Have you ever worked out your legs so hard that you could barely sit down to go to the bathroom without wanting to yell a curse word? Or worked out your upper body until holding your arms up long enough to wash your hair was nearly impossible?
We’ve almost all been there, whether it was your first workout in years and it shocked your body, or you just felt particularly amp’d up one day and pushed a little too hard. Even if it’s just the general muscle aches and tenderness after your regular workouts, it’s not much fun to be in pain multiple days out of the week. Especially when you’re determined to stick to a workout schedule and push yourself, having lingering soreness prevent you from your planned workout can be super frustrating! (FYI, the delayed soreness you feel a few days post-workout is a common issue known as DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness.)
Not only is it uncomfortable, but if you’re not properly recovering after workouts, that minor pain can lead to much worse pain in the form of knots and tightness, even injuries, all over your body in the future.
So, how do you recover faster and experience less pain and DOMS after a workout?
These are my five favorite methods that you can do at home for cheap! For best results, employ at least three of them after every workout.
Foam Rollers & Lacrosse Balls
Using a foam roller after a workout is a great way to prevent and reduce knots, improve blood flow, and decrease soreness. Use it on whatever area you just worked out. Do this before stretching as it will help to loosen up the adhesions (also known as knots or trigger points) so that your muscles can stretch to their proper length. If the muscles are all knotted up, stretching won’t do much good, so foam roll first. You can, of course, do this any other time as well to loosen up any tight, painful muscles.
I like foam rollers for areas like the inner and outer thigh, lats, hamstrings and quads. I also recommend using a lacrosse ball for deeper knots, like those around the shoulder blades, in the glutes/hips, and calves. This can often give a more pin-pointed massage to deep knots and really painful areas.
If you don’t know how to properly use a foam roller, check out my video on how to foam roll.
2. Cardio or Yoga
The day or two after a tough workout, the last thing you probably feel like doing is moving or using those sore muscles. However, if you can get past that initial discomfort of moving your sore body, more movement will actually help reduce the pain by improving blood flow to deliver nutrients to the muscles, and get rid of waste like lactic acid. This doesn’t mean workout those same muscles though. Your muscles need 48 hours to recover.
Steady state cardio like walking, a bike, light swimming, an elliptical machine, etc., will help get the blood flowing into those muscles to speed up recovery and reduce pain. You don’t need to do anything super intense like a spin class. Keep it light to allow your muscles to rest, and do cardio for about 20-40. Any basic cardio activity is fine. Yoga is also great for recovery, because it will also help to stretch out tense, stiff muscles and get blood flowing.
3. BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids)
When you lift weights or exercise intensely, you’re essentially tearing your muscles. The repair process is what causes them to grow, and branched chain amino acids are used for protein synthesis in the muscles after a workout. Taking BCAA’s (in pill form or powder form added to your water) before, during and after workouts can help you rebuild muscle more effectively and reduce soreness. It can also help to maintain muscle if you’re in a calorie deficit (dieting). I also like these because, in powder form, you can get flavored BCAA’s that make water much tastier to drink, which helps increase water intake – which will also help with recovery and overall improved health! My two favorites are Muscle Pharm Aminos because of their flavor and effectiveness, and Scivation Xtend BCAAs because it tastes GREAT and has no artificial colors and uses Stevia as a natural sweetener (a lot of these products are filled with artificial ingredients. This is the only flavored one I’ve found without all that junk).
4. Acupressure Mat
An Acupressure Mat is a slightly scarier but awesomely easy way to reduce soreness and muscle pain. These mats are full of plastic needles which apply pressure to you back, legs, stomach – wherever you lie or sit on it – to stimulate blood flow and oxygen. This process also releases endorphins, feel-good neurochemicals that relieve pain and relax muscles for faster healing. It just takes about 10-20 minutes on the mat to provide relief. Not only that, but it’s incredibly relaxing to lay on once you get used to the sensation. I love using this before bed to help me fall asleep. I also recommend it after waking up in the morning to help relieve stiff muscles in a gentle way and increase alertness and energy. You can read my other blog all about the use and benefits of acupressure mats to learn more.
Stretching itself isn’t actually proven to reduce soreness, but improving and maintaining flexibility will prevent tight muscles in the future which lead to pain and injuries, and keep your body feeling its best. As stated above, once you’ve worked on some of the knots in your muscle fascia, then stretching out will be more effective. Stretching will help to loosen up those muscles that you’ve been working out and flexing (tightening) for the last 30-90 minutes and help get them back to their normal state and length. Make sure to stretch every area you’ve worked out, and if you have time, do your whole body! If you worked out legs, include lower back stretches since those muscles can get pretty tight from exercises like squats. Muscles are closely connected and pain can be referred from other areas, so stretch it all out as often as you can!
Try these out and then leave a comment about what works best for you!
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