Why do we get sore from tough workouts? (And sometimes from not-so-tough ones?)
The simple answer is that when we work out, we break down our muscles. That sounds terrible, right? But it’s not. It’s actually exactly what you want!
Picture this: Your muscles are a brick wall, made up of lots of bricks. When you do a tough workout, you’re knocking down part of the wall. Not much of it, but maybe the top couple layers of bricks at the height of the wall. When you rest and recover after a workout, you’re actually building that part of the wall back up… and adding a couple of new, strong layers!
That’s what your body is doing, too. Your workouts create tiny little tears in your muscles, which are then rebuilt when you rest and recover. This is how your body grows stronger, and how you build up more healthy lean muscle.
The consequence is some soreness, particularly 24 – 36 hours after your workout, and particularly when you get out of bed in the morning or out of your chair in the afternoon!
But we can’t sit around recovering forever! Why is it important to recover fast?
- We can’t be skipping workouts. We’ve got fitness goals! We need to recover quick so we can get back in the gym.
- When we’re fully recovered, we feel better and we perform better. Our workouts are more effective and we don’t get so fatigued!
- Soreness interferes with more than just workouts: It interferes with life! We need to recover so we can give all we’ve got on even the busiest days.
How can you decrease that annoying soreness, which may even keep you out of the gym longer than you’d like? And how can you help your body build and repair those muscles?
Here are my top 6 strategies for faster recovery.
1. Take an epsom salt bath
Everyone knows that hot baths feel great! But now you have a healthy excuse to indulge in one: It’s good for your recovery. Epsom salts, which you can usually find for cheap at the grocery or drugstore in a big bag, contain magnesium sulfate. When this mineral is absorbed through your skin, it actually draws out toxins, reduces swelling, and relaxes all of your muscles. You’ve probably noticed that even soaking in a hot bath without epsom salts relaxes you, so adding them will give that feeling a real physical boost. Your bath should be nice and hot (but comfortably so). I find that I need to soak for at least 20 minutes to get the recovery benefits that I’m after. You should also add two whole cups of the salts! Most bathers add far less, so grab those measuring cups from the kitchen. Don’t worry, they really will dissolve! Want to make the experience more than just muscle recovery? Relax with some aromatherapy epsom salts! They’re available in all kinds of scents, like soothing lavender and invigorating eucalyptus.
2. Add BCAAs to your routine
BCAAs instigate protein synthesis inside your body. Protein synthesis is the process by which your body builds protein cells, which are what your muscles are made of. This means that BCAAs contribute to your body’s ability to rebuild muscle. The breaking down of your muscles is what makes you sore, so the faster your body can repair them, the faster your soreness will disappear. You may instigate protein synthesis by eating a protein-rich food like chicken or salmon, or by taking your usual protein supplement. This is why you should take BCAAs between meals, not alongside them: Let your BCAAs work for you on their own, and let your meals work in their usual way. BCAAs can begin and maintain protein synthesis at a faster rate than other protein sources, which essentially speeds your metabolism. BCAAs also decrease protein degeneration in your muscles, and speed your recovery significantly! They’re an amazing addition to your fitness regimen, and can get you back to the gym faster. I’ve had great success with BCAAs, and so have my bootcampers!
3. Do some foam rolling
You’ve probably heard of foam rolling, also called “self-myofascial release” or even “poor man’s massage.” It involves using a foam roller, which is a tubular piece of plastic-reinforced foam, to roll slowly against your own muscles, massaging them and releasing tension. Foam rolling can be painful because of soreness and tightness, but the benefits are real! Properly foam rolling increases the flexibility of your soft tissues, gives you better mobility, increases blood flow throughout your body, and even releases the lactic acid buildup that causes soreness. If you do it regularly, it can decrease your chances of injury during workouts and decrease your recovery time. It’s like stretching, but better. It might feel a little uncomfortable, but trust me, it’s worth it! Check out this great guide, with easy-to-follow videos, to learn how to use a foam roller.
4. Get a massage
Another great excuse to pamper yourself! A sports massage or deep-tissue massage has the same effects as foam rolling, but it’s more intense. Plus, a licensed therapist knows exactly how to help you where you need it. A good massage helps your body flush toxins, and just like with foam rolling, increased circulation during a massage speeds recovery and decreases muscle soreness. Not to mention that a massage relaxes you both mentally and physically. When I’m on the massage table, I always notice my physical tension disappear, and my everyday anxieties get put on hold for an hour! And these effects last longer than the duration of your massage, too: During and after a massage, your heart rate is lowered, which has fantastic health benefits for your cardiovascular system.
5. Stay hydrated
We all know that we should be well hydrated before a workout, and that we should drink fluids throughout our exercise regime. But did you know that staying hydrated afterwards actually speeds your recovery? There are big benefits to continuing your heightened fluid consumption for at least two hours after you work out. Staying hydrated replenishes your body’s stores of glycogen, which makes for better performance in upcoming workouts. So don’t toss your water bottle in your locker or leave it in your car after you work out! It’s also been found that plain water might not be the best thing to guzzle for recovery, since you need electrolytes that water doesn’t contain. One of the best sources for beneficial electrolytes is coconut water, which can be purchased by itself and is also a powdered element in some supplements, including some BCAAs. Just because it’s super trendy doesn’t mean it isn’t good for you!
6. Do some light cardio
This might seem counterintuitive. If you’re sore from working out, shouldn’t you rest in order to recover? But I’m not talking about doing sprints on the track or committing to a mile-long swim. Light cardio really does mean light! There’s no need to get your heart rate way up or break a serious sweat: The goal here is just to get your muscles moving. So just go for a walk around the neighborhood at lunch, or do a couple of easy miles on the treadmill after work. Like some of the other recovery methods I’ve listed, light cardio increases blood flow to your sore muscles, which helps flush lactic acid away. And remember what your blood is made to do: deliver nutrients to your entire body. When you increase blood flow, nutrients get delivered to your muscles more quickly, which means that they can repair themselves faster. Have you ever noticed how you’re more sore when you get out of bed, or after you’ve been in a desk chair for three hours? One time I did a serious workout and then boarded a plane for a flight several hours long. When I arrived, I was more sore than I had ever been in my life! This is what you’re combatting by getting moving. Don’t just sit there
Now that you’re armed with my 6 best tips for recovering fast, what’s stopping you from getting an awesome workout today? Get out there and get moving, and still feel great tomorrow morning.
BCAAs are one of my 6 keys to a speedy recovery from even your hardest workouts. I helped IdealFit formulate BCAAs just for women, with IdealLean Fat-Loss Blend to help you get lean and coconut water powder for amazing hydration.
Click the banner below to pick up some for yourself.