Okay, so you thought you were doing this amazing thing for your body by hitting the same HIIT class three days in one week, and now….you can’t move.
Post-workout pain is no joke, and it’s just one indication of how exercise stresses your physiological systems. Though the physical and mental benefits of exercise are many, and irreplaceable, working out—especially at a high intensity—also causes short-term inflammation, tears up your muscles, and can impair your mobility if you don’t loosen up properly.
When we asked super-fit experts to weigh in on post-workout recovery, we realized the time calculation is a little different here. While some of these strategies require more than a minute to implement, they save you a ton of time in the long run. You’ll be able to get around faster, jump back into another workout days earlier, and prevent injury.
1. Roll around
Foam rolling is not just about getting stubborn knots out. As you work out, your muscles tear. After, your body works on repairing the tissue, which builds more muscle, explains Daniel Giordano, a fitness-focused physical therapist and co-founder of Bespoke Treatments. “Foam rolling is ideal to help improve the blood flow to the area, hence improving oxygen to the muscle, which will help speed up the recovery process of the muscle,” he says.
2. Sweat in a sauna (or float in a tank)
Giordano says another smart way to increase blood flow is to sit in an infrared sauna, which will also help your sore muscles feel better in the short-term. Athlete-yogi-PhD Shauna Harrison agrees. “I’m a huge fan of infrared saunas and also float tanks and do these both whenever I can to help with recovery,” she says. Some research has shown pain relief benefits from float tanks, and many athletes swear by them.
3. But first… hydrate
Especially if you’re going to do the sauna thing, but even if you’re not, hydration is crucial. “Your muscles need water, so keep a big jug next to you during your workout and down it right after you finish,” says POUND founder and CEO Kirsten Potenza. In fact, water is key for muscle repair and some research has shown dehydration can exacerbate delayed onset muscle soreness.
4. Supplement strategically
“Post-exercise, delayed-onset muscle soreness can be reduced by stretching, hydration, and Epsom salt baths, along with protein and mineral repletion and supplementing with fish oil and turmeric extracts,” says youtheory® chief scientific officer Dr. Nick Bitz. “The overall goal is to encourage muscle relaxation, lower lactic acid, and moderate inflammation. If you’re looking to lower your body’s baseline inflammation level, it’s best to take supplements proactively on a daily basis, because it takes time to normalize the body’s physiology.”
5. Keep moving
“I like to work out at night, so it’s hard not to plop down on the couch after a tough workout,” Potenza says. The same scenario can apply to the morning, since you often go straight from boot camp to sitting at your desk. Again, this is a recipe for bad blood flow, making soreness and inflexibility worse. “I make sure to keep the blood flowing by taking a short walk or an extended cooldown,” she says.
6. Don’t be afraid to rest
At the end of the day, one of the most effective recovery methods is the most boring: rest. “If the soreness is impinging on your movement ability, taking the day off or taking a day to do a lighter workout is a good idea,” Harrison says. Don’t think of it as missing a workout day; think of it as making the time you do spend sweating even more effective. “Your body needs rest to recover in order to build and strengthen fibers,” Giordano says.