The worst thing to happen after starting a new lifting program is an intense day of muscle soreness. If you’re having the kind of day where it hurts to move, you might be tempted just to have a lie-in day or masking the discomfort with over the counter medications. Instead of dealing with your soreness in those ways, try one of these science-backed approaches to help you recover faster and get back to lifting and training sooner.
But first, let’s take a look at why we experience muscle soreness after working out.
News Flash – Everyone experiences muscle soreness!
No matter if you’ve been lifting ten years or ten days, trying new movement patterns will absolutely result in your muscles being sore. Usually, muscle stiffness doesn’t last for long, but it certainly can be annoying and uncomfortable. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) occurs whenever you bring something new or add in a new aspect to your training. DOMS happens because you’re asking your muscles to work harder than they have in the past or in a different way.
The micro-tears that new movements create causes damage to muscle fibres, which results in soreness and stiffness. The good news is twofold: DOMS is actually a sign that you’re improving because it means you’re getting stronger. And, the soreness will continue to decrease over time since it leads to greater stamina.
DOMS can last for three to five days, depending on how vigorously you exercised. This kind of muscle pain will eventually go away on its own, but why suffer? Instead, follow these tips and get back to doing what you love.
Three Great Tips to Aid Muscle Recovery
1) Head to Bed Early
The relationship between sleep and exercise is still being explored, but research shows that when you’re sleep-deprived, your muscles take longer to heal. In turn, your performance suffers, and your motivation to push harder might wane. Sleep is integral to all systems of the body, including your metabolism and mood. If you’re feeling extra sore after a long training session, hit the sheets a little earlier than usual. You might just save yourself some pain, and you’ll probably perform better the next day too.
2) Add in an Extra Protein Shake
We know that when we exercise, tiny tears in muscles help form new, larger muscles. But for that to happen, we need to provide our bodies with the right macronutrients. Protein is directly responsible for fueling these repair jobs, so having enough protein in your diet is key. In addition to eating well throughout the day, have a protein-rich snack like a shake or some Greek yogurt can help your body continue to repair your muscles overnight.
3) Make Friends With Recovery Tools
Foam rollers, floss bands, and lacrosse balls aren’t just for elite athletes and physical therapists. They’re all designed for the casual lifter and serious competitor to help achieve one thing – a reduction in muscle soreness so you can get back in the gym faster. If you’re not certain how to choose the best rollers, bands, and balls – keep reading!
Studies show that self-myofascial release might help increase your range of motion, improve muscle performance, and decrease the likelihood of fatigue and soreness after a workout. It’s best done right after your lift, but you can do it as part of a comprehensive recovery day session or whenever you’re feeling stiff. Just like all other recovery techniques, it’s best when done consistently.
If you’ve been following along on our recovery series, you know that better results and training harder go hand in hand with the right post workout recovery. No matter what sport you play or kind of fitness activities you enjoy, understanding how to make the most of your body’s systems and fueling yourself for success can mean the difference between having to skip a day or being able to continue pushing yourself forward.
Your general diet should be balanced in good fats, quality calories, and the right blend of protein and carbs and, most importantly – enough calories. All physical activities take a lot of energy, and part of training properly is giving your body enough of it.
Try out these tips the next time you’re hit with a case of the DOMs and get back to doing what you love sooner.
The Tools – Everything You Need for Recovery Day
There are two things you need to do to make sure you’re getting the most from your exercise programme: work hard and rest hard. When you exercise, your muscle fibres get torn and need some downtime to recover and repair.
The more incredible you make your recovery days, the more quickly your muscles bounce back, which leads to – you guessed it – your fitness goals become more attainable. Here’s everything you need to recover well and prime your body for your next workout.
Use a foam roller to explore self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques. SMR helps relieve muscle tightness, inflammation, increase range of motion, and decrease soreness. Breaking up the tightness in your muscles, especially after intense gym sessions, might help you feel less tense and calmer. Foam rolling is safe for everyone, but you should avoid rolling if you have a serious issue like a muscle tear. Avoid rolling on small joints, as this could cause hyperextension and damage.
To select the best foam roller for your needs, make sure you explore the size and shape that will be best suited. Smooth rollers have smooth, dense surfaces made of foam and are usually best for people who aren’t used to rolling. Textured rollers have knobs and ridges and can help you get deep into muscles to work out serious knots. Use a foam roller to work on your muscle soreness in your back quads, lats, and glutes.
This combination set offers two types of foam rollers – one smooth and one ridged to help with tight muscles and overall soreness after a serious lifting session. This Fit Beast package also comes with two free massage balls to help with additional myofascial release. Use the Fit Beast roller to flush lactic acid from muscles and help increase blood flow. You’ll notice a marked difference in muscle tension, and you might find that you sleep better too.
- Black roller 33cm long x 14cm thick
- Red roller 30cm long x 10cm thick
- Black ball 6.5cm
- Red ball 7cm
- Two different rollers in one give you the option to choose your intensity
- Trigger point roller is perfect for deep myofascial release
- The soft roller is great for general recovery work
- Convenient to carry, the trigger roller fits inside the soft roller
- Massage balls are a neat bonus, but the spikey ball isn’t very effective
- Both rollers are a little narrow, which can be annoying to use
- Black roller can crack internally, making it useless even though it’s supposedly cleared for 660 pounds of pressure
Overall, this is a decent roller package. It’s great for someone who is new to rolling and is eager to explore rollers and how they can benefit recovery days. The deep tissue roller isn’t as comfortable as others on the market, but the price point makes this set very accessible to a wide array of athletes. Perfect for recovery newcomers, but experienced athletes might want something a little more durable.
This medium-hard foam roller comes with a few e-books to help you get the most out of your recovery days. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and perfect for transporting to and from the gym. If you’re working out at home these days, the Bodymate Active foam roller isn’t going to take up much space at all. The alternating smooth and rigid surface makes this excellent for deep tissue massage and should be a must in your recovery toolkit.
- Multiple colours
- L30cm x D15cm
- Made from expanded polypropylene foam
- The thickness of this roller means it stands up well to the full bodyweight pressure of heavier athletes
- Added exercise e-book is a nice bonus to help those who are new to rolling
- Rigids don’t feel very good on hamstrings and lats, so this isn’t suited for all rolling
- No internal support which means the roller could collapse on itself at some point
- Slips on certain types of floors
This roller is great for anyone who wants to get deep into myofascial muscle soreness. Its thickness and rigidity are well suited for attacking any DOMS in your quads, chest, or back. However, it’s not the best on hamstrings, calves, or lats, so be mindful of that as you make your purchase. This roller would serve best as an addition to your growing collection of recovery tools, but might not be the best stand-alone roller available.
Massage sticks are like foam rollers but smaller and more compact. This way, they can be used in harder to reach areas. Massage sticks help with elasticity and flexibility, which might help improve your range of motion and prevent extra strain and stress. Massage sticks are excellent for lower body soreness like the adductors and IT band.
Reach for this massage stick when you need to get deep into your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Perfect for on the go massaging or when you don’t have access to a full foam roller, this massage roller stick is great for self-initiated deep tissue massage.
- Stainless steel core
- Moulded anti-slip nub handle
- Lifetime warranty
- A variety of nubs make this useful for many different body parts
- Can be easier to use than a standard foam roller
- Sometimes the nubs impede movement, so it doesn’t roll as smoothly as it should
- When the rollers stick, they cause painful friction on the skin
- Squeaks loudly when in use
As far as self-roller sticks go, this product is pretty decent for the price point. A stick roller is never going to take the place of a foam roller and lacrosse ball combination, but this is very useful when you don’t have access to those items. There are better-made roller sticks available, but if you need something for very specific instances with a decent price point, this is a great choice.
Lightweight and compact to use anywhere, this massage roller stick can be an excellent addition to your recovery toolkit. Its spinning gears make it simple to relieve trigger points, knots, and sore muscles. The nubs on this stick are made to align with the shape of your body, making it more comfortable to use than others on the market.
- Weight: 0.40 grams
- Very comfortable to hold because of the ergonomic handles
- Free e-book and complete satisfaction guarantee
- Reinforced steel core
- Phthalate, latex, lead, and BPA free
- Rolling function can get stuck, rending this more of a manual roller instead of a rolling stick
- Nubs aren’t as pronounced as they could be to target sore areas
Overall, this is a decent massage roller stick that can help you at home, work, or the gym when DOMS strikes. There’s no snagging or dragging, and there’s no squeaking either – something that many of the competitors on the market can’t manage to do. This is a great roller stick for both the novice and recovery-day enthusiasts and for those looking to upgrade their current products.
The perfect tool to get into smaller areas where soreness might inhibit your movement, lacrosse balls are ideal for neck, shoulder, and chest soreness. Unlike tennis balls, lacrosse balls are dense and hard, so they don’t soften under pressure. This denseness is what helps release the fascia in the body.
Fascia is a sheath of connective tissue that connects muscle groups. When it’s knotted from workouts, it can cause discomfort and limited range of motion. Use a lacrosse ball for SMR on areas that are hard to reach with a foam roller or massage stick.
This kit from Defining Strength comes with three different massage balls to help with your recovery day efforts. Use the standard lacrosse ball for pinpointed recovery relief. The peanut-shaped ball is ideal for a spinal self-initiated myofascial trigger point release, and the spiky ball helps you access hard to reach places.
- Colour: black and blue
- Three balls
- Peanut ball: 12.5cm
- Spikey ball: 6cm
- Lacrosse ball: 6cm
- The versatility of the balls makes this trio pack very suitable for many different uses
- The added booklet is a nice touch to help learn the best practices for using massage balls
- The trio is a bit small, not the average massage ball size, so they might not be suited for everyone
- There’s not much give to the balls so they can feel uncomfortable to use, even for those experienced with lacrosse balls
This is an excellent massage ball trio pack for both the experienced Recovery Day athlete and the novice alike. All from the safety and comfort of your home, you can access the incredible relief of massage balls. And because these are so compact, it’s simple to add them to your gym bag or travel bag, so you always have them when you nee them.
Proof that the simplest designs are often the best, the Captain LAX lacrosse ball is exactly what you would expect – a dense ball made of rubber that’s exceptionally useful for self-initiated myofascial massage. Available in a variety of colors that don’t transfer to clothing or walls, this is perfection at its finest.
- Rubber material
- Multiple colours
- Solid and well made
- Perfectly suited for shoulder, scapulae, and lat tension
- Matte-rubber that doesn’t have a smell
- Firmness doesn’t buckle under full body weight
- A carrying case would be useful as would sanitation instructions
This is the ideal massage ball because it’s made from a solid rubber material that doesn’t slip or give way like some other products on the market. When you apply the right amount of friction and pressure, you’re able to allow your aching sore muscles to sink right in – perfect for an additional layer of recovery after a tough workout.
These compression bands are an excellent mobility tool that helps you work on internal and external rotation issues. As part of an SMR recovery day, using floss bands can help break up large knots, so you get a deeper range of motion. Flossing your quads after a high rep squat day or your shoulders after lots of muscle-ups can help reduce waste products that might otherwise collect in your connective tissue.
This double pack of floss bands will help increase your circulation and help with your overall flexibility. Use these floss bands to accelerate recovery and to work on your range of motion for compound lift movements.
- Black band: 0.05” thick x 2” wide x 7’ long
- Red band 0.06” thick x 2” wide x 7’ long
- Two sizes give options for compression intensity
- Length is good for most recovery work
- Elasticity isn’t as great with these bands as others on the market, so they’re hard to use in some areas of the body like the shoulder and hip flexor regions
- Lack of elasticity also means that the bands can snap during use
- The rubber feels slick, making it difficult to wrap around with enough compression
As with most things, you get what you pay for. These aren’t top of the line floss bands, but they will help aid and assist in recovery work. If you’re new to the idea of wrapping a bit of rubber around your joints, then these are perfectly suited for you. But, if you’re already accustomed to what good bands should feel like and how they should work, you might consider purchasing something with a higher price point.
Now your recovery days can include work on your fingers and toes with the High Pulse mini floss band. Use the regular-sized bands for recovery work that involves your joints, tendons, and ligaments. Help relieve pain and promote mobility when you incorporate floss bands into your recovery day sessions.
- Thickness: 1 mm x 0.8 mm
- 100% latex
- Thin band: 100 cm x 2.5 cm
- Thick band: 208 cm x 5 cm
- The mini band makes this set very versatile and useful
- Bands are a little slippery to use, so they need to be very secure before performing range of motion movements
The mini bands in this High Pulse set are a nice touch since everyone knows that grip strength can contribute to overall strength. These bands are useful for anyone new to recovery days and for those who have extensive experience with higher price point products. Great for travel too, since these come with their own carrying case as well.
Compression Clothing and Accessories
One final bit that might be missing from your recovery day toolkit is anything that offers significant compression. There are several different products for compression, ranging from clothing garments you wear at night to pieces of workout gear that you wear during recovery sessions, like specific tops and tights.
Signs You Need a Recovery Day
You might be tempted to skip recovery day, especially if you’re training for a specific event. Here are six tell-tale signs your body is crying out for a day off from your programme:
Feeling tired, cranky, or irritated? It might be a sign that your hormones are out of whack as a result of too much training. When your body is physically spent, serotonin and cortisol get depleted, which can lead to mood swings. If you’re more annoyed than usual, your body is probably trying to tell you something.
If you’re feeling tired, no matter how much sleep you get, your body might be experiencing extreme exhaustion. This can happen when you over train. A day off isn’t going to hinder your progress – instead, it’ll make your performance better.
Pain that goes beyond standard muscle soreness is generally a sign of overuse. You put yourself at risk of more serious injury when you ignore these kinds of pains, so it’s best to step away from your programme for a day.
When your standard weights feel heavy or your typical mile time lags, you might be time to take a recovery day. Of course, not every day is going to be amazing in the gym, but a session that feels harder than normal might be an indicator that it’s time to do a little recovery work.
Quality sleep is key to recovery. If your cortisol is ramped because you’ve been working out every day straight for a fortnight, you’re doing your body and your mind a disservice. Instead of heading for the gym, spend some time with your recovery day tools.
Right, we all know that sore muscles are part of the process, but if you’re having persistent soreness, your body needs some time off. Usually, this indicates that your muscles haven’t recovered from previous workouts. Take a day off and you’ll come back stronger.
No matter how long you’ve been lifting or training, regular recovery work is critical to your overall performance and success as an athlete. It’s necessary to prevent overtraining, reduce fatigue, and help build the muscles that you’re working so hard for in the gym.
To make the most of your recovery days, treat them with the same reverence as workouts. That way, you’re not tempted to skip them. Tools like lacrosse balls and floss bands are only useful when you use them.
Without enough recovery breaks, it’s going to feel like your goals are very far away. You owe it to yourself to slow down, step out of the gym, and give some care and attention to the muscles that make it all possible.