If exercise is good for me, why do I feel so sore afterwards?

Luke Denham Sports Therapist & Clinic Lead Practitioner
Luke Denham – Sports Therapist & Clinic Lead Practitioner

If exercise is good for me, why do I feel so sore afterwards? Exploring ‘DOMS’, with Luke Denham, Clinic Lead Practitioner.

We often get asked this question, and sometimes people want to know if they’ve really done themselves some harm after a tough training session or event. Others LOVE that burn, that inability to lower into a seat – and chase it every training session! Our article today hopes to make sense of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and help you understand why you get it, whether it’s a problem for you, and what you can do to manage it.

Firstly, what is DOMS?

DOMS stands for ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’, and it is that achy and sore feeling you get after intense exercise. It is typically felt in the areas of the body that you may have targeted most, such as your legs after squatting in the gym, but of course if you have played a game of football or enjoyed a bootcamp session, you could feel fatigue and aches all over your body.

When we exercise, the fibers that form muscle pull apart and tear. Now this isn’t a muscle tear that you might associate with acute injury, in fact, the tears I’m referring to are microscopic and they occur in your muscle fibers and are required to help develop and strengthen muscle tissue. The rebuilding of these microtears through the natural healing process helps to increase muscle strength and performance, so don’t worry if you feel a bit sore after exercise, it’s not always a bad thing.

When do we get DOMS?

Typically, DOMS is felt a day or two after exercise. There is a general saying that two days after exercise is always the worst, but it can affect you from the first day after training up to three or even four days later. The severity of DOMS is linked to the level of intensity or exertion when training, or the body’s readiness to train. What I mean by this, is that if you are over-exerting, pushing the body very hard, and the muscle structures are not used to dealing with intense loads, the likelihood is that your DOMS will be greater.

Does everyone experience DOMS?

DOMS can affect everyone and anyone, no matter your performance level or training experience. You can be brand new to exercise or an elite level athlete and you could still suffer with DOMS.  A simple way to look at it is to understand that your body will adapt to your training style or session over time, it’s how we progress and develop.  So, if you were to train in the same way each time you exercised, you would likely feel less DOMS.  However, if your training intensity continually changes, or you incorporate varied training methods, such as eccentric loading (known to increase the level of DOMS), then your DOMS is likely to be greater.  

Therefore, no matter the level of performance, DOMS can affect anyone because it is linked to the type of training you are doing at the time.  This is also why returning from an extended rest period or completely changing your exercise routine or level of exertion, may result in a greater feeling of DOMS, as the body requires time to adjust.

Do I need to feel intense DOMS to have benefitted from exercise?

No. You do not need DOMS to benefit from exercise. Due to the body’s ability to adapt to exercise, we will suffer with varying levels of DOMS, and therefore just because you don’t feel sore after a particular session, it does not mean you won’t have benefitted from that training.

Let’s be honest, if in order to see improvement or benefit from exercise you had to suffer with so much DOMS that you couldn’t walk down the stairs without discomfort for days after, no one would do it! So please do not fixate on ‘I need to feel sore and uncomfortable’ to see improvements. Overly intense DOMS could also negatively impact your ability to train on the days after a session, so try not to exhaust yourself to the point where you can’t move or train safely in the days after an initial session.

Should I rest if I have DOMS?

The general rule of thumb is to keep moving. You should hopefully be stretching and working on flexibility as part of your training, and this will help with the soreness. You should also be getting a regular rub-down with a well qualified Sports Therapist. Sports Massage is a beneficial treatment for maintaining and improving flexibility and motion. By working on muscles, connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, and joints, regular massage can improve your flexibility and range of motion, keeping your joints more fluid and making them less injury prone, and less prone to DOMS.

Unless you are suffering with pain that is making you want to avoid an area of the body (please seek advice from a Sports Therapist or Physiotherapist), then simple tricks such as stretching, and foam rolling can help keep you going. You should be regularly alternating the areas of the body you are training, keeping your training plan varied will help to reduce over working specific areas. An appropriately qualified pro should help you with this – a Strength & Conditioning Coach, or Sports Therapist/Rehabilitator.


Please exercise caution around overtraining or pushing the body to its limit regularly. Speak to a qualified professional to give you specific advice on how to build a well-developed and structured training plan to target different muscle groups at different times.

Pain during or immediately after training can be acute muscles soreness or even injury, and is different to DOMS. If you have any concerns that you may have injured yourself or if you are experiencing discomfort that is more than DOMS ache, see a Sports Therapist or Physiotherapist.

In summary

More about Luke Denham

Luke is an experienced graduate Sports Therapy Practitioner and possesses an in-depth knowledge of injury mechanisms, appropriate treatment modalities and rehabilitation protocols.
He provides Sports Therapy for any musculoskeletal problem such as neck and back pain, shoulder and upper limb problems, hip, knee, and ankle/foot problems and has the following specialisms:

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