Working out feels best immediately after you’ve finished — when you’ve got that ‘just accomplished something’ fatigue and you no longer feel like you’re gonna hurl.
Those effects start to feel worse as soon as mere hours after you’ve finished when you experience that can’t-walk soreness and begin to question if you’ll ever make it to a gym again. That pain can last for days, causes muscle tension, and if you exercise through it, can cause real muscle damage.
So what are you supposed to do when you’re always sore, but want to keep up with your gym routine? Try incorporating some combination of the five tips below to sooth damaged muscles, repair tissue, and boost relaxation and blood flow. They’ll speed up your recovery and ease your muscle soreness, and get you back into the gym sooner.
Drink Tart Cherry Juice
Montmorency tart cherry juice has long been valued for its antioxidant properties, and research suggests that it may reduce muscle pain and weakness after an intense strength training routine, explains Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD.
“Another study suggests that 12 ounces of tart cherry juice minimise the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage after strength training,” she says. “Many believe it’s because of the high levels of polyphenolic compounds, including flavonoids and anthocyanin, present in tart cherry juice.” Stock up, and have it at the ready when you get home from the gym.
If it sounds too sour, go for watermelon juice, instead. It tastes great and it’s an ideal electrolyte replenisher post-workout. “A small study suggests that drinking 500 mL, about 16 ounces, of watermelon juice after an intense workout may reduce muscle soreness. Basically, watermelon is rich in an amino acid called l-Citrulline, which has been known to help with muscle soreness,” says Rizzo.
Eat a Banana
Getting enough potassium in your diet can fight dehydration and muscle cramps mid-workout, says Rizzo. “While the jury is still out on whether potassium will prevent muscle soreness, it definitely prevents post-workout dehydration that can cause severe muscle cramps after a workout,” she says.
It’s essential to include potassium-rich foods (like bananas) in your diet to meet the recommended intake of 3500 mg of potassium per day. “A medium banana will provide 400 mg or about 11% the daily value of potassium,” Rizzo recommends.
Roll that Foam!
Take some time to give your body some love—foam rolling can break tension in the muscles and fight soreness. While it might hurt a bit while you’re doing it, it’ll alleviate pain and tightness down the line, preventing future injury and alleviating next-day pain. To work a specific area intensely, swap in a lacrosse ball for a foam roller says Charlee Atkins, CSCS, SoulAnnex Instructor, Master SoulCycle Instructor, and Movement & Mobility Specialist.
Atkins created the Le Stretch class where participants use lacrosse balls as a form of self-myofascial release on the knots within the muscles. “By applying pressure at the knot, the elastic fibres move from their bundled position back towards their true alignment. We are then able to get into lengthening body positions with better alignment, restoring proper movement patterns,” she says.
The rolling also enhances flexibility and range of motion, improves muscle imbalances, boosts blood circulation, and reduces the risk of injury, she says. “The class focuses on the top 3 hot spots for every body, from the active athletes to the desk warriors: hips, shoulders, and low back,” she explains.
Turn Your Shower into Torture
A great way to soothe muscle soreness is to alternate between hot and cold temperatures—which you can easily do so in the shower.
“These types of contrast showers, where you alternate the water as hot as you can handle for 20 to 30 seconds, and then turn it as cold as you can handle for 20 to 30 seconds,” will fight tension and improve blood flow, says Structure House’s Fitness Director, Dustin Raymer, MS, CES, CHWC.
Doing these alternations for about 10 or so rounds will be enough to have an effect, he says. “Ideally, the water will get progressively hotter and colder the more you do this,” he says. As you get more used to certain temperatures, increase the intensity. “The idea is that you are creating an external ‘pumping’ of the blood by cooling muscles (pushing blood out) and then heating muscles (pulling blood back in). This should bring fresh blood and nutrients into the muscles for quicker recovery,” he explains.
Or Soak in Salt Water
In general, a hot bath post-workout can make you feel relaxed. “The hot temperatures of the bath pulls the toxins to the surface of the skin. As the temperature of the water starts to cool down, the toxins flow out of the body through the skin, and into the water,” says Rebecca Lee, a registered nurse in New York City.
“Along with ridding toxins from the body, a bath soothes aches and pains, improves circulation, and relaxes the mind and body. Ingredients that are great for adding to your baths are baking soda, Epsom salt, sea salt or Himalayan salt, apple cider vinegar, and essential oil,” she says.
Epsom, in particular, is beneficial for alleviating soreness. “Epsom salt relieves muscle cramps and pain, inflammation, aches, soreness, and it relaxes the body and increases blood flow throughout the body,” she says. Why? It’s magnesium sulphate. “Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer and in a salt form, it pulls excess water and lactic acid buildup away from the injured tissues and reduces swelling,” she explains.
After your next intense strength training workout, fill your bathtub with warm (not hot) water and pour 2 cups of Epsom salt in. Soak for at least 15-20 minutes Do it up to 3 times a week. Lee advises, though, that Epsom salt baths are not recommended for people with heart conditions, elevated blood pressure or diabetes.
By Isadora Baum