Fitness is all about pushing past your limits and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. But the whole “no pain, no gain” mentality is misleading; the time you spend resting and recovering is where the magic—AKA the adaptations that occur on a molecular level to make you stronger and fitter—happens.
If you never give your body a break, how can it repair and rebuild muscle tissue when you work so hard? Part of adopting new lifestyle health habits is to know when to push your body’s capabilities and when to allow it to heal post workout.
In this article, we’ll discuss post-workout recovery tips and more! (Just remember to talk to your doc before trying anything new.)
- Sit in a sauna.
After you break a sweat, getting even sweatier can help recovery and soothe sore muscles. “Heat exposure from traditional saunas—at a minimum temperature of 176°F—pushes oxygen-rich blood from your core to your extremities,” explains Will Steward, a kinesiologist and NCCP-certified endurance coach at Cedar Spring Recreation. “This can have a massive impact on repairing the microtears that happen naturally during bouts of exercise.” Regular sauna use can also help stimulate healthy protein and growth hormone regulation, he adds, which can positively impact your performance over time.
- Splurge on a massage.
Massage is one of the best recovery techniques for reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), according to a 2018 meta-analysis published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology. If you use your Paceline health and wellness credit card, you’ll get up to 5% cash back¹ at massage parlors and spas. (And BTW, getting a massage for your sore muscles is also a great way to reward yourself for working out.)
- Drink cherry juice.
“Cherries are a source of anthocyanins, a phytochemical with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties,” says Kaleigh Tjoelker, a registered dietitian based in Atlanta, Georgia. Sipping on some of this tart beverage after a workout may reduce inflammation, lessen muscle damage, and decrease muscle soreness, according to a 2017 scientific review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
Research published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine in 2019 found that sleep may be the single most important factor in exercise recovery. “During sleep, the brain naturally releases growth hormone, which improves muscle recovery and regeneration,” says Jordan Thomson, a certified personal trainer with The Perfect Workout based in Laguna Niguel, California. Aim for seven to nine uninterrupted hours per night.
- Take a cold bath.
Yes, it’s tough, but immersing yourself in cold water has many benefits: Studies show it lowers inflammation post-workout and reduces DOMS. “Extended bouts of cold exposure cause the circulatory system to draw blood into your core to protect your vital organs,” explains Steward—which helps to flush the body of the metabolic waste that builds up during workouts. (P.S. Switching between a sauna and a cold bath could aid in blood circulation and help with muscle repair and recovery.)
- Refuel with protein and carbs.
How about post-workout nutrition? Aim to consume a snack of protein and carbs within an hour of your workout. “Athletes store energy in their muscles as glycogen, and a tough workout depletes those glycogen stores,” Tjoelker says. Re-upping them ASAP allows you to kickstart the recovery process. Meanwhile, “protein is made up of amino acids—which are the building blocks of your muscles,” says Tjoelker. “Because the stress of exercise can lead to muscle damage, amino acids are needed afterward to repair and strengthen muscles.”
“When your body is adequately rehydrated, it allows your heart and cardiovascular system to work efficiently to transport the nutrients and oxygen you need for recovery through the blood,” says Katie Pierson, an AFAA-certified personal trainer based in Denver, Colorado. (FYI: Dehydration can make delayed-onset muscle soreness, AKA DOMS, worse.) Don’t forget electrolytes: “They play a vital role in nerve and muscular function, restoring the body’s fluid balance and aiding muscle repair,” says Pierson. (FYI, you can get a free 3-pack of Liquid IV through the Paceline app, while supplies last, when you hit your Streak!)
- Move around.
Many people think of “recovery” and “rest” as synonymous. But melting into your couch, AKA passive recovery, is less effective in reducing muscle fatigue than active recovery, like a low-intensity walk or bike ride, according to 2016 research published in PLOS ONE. “Keeping movement in your routine helps to maintain blood flow throughout the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients your recovering muscles need to rebuild,” explains Katie Butler, the head coach at Orangetheory Fitness in Tampa-Gandy, Florida.
- Roll it out.
Foam rollers act as DIY soft tissue therapy, “helping to release tension and knots in your muscles that can lead to pain and inflammation,” says Nathan Lloyd, a NASM-certified personal trainer based in Boulder, Colorado. Using them can also increase blood flow to your muscles, he adds, helping them recover faster and reducing delayed onset muscle soreness, a 2020 scientific review published in the Journal of Body Work & Movement Therapies determined. Massage guns—for which you can find discounts in the Paceline app when you hit your Streak—did the same in a 2019 study published in the Journal of International Medical Research.
- Practice breathwork.
Breathwork is a form of meditation, which has been shown to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone; when cortisol levels are elevated for too long, research shows that it can lead to chronic fatigue, muscle fatigue, a suppressed immune system, and lack of motivation—the opposite of recovery.
10 Post-Workout Recovery Tips to Try is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.