What is DOMS? The Ultimate Guide for Relieving Sore Muscles

Two Stormtroopers carrying out a third, likely after leg day and DOMS.

What’s DOMS?

That’s easy – DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

How do you relieve DOMS?

That…gets a bit trickier.

Luckily, you’re in the right spot. We help clients in our Online Coaching Program deal with sore muscles by practicing “active recovery,” and today we’ll share with you the goods too.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

I can see that you’re in a lot of pain (tough workout, eh?), so let’s get right to it.

What is DOMS? (What Causes Muscles to Be Sore?)

A picture of a doctor and a skeleton, who I don't think can actually get DOMS.

Although you’re probably already familiar, you’ve never been formally introduced to DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

First of all, don’t panic. DOMS is totally natural, and you’re going to be fine. Great, even!

In short, DOMS is a result of teeny tiny tears in your muscles from really strenuous activity, meaning you did things that your body is not normally used to.[1]

If you’re brand new to working out or have taken a few weeks off only to jump back in at a high level of stress (heavy squats after a few weeks off), think of DOMS like your muscles saying: in exchange for the recovery I have to do, I’m gonna make YOU feel it. 

Leslie saying "Everything hurts and I'm dying," probably because she has DOMS.

Don’t panic, this process is TOTALLY normal.

It tends to peak around 48 hours after training, but can occur anytime after your training day (hence the “Delayed” part of DOMS).

Note: this should definitely feel like a soreness (even a painful or deep soreness is okay), but sharp pain or severe pain is something you should speak to your doctor about.

So, think of our friend DOMS like an obnoxious friend complaining:

“Whoa whoa whoa, I didn’t sign up for this much activity. You just did a lot of things I’m not used to. So I’m going to piss you off tomorrow and make you super sore. And the day after that? It’s going to be WORSE.”

A gif of someone crawling to their crawl, which may seem necessarily if you have bad DOMS.

Of note, DOMS isn’t the pain you feel during the exercise. That’s “acute soreness.”[2]

Think of it this way:

  • Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: develops 12-24 hours after the exercise, typically hitting the highest pain level 24-72 hours later. Again, caused my muscle tear.
  • Acute Muscle Soreness: this is the “burn” often experienced during intense workouts, and is caused by the buildup of lactic acid.[3] This pain normally dissipates shortly after you stop the exercise, but might continue for a few hours. 

Whether it’s “acute” or “delayed,” the pain from working out will lead us to some questions.

Is DOMS a Good Sign? (Should I Be Sore After I Work Out?)

A picture of medics helping a LEGO, who is clearly very sore.

Now you’re thinking, “I read on a motivational poster once “No Pain, No Gain!” … is that true?”

Yeah, those things really are everywhere:

A picture of Goku with "no pain, no gain."

Although admittedly, this is awesome.

What you’re really asking: 

  • Is this muscle soreness good for me? 
  • Does that mean it’s working? 
  • What about TOO much soreness?

When you exercise (especially strength training), you’re breaking down your muscles, and over the next few days they are rebuilding themselves up stronger.

But if you are SUPPOSED to break down your muscles, then soreness is good. And if SOME soreness is good, then DOMS should be your new best friend because it means it’s REALLY working, right? 

A gif from Men in Black, where "The Bug" can't walk.

Worth it?


THE TRUTH: Yes, being sore after a workout CAN be a sign that you adequately pushed your muscles hard to elicit a response from them – especially if you haven’t worked out that intensively in a while. 

However, when reviewing studies, DOMS doesn’t precisely correlate with intense exercise or muscle damage.[4] That’s because your body can send signals to grow muscle without any significant soreness.[5]

Plus, your muscles will get accustomed to the exercises you do, which will reduce further DOMS.[6]

This means that once you get used to this level of training, DOMS will go away and you can make huge progress in your training without this soreness. Yes, even if you gradually increase the intensity. 

An "Invincible" gif from Goldeneye, because he doesn't get DOMS anymore.

In other words:

Don’t think that you need to be sore in order to get a good workout. DOMS goes away quickly and most of your progress will come without DOMS.

Also, DOMS isn’t without consequences to your training. You might feel so sore and stiff and tight that you don’t think you could possibly work out today (even though it’s a scheduled workout day).

So, some soreness is good, but don’t go searching to destroy yourself in a single session. We’re after real, long term progress, remember?

That’s why we subscribe to eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney’s motto: “stimulate, not annihilate” method of training at Nerd Fitness. I don’t want you puking, I don’t want you so sore you can’t move, I don’t want you so tired at the end of a workout that you just want to lie down on a mat and die.

Marge in an ice bath

Yup, it’s tough to find that balance, especially if you’re brand new to training and have no idea what level of soreness you should feel. Most people first feel DOMS and think something is wrong, when in fact that level of soreness is totally normal.

Don’t be afraid to take a trial and error, self-experimentation mindset!

Of course, if you’re sitting there right now with T-Rex arms and leg muscles so sore you’re like Tin Man, you’re probably thinking the following:

Luckily, the next section is for you.

Real quick…

Want more guidance on strength training TODAY? If you do, we’re experts, so you’re in the right hands.

Download our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know! Get it free when you sign up for our email list in the box below.

How Do You Treat DOMS? (How Do I Get Rid of Sore Muscles)

A LEGO doctor in a cape, who knows how to treat DOMS.

So you’ve met DOMS, and whether it’s been 24 or 48 or 72 hours, he’s pretty much immobilized you.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do right now that may offer relief.

To help alleviate DOMS and sore muscles:

#1) Engage and move your muscles. It may seem counterintuitive, but trust me:

You’re going to do your workout as scheduled. If it’s the day after the workout, you’re going to do some light activity or “active recovery.”

You see, when you exercise, you’re increasing blood flow to your muscles. By putting your body through the motions, you’re actually speeding up your recovery.

No, this will not cause further damage to your muscles. In fact, this is the best possible way to improve the soreness you’re currently feeling.[7]

Yes, it’s going to suck for the first few repetitions, but each repetition is exercising those sore muscles, stretching them back out, and making them less sore. Think of it like you’re showing your muscles there’s really nothing to be afraid of.

Movement is the best cure for soreness. 

Not sure if this dog is skipping to help DOMS, but it's adorable.

That’s why if you’re feeling sore the day immediately after, you can stretch, take a walk, and perform light versions of your movements in order to expedite the healing process!

So when in doubt, move and stretch. This can be done throughout the day, when you wake up, before, during, and after your workout.


Also, because you’re so sore and tight, your range of motion initially will be much smaller than a few days prior. NBD.

If you want to help fight off DOMS, consider mixing in some yoga on your off days to speed up recovery and elongate those muscles!

We talk about more gentle workouts to do of your “off days” in our Guide to Active Recovery.

#2) Massage Your Muscles. 

A 2017 study discovered that those who received a massage after an intense workout reported less soreness than those who did not.[8]

Plus, massages feel great:

A friendly massage, like shown here with this cat and dog, might help with DOMS.


If you can’t go get a massage, a foam roller might help a lot too by providing a self-massage. Scope this video for a brief tutorial on how to get rolling:

#3) Ice Baths. 

There’s decent evidence that a 10-15 minute cold bath can help in dealing with sore muscles.

Even water at a temperature of 50–59°F (10–15°C) can have some benefit.[9] 

Now, unless you own a ray gun and have plans to take over Gotham, ice baths aren’t exactly a fun time. 

A gif of Mr Freeze from Batman and Robin, telling everyone to "chill."

However, on the flip side…

#4) Warm Baths. 

Now we’re talking!

Heat, whether through a warm wrap or a hot bath, has been shown to help treat sore muscles.[10]

So the next time someone yells at you for hanging out in the bathtub too long, shout back “I’m treating my sore muscles so I can grow strong! Leave me be.”

That always works for me.

Now, let’s talk about avoiding severe DOMS altogether. 

Can you prevent DOMS? (Next Steps)

A stormtrooper in a wheelchair, who luckily has a friend to help with his DOMS.

Outside of not working out (don’t do that), there’s no real way to prevent DOMS.

However, here are some best practices that might help lower your “ouch” level.

#1) Stay hydrated.

One study found that between two groups of men training outside in the heat, the group that drank water before, during, and after the exercise experienced less soreness than those who didn’t.[11]

Drinking plenty of water is good advice in general, so make sure you stay properly hydrated during your workout.

#2) Warm-up.

We always recommend Rebels spend about 5 minutes doing a dynamic warm-up prior to their training. 

One of the reasons why: it might help prevent a little soreness after your workout.[12] 

Here’s a quick warm-up sequence you can try:

#3) Cool-down.

A 2012 study found that light cycling after some intense leg exercises helped in easing DOMS, compared to the control group.[13] It might be worth spending a little bit of time in light movement immediately after strength training to help with soreness. 

 #4) Ease into it.

We mentioned earlier that DOMS and muscle soreness really hit those who aren’t used to training.

That’s why newbies should take it easy on their first day in the gym.

Bodyweight workouts might be a good first step too for those just starting their strength training journey, which you can scale to be easier at first, like doing knee push-ups:

Knee push-ups like this are a great way to progress to a regular push-up!

When initially building your own workout, don’t worry if it seems like you can do more. They’ll be plenty of time for that down the road. Just get comfortable engaging your muscles at first, then we can worry about revving up the intensity later.

If you want help building a workout, one that won’t leave you sprawled out on the floor incapacitated the first day, we got you covered.

Here are three ways we can help you:

Option #1) If you want a professional coach in your pocket, who can build a workout for your experience level, provide feedback, and adjust your training based on your progress, check out our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program

For example, let’s say you find yourself stuck indoors during a pandemic, and you want to start training with the equipment and furniture you have. That’s where an online coach is a game-changer! 

Personally, I’ve been working with the same online coach since 2015 and it’s changed my life. You can learn more by clicking on the image below: 

A banner for the Nerd Fitness Coaching program

Option #2) Exercising at home and need a plan to follow? Have questions you need answered? Join Nerd Fitness Prime!

Nerd Fitness Prime is our premium membership program that contains at-home exercise routines, live-streamed workouts with NF Coaches, a supportive online community, group challenges, and much more! 

Option #3) Become part of the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Sign-up below and receive our free guide Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. It includes step-by-step instructions on how to start weight training, even if you don’t have any equipment. 


  • Don’t fear DOMS.
  • Keep to your workout schedule.
  • Use light activity and stretching to recover quicker and feel better.

What other questions do you have about our obnoxious friend DOMS?


PS: If you want more, our Guide for Active Recovery will help you deal with muscle soreness on your “off days.”


photo source: Goku: No Pain, No gain, Injured Stormtrooper, Sorry but I really can´t see anything in your radiography, LEGO medicsNot all heroes wear capes

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123 thoughts on “What is DOMS? The Ultimate Guide for Relieving Sore Muscles

  1. One of the best “cures” for DOMS – especially for day-after-leg-day pain – that I’ve found is light cycling around the neighborhood. It’s a very low-impact way to get blood flowing.

  2. I’ve been working with a trainer for the past 3 weeks, 4 times a week, and those workouts kick my butt. But the next day I don’t really have DOMS. There is certainly soreness, but it’s like it’s in the background. I think I’m getting a good workout; but I also drink a LOT of water, at least 2-3 liters a day. This week it’s been like 4-5 liters! I think this has something to do with it.

  3. Epsom salts soak and super slow aerobic activity! I learned this during training for a 50k. 😉

  4. I think I look forward to DOMS, which is probably just as bad as fearing it. I have to remind myself that feeling sore does not a good workout make, but I have to admit that I love the burn (it makes me feel badass!). But when the burn goes away, THAT is when I start wondering if I am not doing enough.

  5. I find some nice steady zone 2 work on days between weight/ anaerobic work helps recover from DOM.

  6. DOMS is the effin worst! It’s taking me out for 3 days at a time but Steve is right, you HAVE to workout, even just a little. Since working with a trainer once a week, he’s shown me how to foam roll which has almost taken my DOMS to zero. I also keep a portable roller at work. I tried the salt bath thing, but that did nothing. Everyone is different and will figure out what works for them. I found that stretching before and after workouts made my DOMS worse, not sure why since I’ve cut that out, I’m good. Like Dory, just keep swimming!

  7. Two days ago I walked the equivalent of about 10 miles in NYC (visiting from Baltimore), so last night I ended up rubber-banding a bag of peas to each of my legs and watching a few movies…I may feel awful yesterday and today, but hopefully after that workout those 10 miles will be a little easier for me next time! (…cardio and leg endurance is hard haha)

  8. (´;︵;`) <– This is me after doing the Beginner Bodyweight Circuit ONE time, on Tuesday. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch. (I've just started working out again after surgery and 8 weeks of no lifting.) So! Thank you for this article, it's very timely. I'll just do my one little circuit (plus one rep of each exercise!), stretch, and soak in an epsom salts bath. ^_^

  9. Great info and good tips, definitely something I’ll keep in mind. However, I do wing chun for exercise and as such do a lot of punching and twisting of my arms and wrists, this results in a lot of soreness in my joints and tendons as well as my muscles (and skin and bones,but that’s iron palming). Should I have the same attitude to that soreness or should I maybe skip the punching session for a day or two?

  10. Thanks so much for this post!! When I first started with Nerd Fitness workouts I was so sore on day two that I could barely move. Although tempted to reduce or skip my workout on that day I did it anyway and was surprised I could still do squats. DOMS has never been that bad since. I find walking on my off days and getting up and moving around at least once per hour on my on days greatly reduces the amount of DOMS I get. I have also learned to appreciate feeling some amount of DOMS after a workout because it makes me feel like there is progress being made. DOMS is just strength in creation.

  11. DOMS now only visits after a slight break or a change in workouts/activities, otherwise it’s not that common for me, because I maintain a high level of training year round. I’m a big believer in light recovery work the day after a big workout – walking, a light jog, running in water, to name a few.

    If I’m training during a DOMS episode (i.e. 48-72 hours after the session that led to DOMS), I take a bit more time with the warmup, before getting stuck into my normal routine.

  12. I want to know why my hubby is NEVER sore. He is only sore if he hurts himself. He has a high pain tolerance (like abnormally high). Could that be it? Makes me jealous but then I guess I enjoy my soreness because it tells me I’m doing something.

  13. BTW even when he stopped working out for a year and then went into a HIIT style kickboxing class…still nothing.

  14. I’ve been reading this blog for a while now, and two days ago, I decided to stop collecting underpants and I tried out a bodyweight circuit for the first time in months. The fact that this article came rolling in when it did is incredibly spooky! I’m still feeling the burn, but I’m going to be sure to give it my all tonight!

  15. Thanks for answering my most asked question (mainly to myself). I have been wondering if I could be doing more damage and maybe I should take it easy for a couple of days. I am 56 and completely out of shape (haven’t worked out in 20 yrs) so I worry about doing long term damage at my age. Great article!

  16. Timely post as my quads are currently smoked from CrossFit yesterday. Haven’t been going on a regular basis… so here I am meeting my buddy DOMS. Definitely going to get a nice stretching and light workout session in this evening.

  17. How long do DOMS last for? I understand it normaly last a couple of days but if your still sore a week or 2 weeks after the workout that gave you the pain/discomfort dispite doing lower intensity exercise is that still DOMS? Or is that an injury? How do I tell good pain from bad pain?

  18. Yikes, such a challenge – get up and move around when you’re so sore you just want to do nothing. So important to schedule easy days into your workouts. But not many of us do that, do we?

  19. I walk and stretch arms on treadmill for at least, 30 min.before and after, my weights workout. I am never really sore at all, the next day. Someone told me that, this exercise B&A burns off the stuff in your muscles, that end up making you sore after a workout
    . Whatever it is, this has always worked for me!

  20. If it’s DOMS, just warm up thoroughly at the beginning of your next scheduled workout and keep going. My experience has been that my soreness after the next workout is milder than what I would expect to feel if I had rested and done nothing.

  21. If I have a post-workout recovery drink, I find I have zero soreness. If I skip the drink I’m sore for DAYS, no matter how much water I drink or how much I stretch. (I don’t drink the neon-colored stuff; Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator in Tropical is my go-to. I add ice and drink it while stretching.)

  22. NO! If it lasts more than 72 hours then you need to start taking a look at the potential that you have sustained an injury. Stop the activity, and make plans to see a doctor. There is quite certainly a strong possibility that you are re-aggravating your injury.
    A good way I’ve found to determine DOMS vs injury is the sensation when you stretch. If the pain when you are static is a dense tension (almost like a mounting Charlie horse before it gets to full contraction), but then as you stretch out the muscle it feels like the whole muscle is experiencing a (pardon the controversial term from my childhood) “indian sunburn” then you’re looking at DOMS. After the stretch you will also likely feel a sensation similar to the blood rushing back into a limb after it’s fallen asleep and been woken up. Conversely, if you move and the pain is a constant, sharp, sometimes stabbing pain, it.is.not.DOMS! Get it looked at.
    Hope that helps!

  23. Literally 100 push-ups 100 sit-ups and 100 squats killed my whole body but I need to get back on my training from before

  24. I am somewhat new to the scene I wrestled in high school which entitled me to run and lift weights and such and that was okay. I get it you have to burn for it to help.

    After about 15 years though I have started to try to get back into shape. I used to do the occasional walk around the neighborhood or something but never really exercised (very rarely).

    I would do Yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays and did Cardio training on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays and light cardio on Saturdays. After a week and a half of this training my body is so sore. (this was actually suggested as part of my beginning training as push ups were streinous for me) one of my cardio exercises is to do a push up of sorts while on the stairs that way I don’t have a full incline of having to push upwards but just partially if that makes sense. This seemed to work great for me so I kept doing it.

    But wow I was somewhat sore Wednesday but passed it off as the no pain no game. Today though ( Friday ) I am hurting quite a bit. It isn’t like injury/stabbing pain but I am hurting bad. My body won’t even let me do a pushup on the stars it’s that sore.

    What do you suggest?

  25. <—Currently suffering through day two of post leg day DOMS. I work at a school that just so happens to have a lot of stairs in it. For the past two days I've been walking around like a senior citizen. The stairs (which I have to climb on a daily basis), I've dreaded. My ex gym buddy Rudy always used to use a Glutamine supplement to recover from DOMS. I didn't ever hop on that train, because I'm skeptical and don't like being swindled and pimped by the supplement industry. I've suffered through Gout attacks (caused by not living or eating right), and from that I've learned that I should always drink plenty of water, avoid foods that cause such attacks, and get plenty of exercise. One way to alleviate pain of a Gout attack is Tart Cherries. I keep Tart Cherry concentrate in my refrigerator that I can mix with water in case I ever have a flare up. If you ever have a Gout attack, it is FAR worse than DOMS. I've also been learning about the healing/anti-inflammatory properties of Ginger and Turmeric. I'm interested in both as cold and flu prevention. I can't remember the last time I got a flu shot, nor can I remember the last time I had the flu. *Knock on Wood* of course. I don't prefer to take Aspirin, Ibuprofen, or Tylenol. Usually pain can be alleviated by a holistic method and or endured.

  26. Forgot to mention. Thanks for the great post. I knew Nerd Fitness would help me out. Light exercise and stretching was what I should have done today.

  27. I literally just typed into Google “Crazy Doms, should I still work out” and this was my top suggestion. Maybe it’s because I’m already a nerd fitness subscriber haha but thank you for this Steve! I took my first class with my new gym on Monday, it was called “Legs, bums and tums” so suffice to say the DOMs are real and I haven’t been able to walk properly all day today (Tuesday) and I wasn’t sure if it was wise to sign up for tomorrow mornings class but now I will 😀

  28. “I don’t want you so tired at the end of a workout that you just want to lie down on a mat and die” duhh i died laughing in the middle of the night when everyone’s asleep and deadly silence all around me……… and yea your QWOP game…lol……fun ha! I guess i’d learn how to complete a step in a short 100 years 😉 and those videos according to the situation! Perfecto!
    Loved your humor and writing sense the post was not just informative but a fun way to know things. Just like fun to learn kinda things we hav in school 😉 +1 subscriber <3 {or whatever you may call it as to be with yoir site 😉 }

  29. DOMS definitely discourages you from wanting to workout. But I’ve quickly learned to workout anyways, you’ll feel much better afterwards. I laughed when I read about the T-Rex position. I’ve been walking around like that for two days from some doing a lot of reps of light-weight preacher curls. It was my first day back working out after about a year off (I’ve been busy).

  30. My leg soreness is from track and i have I have track everyday and my choach makes us work out as hard as possible no matter how sore what do i do

  31. Lacy,
    I’ve got a major medical problem that when it happens, The DOMS , is my worst enemy. I get OCD really bad and when it happens I’m on the move 24/7 until my brain is finally satisfied that what task I’m doing at that time, “The Whole Job Is Completely 100% PERFECTLY ACHIEVED.
    So far this time I’ve totally moved everything out of my room, and basically cleaned it from top to bottom and then moved everything back into my room again. Then I get on this High Energy Cleaning Mod and I’ve gone through 3 days of 24/7 cleaning until I totally and perfectly complete the task at hand. If only I could slow my OCD thinking way down, then I might not have DOMS as a best friend for a whole week. Going to try and soak in a Hot tub of epsence salt. Maybe by then I can get up and move around a little bit. God Bless All

  32. I work out five days a week and after every workout I smoke a cbd vape and its crazy how much it relieves soreness. Highly recommend even if you don’t smoke.

  33. What a full, perfect and satisfactory answer to all my questions regarding soreness. I have started working out for the first time in my life at the age of 28 years and my left hand is dead..really..its gone… and I took a break the next day and today I went to gym and now I am still feeling soreness over my biceps…. they suck… I hope this soreness go away quickly. I cant even straighten my hands… 🙁

  34. Can we do simple handstand everyday? I’ve just tried to learn, using the walls yesterday, and my muscles are sore today(sore but still can move about). Should I continue today or tomorrow?

  35. That does not work when it’s your back that is sore. If I work out or even move wrong I go into spasms and am forced to crawl around on the floor. I’m perfectly willing to work through other sore muscles, even then I think the rests build more muscles than constant workouts.

    I work out using HIT and EMS and it feels great for a couple weeks then it all falls apart, I can’t do it and I get tired, weak and sore. My back threatens to go out if I have worked my back. I want to strengthen my back but it’s the worst risk of getting stuck in bed for a week or two. My recovery periods takes 2 weeks or so, not a few days, As I recover, the soreness moves from the oldest used regions to the most recent.

  36. I put artic ice on my legs I am sooo cold my sis takes the blanket away from me even with the blanket I’m ssoooooo cold help plzz ?

  37. I attempted to go up my stairs 3 days after my workout, my upper front legs instantly went into Charlie horse holy hell I’m going to die mode. So I crawled inside my front door.

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