Muscle soreness can be exciting and troublesome in any fitness regimen; on one hand, it typically signifies the start of new workout or workout intensity that challenges your muscles in new ways; on the other hand, to put it simply, soreness can hurt — sometimes for days. This hurt is commonly interpreted as an indicator that you have properly pushed yourself, while a lack thereof sometimes spurs ruinous self-deprecation (“am I not lifting enough? Should I add more weight?”). The latter is problematic, as it can fuel your inner critic in counterproductive ways while also increasing the risk of injury. 

However, contrary to popular belief, soreness is not synonymous with workout effectiveness or productivity; instead, it is strictly linked to the muscular damage sustained during a new or unfamiliar workout. This is why soreness can be profound after achieving a new max press, completing a new routine, or simply working out for the first time in general. It is easy to see how this misunderstanding occurs — we create an image of underdeveloped muscles being shocked into accelerated growth, which naturally sounds like a painful process, and therefore we create an association between soreness and workout quality. 

Over time, certain muscle groups adapt to the tension levels or biomechanics that initially caused soreness, and this allows them to eventually complete the workout with less subsequent pain. That said, everyone is different in this regard. I, for instance, tend to experience recurring soreness in my chest, while my shoulders are almost never sore despite getting a pump in the moment — but either way, I know that I worked both muscle groups to the best of my ability. 

All of this in mind, soreness is essentially a meaningless variable. At the end of the day, you should know whether or not you brought your A game to a workout session, soreness or not. If you are someone who relishes in post-workout soreness, you technically are not doing anything wrong — enjoy the feeling if it helps you reap accomplishment from your hard work — just make sure you do not spiral into self-doubt when it is absent.