posting this! What sort of expert was the person who sent you this message? I would probably have to agree with her because the only time I’m sore is when I’ve overdone it.

    1. Brynn Jinnett is a former professional ballerina who started her own method / group of fitness studios in NYC. I can’t say enough good things about the classes at Refine Method – they are amazing and effective!

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