Is post-workout muscle soreness slowing you down? Here are some simple ideas to help relieve sore muscles that will leave you ready to tackle just about anything the day throws at you.
You should be proud of yourself. Despite yesterday’s never-ending to-do list and demands at home, you managed to squeeze in a workout at the gym. Problem is you can barely walk today, never mind having to keep up with the kids, work, and errands. Working out doesn’t have to be so painful. Here are the top things you can do, post-workout, to relieve sore muscles along with some handy aides you can find at your local Walmart. These tips will help give you that relief so you can keep doing everything else you need to do in your day and stay strong for your next workout. We asked professional sports physiotherapy expert, Greg Redman to weigh-in on how to manage your post-workout recovery.
Greg Redman is a clinical physiotherapy specialist who focuses on manual therapy and sports physiotherapy. He has had success with four Olympic champions and 18 Olympic medalists, as well as athletes of all ages and competitive levels. He has been the physiotherapist with the Canadian Olympic team at the Athens, Torino, Beijing, London, Sochi and Rio Olympic Games. He is also the Head Physiotherapist for Golf Canada, Canoe/ Kayak Canada and Canada Freestyle Ski. Greg was a National team athlete with Canoe/Kayak for nine years and has completed eight marathons and Ironman Canada.
Continuing to workout at a slower pace after you’ve finished an intense workout can actually help your body recover faster.
“The best thing you can do after a workout is active recovery,” says Redman. “After your workout, continue doing slow, less intense exercises to keep your blood moving and reduce the amount of lactic acid and metabolic waste in the body. As you do more exercise, your body will get better at reducing this waste, which is why athletes can handle doing more.”
“Foam rollers and tennis balls are really good,” says Redman. “They release trigger points and micro cramps that are in the muscle tissue. You can use them after a workout to get the blood flowing, and even the next day if you’re still sore.” A foam roller works best when targeting the whole muscle. A tennis ball is good to use on hard to reach areas of the body or for zoning in on more specific body parts.
Warm Up & Cool Down
While many fitness enthusiasts believe stretching is an important part of warming up and cooling down, Redman says it can sometimes do more harm than good. Instead, he recommends warming up with active movement.
“The best way to warm up is by doing the same sport [or] exercise you’re going to do in your workout, only at a lower intensity,” he says. “Get the heart rate moving—cycle or jog for 10 minutes to get the blood flowing in the body. Then do some of the movements you’re going to do in your workout, only slower, and with less range. You can then progress to faster and more complicated movements. This warms the joints and readies the muscles to move in the way you will be moving during your workout. It also turns on your sense of balance.”
For your cool down, you can do the same thing: 10 minutes of active recovery, on the treadmill or on the exercise bike. “You want to get your heart rate down to about 60%,” says Redman. “The goal is to be lightly sweating, but you can still talk to your neighbour. This keeps the blood flowing and prevents those metabolites from stagnating, which can cause soreness after.”
Staying hydrated is key to helping the body recover from a workout. After a session at the gym, it’s important to not only recover the water lost while sweating but also to top it up. “You want to take in more water than you let out,” explains Redman. “So if you lost, say, two pounds of water from running by sweating, you’ll want to drink three pounds of water to help you recover.” Not only does this replenish fluids lost while sweating, but it also helps move the waste metabolites and helps with lactate clearance, essentially reducing muscle soreness.
On rest days, Redman recommends trying something different to give your body time to recover from your workout. “Balance it out,” he says. “If you’re at the gym two to three times a week, on alternate days, try an outside activity, like hiking, running or cross-country skiing. Alternate days with one day being an aerobic activity—things like swimming and spinning—and one being strength training, which is good for muscles, joints and bones.”
A Healthy Diet
A healthy diet helps the body recover from a workout and can help reduce post-workout muscle soreness.
“A healthy diet is important no matter what,” says Redman. “Berries, fatty fish, pineapple, tomatoes, green vegetables—they all have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce some of the inflammation, taking away that delayed muscle soreness,” he says. “A healthy diet also replenishes the electrolytes and minerals you lost during exercise.”
Mindfulness for the Body
Redman is also a fan of doing an active recovery relaxation exercise like yoga twice a week. “It’s mindfulness for the body,” he says. “You go through certain movement patterns that are functional, which you’re doing in everyday life. It gets parts of your body moving that may not have been moving—like the hips and the thoracic spine. It also helps with elements of balance, and the perception of your body, getting to know its space. There’s also a small element of meditation that can help with some recovery,” he says.
Water therapy has been used for centuries as a healing technique; it can also help relieve sore muscles and offer post-workout relief. “Whether it’s hot or cold, or you’re simply floating in a pool or going for a light swim, water is a good recovery technique,” says Redman. “Cold water immersion, hot water immersion, contrast water therapy—they all work. The cold stimulates different pain receptors, allowing the ones damaged through exercising to not get as much attention. It helps the nervous system reboot and recover, and changes the heart rate. It also gets the blood flowing and can reduce inflammation, whereas a hot bath with Epsom salts can help you relax.”
In the case of specific injuries like a sore elbow, a cold pack on that area can relieve the pain in that area. “It’s known as RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation. It’s good for pain,” says Redman. “Ice, in particular, is helpful for pain. As the body transitions into day three or four, you can use heat to get the blood flowing into the area,” he says.
What Not to Do
What you don’t want to do, during or after a workout, is to push your body beyond your comfort level. “Don’t use the foam roller to grind it out, or think you’ll fix the muscle by overstretching it. You’ll cause more damage to your already micro-damaged muscle by being super aggressive with it, and your body will respond to that by contracting more and protecting itself,” says Redman. “If you’re just starting to exercise, doing way too much and too aggressively would be the number one and two no-no’s; that and not listening and paying attention to the body. Light soreness is okay, but if it feels bruised, you need to go in slower—your body is trying to tell you that. Yes, you’re going to hurt a bit and feel sore, but if it feels really bad, you did more damage than you should have and will need more recovery time before you go back. You might need to take an extra day off, or go more lightly the next round.”
Get Enough Sleep
The best thing you can do after a workout is the simplest.
“A lot of us don’t get enough sleep, and it’s one of the easiest ways to recover,” says Redman. “When you sleep, all those growth hormones get released, and that’s when you recover. Yet a lot of us don’t get enough sleep, which means we don’t get a lot of time for recovery.”
Using some of these ideas and aides to bring relief to sore muscles and alleviate post-workout pain can increase the likelihood of you making it back out to the gym for your next workout, sooner rather than later. After all, the world doesn’t stop just because your muscles have seized. You need your body and mind in top shape to keep up with your busy life.