Hours following an intense workout, you’ll start feeling muscle soreness in the areas of your body that you worked hardest during your workout. While taking a break may be the first thing you want to do, the best way to ease and care for your post-workout soreness is to do a “recovery” workout, or a light fitness routine.
According to a new Danish study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, light physical activity can help ease muscle soreness just as effectively as a massage. The study involved 20 women, all of whom were instructed to do shoulder exercises. Two days after their workouts, the women were instructed to exercise one shoulder for 10 minutes, while the other shoulder received a 10-minute massage. Afterwards, the women reported feeling equal amounts of relief in each shoulder.
The study authors feel that since exercise increases circulation to your sore muscles, engaging in more exercise helps speed up the drainage of chemicals and other metabolic waste associated with muscle aches. Increased blood flow also speeds up the delivery of nutrients to sore and damaged muscles, which helps ease pain and speed up the body’s recovery process.
Jaime Edelstein, DScPT, CSCS — a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City — suggests either swimming or using the elliptical machine if your body feels sore all over. Otherwise, your recovery workout should include exercises that work the sore muscles.
In addition to engaging in a recovery workout, here are four more ways to ease muscle soreness following intense workouts:
1. Foam rollers
Use a foam roller to increase blood flow to specific muscle groups through applied pressure. Using the roller and your body weight, apply moderate pressure to a muscle group and roll slowly — no more than one inch per second. Within five to 30 seconds, any pain from your muscle soreness should start to lessen. Since the goal is to restore healthy muscles, shift the roller and apply pressure to the surrounding area if you experience intense pain when applying direct pressure to a specific muscle or muscle group.
After your warm-up, engage in dynamic stretching to relax and lengthen tight muscles and reduce your risk for injury as well as ease sore muscles. Don’t do any static stretching until the end of your workout — otherwise, you could significantly increase your risk for injury.
3. Heat therapy
Applying heat to sore muscles will increase blood flow and almost instantly ease muscle soreness. If you’re feeling sore all over, soak your body in a warm or hot bath, or apply heat directly to the muscle group that feels sore. You might even want to invest in thin peel-and-stick heating pads that you can wear under clothing for hours at a time for all-day relief.
4. Omega-3 supplements
According to a study recently published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, taking omega-3 fish-oil supplements once per day can ease both inflammation and muscle soreness within 48 hours of an intense strength-training workout. You can also try to counteract muscle soreness by adding more omega-3 foods to your diet such as salmon, mackerel, nuts, and spinach.
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