How many of you are jump starting your fitness journey this New Year? How many of you are curled in a ball, unable to get out of bed, or can’t walk normally due to post-workout muscle soreness? Yeah. I bet there are quite a few of you, myself included!
As we gear down to meet our New Year’s resolutions we may find ourselves diving too far into fitness too quickly. We’re so pumped to get started that we do a few too many dead lifts, squats, a HIIT protocol that’s too advanced, or go for a morning run at a pace that’s a bit too energetic. Whatever the case may be, you’re sore. REALLY sore. So, what are the best ways to reduce post-workout muscle soreness, aches, and pains? Well I’ve got 20 different ways to do just that!
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness aka DOMS
Before we get into the remedies, let’s take a look into why we get sore and why it’s not always the best for our bodies.
Our muscles contract and expand to create movement, and in order to do that they need glucose and ATP (Adenosine triphosphate, a coenzyme that transports chemical energy within our cells for metabolism). ATP requires a lot of oxygen which is why our breathing becomes heavier and our heart rate increases during exercise. Without enough oxygen, excess lactic acid forms that cannot be converted into ATP. This acid builds up in the bloodstream which is what causes post-workout muscle soreness. The tiny tears in our muscles will help them grow larger and stronger as they heal, but the process can be a bit painful.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a result of exercising too vigorously and not getting enough oxygen into our bloodstream during a workout. Many believe that post-workout muscle soreness is a valid and positive indicator of muscle growth and strength development and in many cases this is true. You have to break down muscle fibers in order to build more. Nutrients, amino acids, and the proteins we consume help repair, rebuild, and grow muscles post-workout and the resulting soreness from a good session usually means progress. However, this isn’t always the case since a lot of people actually have a genetic predisposition for developing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (aka DOMS) which is why it isn’t always good to feel sore after working out. So, you either have a predisposition for DOMS or you’re just going at it too vigorously.
In any case, here’s why we should be more informed about Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness as it can cause:
• Increased risk of injury
• Reduced muscle recruitment patterns
• Impaired range of motion
• Decreased capacity to absorb shock
• Decreased anterior cruciate ligament elasticity, especially in women (the ligament at the front-inside of the knee)
• Decrease in motivation due to discomfort (DOMS causes you to need longer rest periods which can throw off your work-out routine especially for newbies!)
As you can see, if you have DOMS, you should rest a bit before diving into your next workout routine and try a few remedies below for quick recovery! I should also mention that if you regularly experience DOMS after a workout, then you need to adjust your training and recovery methods until your body is able to adapt.
20 Ways to Reduce Post-Workout Muscle Soreness, Aches, and Pains
Now that you know why you want to avoid DOMS as much as possible, here’s some of the best ways to reduce post-workout muscle soreness so that you have good form, good recovery, and good results.
If you’re training for a competition or are just in a lot of pain and need to recover quickly, acupuncture is a great way to reduce muscle pain since it sensitizes pain receptors. An experienced acupuncturist will know exactly where muscle tension is located and how to move energy in order to relieve it. Many have felt immense relief from post-workout muscle pain after about 40 minutes of treatment. In some cases, a few visits may be required for more chronic pain associated with exercise or exercise injury. This remedy may be ancient, but it’s time tested!
Branch Chain Amino Acids (aka BCAAs) are a well-known remedy for muscle soreness and for encouraging quick recovery. BCAAs work by increasing protein synthesis and reducing muscle damage by preserving the integrity of muscle fibers. It’s best to use BCAAs before and after a workout for best results.
I’ve been using an amino acid called L-glutamine before bedtime after tough workouts to avoid DOMS since last year and it’s a life saver! However, if you want to the full effect be sure to use a BCAA complex.
Caffeine is well known for its ability to enhance strength and endurance during exercise. It also happens to be an effective remedy for reducing DOMS by 26-48% by inhibiting the central nervous receptors related to pain.
Taking a caffeine supplement like this one will help reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and enhance training performance. Evidently, you can also just drink 2 ½ cups of coffee per day to get similar results.
Cupping (aka myofascial decompression) is another ancient practice for treating muscle soreness, various illnesses, and imbalance in the body. If you watched the 2016 Olympics, then you may have seen Michael Phelps sporting some rather curios looking marks on his back. These are the remnants of cupping which helps move stagnation and alleviate pain caused by Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Cupping can also be used with favorable results for ligament and tendon pain.
Curcumin, the active constituent found in turmeric, is widely known for its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Some studies have even shown curcumin to work better than over the counter pain medications without inhibiting the body’s ability to heal post-workout muscle soreness. In case you didn’t know, taking NSAIDs to alleviate exercise induced pain actually increases healing time. Take curcumin instead!
Eating a well-balanced meal before and after a workout can help properly fuel muscles and aid in recovery. You’re more likely to injure yourself while low on energy going into a workout and more likely to develop muscle soreness if you don’t provide protein, amino acids, electrolytes, and minerals when you’re finished. These elements will help your body assimilate nutrients and restore damaged muscle fibers.
7. Essential Oils
Creating topical recipes using essential oils is a great way to ease pain, inflammation, and move stagnancy related to sore muscles. Some of the best essential oils for this purpose include wintergreen, birch, peppermint, spruce, black pepper, ginger, hyssop, helichrysum, and cypress. One of my HOLY GRAIL recipes using essential oils for reducing muscle soreness and keeping you cool during a workout is my homemade freeze-ease workout spray – literally AC in a bottle!
You can read more about my top essential oils for pain relief and how to use them here.
8. Foam Rolling
Dubbed by many as “death rolling”, it can be easy to see why foam rolling is an intensely disliked protocol for relieving deep tissue pain, tension, and stagnation. The way it’s done is by very slowly rolling your sore muscle over the foam roller and then pausing where it hurts most. The pressure from the foam roller will help loosen tight sore muscles so that the built up lactic acid can be released and carried away. Using a foam roller is one of the best, if not more uncomfortable ways to get rid of muscle pain more quickly.
You can get a foam roller here. Another great tool that’s in the same vein is this handy muscle roller which is much smaller. You can also use tennis or lacrosse balls for rolling out bunched up muscles.
9. Heat and Ice
Applying heat or ice on sore muscles can offer temporary relief at best, but it’s still better than nothing especially if a muscle is tight. Heat will help loosen bunched up muscles and help a bit with pain. If your pain is relieved better by cold especially when inflammation, redness, or damaged tissues are present, use it instead of heat.
To use heat or ice for sore muscles, simply apply a wrapped cold/hot pack to the area for 2 minutes at a time. Let the area rest for a few minutes before repeating. The important thing to note with heat or cold treatment is to know what your injury actually is otherwise it can feel worse. Applying heat on inflammation is going to make the area swell up even more. Applying ice and a tight cramped muscle will tighten it further so be sure to take care when using cryo or thermotherapy.
This is the heat pad I use.
Keeping your body properly hydrated before and after a workout will allow it to flush out excess lactic acid. This should go without saying, but good hydration is one of your best defenses against post-workout muscle soreness. Try to drink half and ounce of water per pound of bodyweight if you can if you’re experiencing pain.
11. Magnesium Oil
Magnesium oil is one of the best muscle-relaxing and pain-relieving remedies for sore muscles, aches, and pains that I know of. It’s ability to loosen and soothe tightness and pain are really second to none. If I know I’ve done a workout a bit too rigorously I apply magnesium oil to the affected muscles groups before pain even begins. Massaging the area with magnesium oil and letting the it sit for 20 minutes before soaking in a hot bath normally relieves pain immensely. This is the magnesium oil I use.
Pre-conditioning is a great practice for preventing post-workout muscle soreness to begin with. This normally includes warming up and stretching before diving into your exercise routine. I know that without pre-conditioning myself before an insanity workout, I would never have been able to finish the program. It’s important to warm up the muscles that you will be training. For example, if you will be training biceps, it would be good to start with a very light weight (20% of what you plane to use) to warm up with before going heavy.
Doing this will increase your body’s ability to adapt to its inflammatory response while also increasing sarcomeres, the basic unit of striated muscle tissue that reduce strain.
Pushing yourself continuously even when you’re sore is a sure-fire way to prolonged discomfort and possible injury. Despite what many claim, it isn’t always okay to push through muscle soreness. Your body needs time to flush out the lactic acid and repair damaged muscle. Allowing your body to rest will actually give you better results as your body adapts to more intense exercise. Pushing it past its limits will only stunt progress.
Give your body up to 3 days of rest when experiencing post-workout muscle soreness. This will vary from person to person, so listen to your body!
14. Soak in Epsom Salts
Epsom salt is composed of magnesium sulfite, a known muscle relaxant that’s popular among athletes for soothing sore tight muscles. Add a cup or two to a running bath and soak for at least 20 minutes for best results.
I love taking a relaxing Epsom salt bath after a tough workout, long hikes, or even after a long day on my feet. It’s the perfect way to relax, destress, and loosen sore muscles. I also really love adding my magnesium bath bombs to the bath for an added magnesium boost!
15. Take Fish Oil
Fish oil is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is an excellent remedy for lessening your chances of getting DOMS post-workout. It enhances recovery and will even slightly reduce pain, especially in severe Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
16. Tart Cherry Juice
Fruits high in anti-oxidants, especially tart cherry juice, can significantly reduce muscle damage, pain, and strength loss after an intense workout because the anti-inflammatory compounds found in tart cherry helps the body remove waste and repair tissues faster. This allows for increased muscle recovery and function.
This is the tart cherry juice I use. Be sure to drink it separately from milk and whey protein products as dairy inhibits anti-oxidant activity in the body.
Taking taurine in conjunction with a good BCAA supplement boosts energy metabolism, aids cardiovascular function, reduces stress, and increases the benefits of BCAAs by preventing muscle damage. Taurine has also been found to accelerate recovery and reduce post-workout muscle soreness due to enhanced protein synthesis and improved water content in the muscle fibers.
18. Topical Analgesics
Topical analgesics are another handy remedy to use when you’ve got DOMS and there are a variety of them to choose from.
Some of my favorites include:
• Arnica cream and gel – arnica is a known herb that helps relieve pain, reduce bruising, and speed up healing in soft tissues like muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
• Boswellia cream – boswellia is a type of frankincense that is closely regarded for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.
• Capsaicin ointment – capsaicin is a constituent found in hot peppers that is known for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Using it daily on arthritis has been shown to reduce pains for days. One of my favorite back pain remedies.
• Capsaicin patches – I use a patch by Salanpas that contains capsaicin for quick relief for all sorts of aches and pains.
• Cool Azul Pain Cream – This cream contains a number of potent essential oils known for their pain relieving abilities. Very soothing.
• Menthol patches – These patches are also by Salanpas and offer a soothing cooling sensation to sore muscles, aches, and ains.
19. Tens Unit
A tens unit (aka transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit) is most often found at the chiropractor. It’s a machine that has electrodes that are placed on the body where healing, nerve stimulation, and pain relief is needed. They will often have a number of settings and levels of intensity and I have found my at-home tens unit to be irreplaceable for all sorts of pain, especially sciatica. I have also used it successfully on post-workout muscle soreness with great results.
20. Train More Often
This one may sound counterproductive but training more can greatly reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness because your muscles adapt and become conditioned to harder training. If you’re already sore, doing a light concentric workout (exercises where you jump or lift) can greatly reduce DOMS. However, doing this once already sore won’t restore strength or muscle function, you need rest for that!
Increasing your training to 3 times a week and changing up your workouts every 3-6 weeks will improve muscle adaptability.
What have been your best remedies for relieving post-workout muscle soreness?
Don’t miss out on my other fitness articles below:
Detoxifying Essential Oils and How to Use Them
The Top 4 Essential Oils for Weight Loss and Metabolism
3 Reasons to Use Essential Oils for Exercise Support
3 Essential Steps You Need to Boost Metabolism
10 Herbs for Fitness, Strength, and Endurance