The Fallacy of More Is Better

Let us travel back in time... not that far, just to Monday's post. Building on the theme of "Magic Bullet" fitness, there's another fallacy that runs alongside Magic Bullet, kinda like those weird fish that attach themselves to sharks:

It's the mentality that more is better, if you're not gasping for breath and barely able to stand after the workout, then all is for naught! Oh, ho my friends! How far from the truth does that little fish swim.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy a good heart-pounding, sweat-pouring workout now and again (they're fun) or that you should never push yourself beyond your comfort zone. What I am saying is that progress and the value of a training session should not be measured on a) soreness b) tiredness c) vomiting. Matter fact, if the last one does occur, that's the signal your body gives you that you were an idiot and pushed it beyond it's ability to recover (both during the session and possibly after, depending on other stressors). Way to go, bucko.

Let's clear the air a bit and distinguish between soreness that leads to progress and soreness that leads to poop. (that's a technical term by the way.)

Most people, at some point or another, have experienced DOMS (the "Jaws" theme always plays in my head when I hear "DOMS"). DOMS is delayed onset muscle soreness. It usually manifests any where from 12-72 hours after a training session. There's a couple different theories on what contributes to DOMS  but for the most part, it stems from microtrauma (itty bitty tears) to the muscle fibers during movements. The body repairs these tears to be more resilient to tears in the future, thus the muscle becomes bigger and stronger. It's similar to forming a callus: the skin is sore and tender, but eventually toughens up to prevent future damage.

This type of soreness is the kind we want for it leads to progress. Think about when you first start training again after a break or introduce a new exercise, at first whoooo buddy! Your muscles are pretty tender, but after a couple more sessions, those same exercises no longer leave you incapacitated afterwards. Those who train regularly, be it lifting, running, lightsaber dueling, will rarely be sore after a workout. This is a sign of progress since the muscles are now more resilient to the training stimulus (and they're stronger to boot!). Do you see how gauging a good workout on soreness is a rather inaccurate measure? The opposite is in fact true: the lack of soreness (over time) is an indication that the training program has a stellar balance of tearing the muscles and repairing them.

In contrast, workouts that cause soreness (or, one step further, real pain) either during or immediately after, are NOT ideal. Immediate soreness/pain is an indication that the body has been pushed too far, and potentially incurred more serious damage to the muscles, joints, or tendons that in can recover from. Over time, if the body isn't allowed to fully recover between training sessions, this could lead to actual injuries. This is bad. Instead of spending energy to repair the microtrauma of the muscles, the body is going to direct resources to repair the more serious damage.

For example, let's say you do a workout of 100 burpees, 400 m sprints, and 100 pushups. Your muscles will incur the microtrauma mentioned above (the kind that leads to strength gains), but you probably also had some damage done to the muscles and tendons surrounding your shoulders, elbows, ankles, and spine. All of which the body will prioritize in healing before dealing with the smaller tears in the muscles. Overall, you're probably not going to get much out of this workout in terms of strength and/or performance gains as your body is spending it's time with emergency repair crews at the joints and tendons (which, from your body's standpoint, are more important).

 Therefore, if a workout that causes immediate soreness that's an indicator that the body has been pushed beyond it's limits (either at the muscles or joints or both) and will have a harder time recovering from the workout. As we learned from above, the recovery process is KEY to growing stronger and increasing performance. Thus, if recovery is impaired...fill in the blank, folks. (hint: progress is impaired)

So if you're feeling beat-up, exhausted, and shaky after each workout, I would say it's time to reevaluate your training. Sessions that lead to that are not sustainable over time. If the body can't recover, stress will pile up (even if you don't feel mentally stressed) the physical stress can actually inhibit your fitness goals by either a) cortisol, a stress-related hormone, is jacked up which hinders overall recovery (if it's too high. A little coritsol is part of the recovery process, but chronically high levels can eventually mess everything up). b) injury. Your poor body is just pooped. Bummer.


1. Soreness is ok, especially in a new program or after a new exercise is introduced. Over time, the soreness will decrease and that's a mark of progress (the body becoming stronger and more resilient).

This is not to say that you should NEVER be sore; part of progressing is stressing the system a bit beyond what it's used to. There should be days throughout your lifetime of training that soreness occurs. But, it should not be....

2. Immediate soreness/pain, particularly around joints or the spine. This means the workout was perhaps more than the body could handle and, despite no actual injury you can see, the body IS injured and will require a longer recovery period. If that recovery time is absent, eventually injuries will manifest.

3. Basing the effectiveness of a workout on "soreness" or "tiredness" is not a fair gauge and often the wrong measuring stick. Instead, one should track progress by strength goals, clothes fitting (or not fitting. Growing some hamstrings can cause pants to be tighter), aerobic markers (such as, running a 100m faster, or the ability to rest less during a weight circuit), and other such performance markers over time.

A witty remark escapes me at the moment, therefore, just assume I said something that would be of a high caliber wit.