Not to worry Holly -- I might be the one who's wrong here!
You're right about the microscopic tears in the muscle -- that's how we strengthen the muscles, by breaking them down and rebuilding them. That's why you might hear that muscle growth actually takes place during rest and recovery, not during a workout, and that's why it's so important to get a good night's sleep.
In my experience, soreness sometimes but not always correlates with how hard I've worked out. Certain muscle groups get sorer than others -- my legs always get sore but my back seldom does. I get more sore if I try a new exercise than one my body's used to. A better gauge of how hard you're working out is:are you reaching failure when you lift (can't do another rep)? Since Lumpy said that she lifts to total exhaustion, I was reading that as reaching failure so thought she was working out hard enough.
I found this article about muscle soreness at about.com (http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/i...s/a/doms_p.htm
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (D.O.M.S.)
From Elizabeth Quinn,Your Guide to Sports Medicine.
Pain after exercise
What Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a workout is quite common and quite annoying, particularly if you are just beginning an exercise program or changing activities. For the new exerciser who wakes up one day and goes a three mile walk, followed by push-ups and sit-ups, there is bound to be some muscle pain and soreness the next day or two. This is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build. The soreness is generally at its worst within the first 2 days following the activity and subsides over the next few days.
Delayed onset muscle soreness occurs hours after the exercise is over. This is much different than the acute pain of a pulled or strained muscle. A muscle tear, is felt as an abrupt, sudden, acute pain that occurs during activity, that is often accompanied by swelling or bruises.
What Causes Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?
DOMS is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Activities that require muscles to forcefully contract while they are lengthening, (eccentric contractions), seem to cause the most soreness. You use eccentric contractions when you descend stairs, run downhill, lower a weight, or perform the downward motion of squats and push-ups. In addition to muscle tearing, swelling can occur in and around a muscle, which can also cause soreness hours later.
What Is the Treatment for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?
Wait. Soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.
Avoid any vigorous activity that increases pain.
Do some easy low-impact aerobic exercise - this will increase blood flow to the affected muscles, which may help diminish soreness.
Use the R.I.C.E. treatment plan
Use gentle stretching on the affected area
Gently massage the affected muscles,
Try using a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the soreness temporarily, though they won't actually speed healing.
There is some evidence that vitamin C may decrease soreness.
Allow the soreness to subside thoroughly before performing any vigorous exercise.
Don't forget to stretch and warm up before your targeted activity.
** If your pain persists longer than about 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician.
Learn something from the experience! Use prevention first.
Can I Prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?
While DOMS is common and annoying, it is not a necessary part of getting into shape. There are many things you can do to prevent, avoid and shorten DOMS. Here are a few tips:
Warm up thoroughly before activity
Cool down completely after exercise
Perform easy stretching before
Perform thorough flexibility exercises after exercise, while the muscles are warm
Start with easy to moderate activity and build up your intensity over time
Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do
Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise