Whether you’ve just started a workout routine or you’re leveling up your fitness, muscle soreness is inevitable if you want to get stronger and see results. While it shouldn’t necessarily be a goal to experience soreness, some mild delayed onset muscle soreness (aka “DOMS”) indicates growth potential and a job well done.
But muscle soreness can be uncomfortable and for most active people it’s a goal to recover as fast as possible to feel fresh for the next workout. People (serious athletes or not) invest a great deal of money into products and devices that help aid muscle recovery. There are Theragun massage guns, Normatec Compression Boots, and Massages– a seemingly infinite amount of products and services that cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Muscle recovery is basically its own industry.
All of these things have a purpose and a place, but me? I’m extremely practical and I like to keep things as simple as possible. Let’s discuss muscle recovery basics and my personal tips and tricks I’ve learned in my decades of experience as an athlete and fitness trainer.
You could buy all the fancy muscle recovery products in the world and have a personal masseuse, but nothing will beat drinking enough water, getting 8+ hours of quality sleep, and eating a nutritious whole foods diet. Get these three things down and you’ll need little else.
Water flushes toxins out of the body, transports nutrients into the cells, and helps regulate body temperature and pH balance. Active people need more water than sedentary people, so make sure you drink a lot! Hormones, such as human growth hormone and testosterone, increase during sleep, which helps you recover from hard efforts. And quality nutrition? Make sure you’re eating mostly whole foods. Plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-quality protein. Eating well is essential in facilitating muscle-damage repair.
Some people swear by doing a little “active recovery” to facilitate quicker muscle recovery. Active recovery is an easy activity that doesn’t get your heart rate up too much like walking, a light swim, or an easy bike ride. The idea is that some light movement improves circulation/ helps get the blood moving enough to help with the removal of waste products from muscle breakdown.
While I don’t discourage active recovery, it’s not for me. I personally, think it should be reserved for serious athletes that are training for an event of some kind. For me, when I take a rest day I don’t want to even think about fitness. Recovery is as much a mental thing as it is a physical thing for me. So, try it if you want, or don’t!
The most movement I add on my rest days is simply rolling out my muscles for 5-10 minutes with either a foam roller or a ball— nothing fancy. All this does is break up muscle adhesions, soothe tight fascia, and keeps the circulation moving. It’s simple but significant, which is basically my life philosophy.
I’m full of little recovery tricks that I swear by. This is the fun stuff. The first and most important to me is Epsom salt baths. I take an Epsom salt bath almost every day. And when I dump in the salt I am extremely generous and I make sure the water is HOT. The hot water improves circulation and accelerates the removal of waste products in the muscles and the magnesium is known to increase relaxation, reduce inflammation, and aid in muscle and nerve function. Not only all of that, but it feels fantastic and is the only thing that makes an immediate noticeable difference. After my baths, I am a very happy girl.
Some other ticks include elevating your legs on a wall for a few minutes. It reduces swelling and provides some relief. While I do this I like to massage my muscles with my hands which further reduces soreness and breaks up those “knot” feelings. The other thing is drinking tart cherry juice shortly before bed. The antioxidants in tart cherry juice (make sure it's TART) promote muscle recovery and fight inflammation AND it naturally contains a relatively high amount of melatonin, a substance well-known for its sleep-regulating properties. Not only that but it’s delicious.
Recovery should be taken seriously, but not too seriously. You really don’t need fancy products to recover properly from your workouts and maximize your gains. Get the big three right (hydration, sleep, and nutrition), and maybe try out a few of my tricks and you’ll be good to go!