PT on the Net Research

Free Weights vs. Soreness


I have clients that cannot deal with soreness. When I give them squats or lunges they get sore, they want to do leg lifts but I explain to them that there's a lot more benefits to a lunge or squat than a leg lift, What do I do? Do I listen to them? Or do what I think is best and give them squats and risk losing them as a client.


All soreness aside, you simply may need to sit down and have a conversation with your client(s) to find out truly what they NEED. What do they want? Do they truly understand what it takes to "burn fat" and/or "build muscle?" Give them some simple lessons in science. Talk about training large muscle groups, metabolism, and the fallacy that is "spot reduction" of fat.

Second, it is important to micro-progress clients as it is important to avoid extreme soreness. The following excerpt from "The Science of Loading" by Mitch Simon details why this is important...

If given adequate rest and nutritional support our bodies tend to respond to the stress of working out by overshooting the pre-workout levels of metabolic substrates, biochemical cofactors, contractile proteins, and other elements specific to the type of exercise performed, in a process known as super-compensation. The new levels aren't permanent and will return to pre-workout levels if we don't exercise again in timely fashion (with in a few days). If a client-athlete experiences DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), following a workout, it is by no means an indication of a good workout. In fact, if the soreness is enough to interfere with the workout we have a paradox: If our soreness is serious enough to cause us to miss a workout, we will lose our super-compensation; if our soreness is serious enough to interfere with a workout and we workout anyway we risk injury and overtraining. Stretching to reduce DOMS has been shown to be ineffective and may even prolong soreness. Only two things reduce DOMS:

  1. Anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs.

  2. Performing the movements that caused the soreness at greatly reduced intensity. Take home message: don't train people in such a way that they become very sore. It's useless and self-defeating.

Finally, soreness that seems to always return, with no sign of any exercise tolerance being established is a concern. Malnutrition (i.e. poor nutritional habits), is common, and can and most certainly will prolong recovery between workouts. I would highly recommend having all clients that are experiencing any unusual durations of soreness keep a FOOD / EXERCISE / SLEEP diary for 7-10 days. This will expose any macronutrient/fluid deficiencies/excesses that your clients may have.

Good luck - great question.

Noah Hittner, BS, NLC, PES, RTS, CPT

Founder - "FOUR HEALTH" Nutrition, Fitness, and Lifestyle Coaching