What you do AFTER a workout is just as important as what you do during your workout. Learn how to recover after a workout to prevent soreness and tension.
As a women’s personal trainer for over 15 years I can say that I have trained thousands of women and helped them reach their fitness and health goals. And part of coaching women to reach their goals includes teaching them how to properly care for their bodies…especially after a tough workout.
Because here’s the thing, what you do AFTER your workout is just as important as what you do during your workout.
Post-workout recovery is often a forgotten and neglected part of people’s workout routine. But if you are going to be working up a sweat with any sort of intensity you are inevitably going to get sore.
And while soreness means that you’re getting stronger, it can be a little annoying and it often hinders and de-motivates new exercisers from working out again as consistently as they should.
Not to mention it can make it harder to perform your best in your next workout.
So I wanted to share some of my best tips for preventing muscle soreness, and relieving soreness and tension you may already have.
Why do our muscles get sore after we exercise?
When you exercise, your muscle fibers actually start to break down. But don’t worry…this is a good thing!
Each time you workout tiny little tears develop in your muscles during training. But with proper recovery and nutrition, your body repairs or replaces those muscle fibers. And with consistent training your muscle fibers increase in thickness and number to build lean muscle.
These small muscle tears can contribute to the soreness that we feel after a workout, another contributor is lactic acid.
Lactic acid is produced when you body breaks down it’s glycogen stores — basically it’s reserved energy. And it accumulates in the muscles during short and intense periods of exercise — like HIIT workouts or running sprints. And when that lactic acid builds up in your muscles it will cause that muscles soreness.
As mentioned before, while muscles soreness means that we are developing strength and building muscle people who are in pain aren’t going to be particularly inclined to exercise as intensely until the pain goes away.
That’s why post-workout recover is so important when we want to make working out consistently and improving our strength a priority. So these recovery tools and ideas will help you to properly cool down and help your body recover as quickly as possible so that you can crush your next workout.
How to Recover After a Workout
Hydrate: Make Sure to Drink Plenty of Water
This is a big one. Getting fluids during and after your workout is important to replace the fluids lost from sweating.
Before a workout try to drink about 16 ounces of water about an hour or two before you start training.
And as you are working out aim to consume about 4-8 ounces of water every 15 minutes or so to stay hydrated.
Once you are finished be sure to continue hydrating to allow you body to recovery properly and help to flush out and prevent build up of lactic acid.
Having enough water through out the day will help prevent both brain and muscle fatigue and ensure your entire body inside and out is functioning properly.
Foam roll the Muscles Worked
As you know I am ALL about foam rolling — or technically, self-myofascial release. Think of it basically as a deep tissue massage. It’s just the same as a deep tissue or sports massage in that it relieves tension from the connective tissue.
Foam rolling BEFORE a workout, can help to increase your range of motion in your workout. This can help with muscle engagement — and making your workouts more effective.
While foam rolling AFTER a workout can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS). And you can even foam roll every day, and have all of the benefits of traditional massage at your fingertips.
Foam rolling should be done before stretching to help break up tight muscle tissue. This will allow you to get deeper into your stretches, so you get gain even more flexibility.
You’ll want to foam roll the muscles groups that you worked out, as well as any muscle group that you know you specifically may need to work on.
For example if you work at a desk all day like most people, you’ll probably also want to spend a little time foam rolling your hips and chest to prevent injuries and improve posture.
Or Get a Massage
Yes, now you have an excuse for a spa day! Massages aren’t just meant to “pamper”.
Just like using the foam roller, they actually really help to improve muscle recovery, muscle and joint flexibility, and improve blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
The pressure created during a massage actually moves blood through the blood vessels to improve circulation.
The squeezing and pulling also flushes out lactic acid from the muscles and improves lymphatic drainage. The lymph system carries metabolic waste away from muscles, to reduce lactic acid.
It’s also super important that you stretch your muscles after you’ve foam rolled and before your muscles cool down too much.
It takes about 30 minutes for you muscles to completely cool down. So you have plenty of time to foam roll, and get a stretch session in before getting too cool. So don’t worry about rushing anything.
Stretching “cold” muscles can be dangerous for muscles because they contract when cold and can cause injury.
Aim for about 5 minutes of foam rolling and then 5-10 minutes of stretching.
Eat Healthy Recovery Foods
Now, it’s super important to make sure your refuel after your workout with a post-workout snack or meal. And it’s important to make sure you get the right nutrients to help with your recovery.
You need just the right ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium to replenish what’s lost during your workout. My go-to post workout smoothie is an amazing option for post workout recovery.
Protein is so important to repair muscles and help to build stronger muscles.
The ratio of nutrients are great for recovery. The carbs give your body and muscles the quick replenishment and energy they need after a tough workout.
The high-quality protein contains all nine essential amino acids which help with muscles building and repair, for lean muscle which can help you boost your metabolism and lose fat.
And the coconut water and banana gives your body essential electrolytes to help keep you balanced. Here’s the recipe for my go-to post workout smoothie.
Some other great options are greek yogurt with homemade granola or berries, eggs and toast, or a completely balanced meal. These will give you good ratios of your macro nutrients and provide enough protein and carbs to help you recover.
Get More Sleep
This seems like a no brainer, but without enough sleep your body and your muscle fibers will not be able to heal properly.
Sleep helps muscles release protein-building amino acids into the bloodstream at an increased rate which helps them grow bigger and stronger over time.
During deep sleep, muscle growth hormone is also secreted.
Without enough sleep you may find your muscles are still tense or sore in the morning. Long-term lack of sleep can even lead to the development of chronic pain. (source)
Sleep also allows your muscles to fully relax, which relieves tension and can reduce pain and soreness.
Stress not only causes mental fatigue — it actual affects your entire body including your muscles and you digestive system. So getting your stress levels down is imperative to not only workout recovery but your overall wellness.
There are so many ways that you can help alleviate stress, such as talking with a therapist, keeping a journal, meditating, or even going for a walk or snuggling your pets.
Personally, I love a good Epsom salt bath!
Epsom salt — aka Magnesium sulfate — has long been known to help with muscles soreness and recovery. Magnesium assists the body in reducing inflammation and helping muscle and nerve function. And sulfates help to improve the absorption of nutrients, flush toxins and improve blood flow.
This relaxing Lavender Bath Salt recipe is filled with lavender flowers and essential oils and it the perfect thing to treat yourself to at night before bed, because not only will it help your muscles, but it can also help you doze off into a better sleep.
Mistakes to Avoid With Workout Recovery
Not Cooling Down After Your Workout
This is probably one of the most skipped tasks after a workout.
Properly cooling down allows your body temperature to lower slowly which prevents blood pooling. This mean blood doesn’t properly reach the heart to be re-oxygenated.
Blood pooling can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, or even fainting.
Hopping on the treadmill, or just walking around for 5 minutes before you foam roll and stretch will allow your heart rate to slow down, and your blood flow to slow back down to normal.
Go easy on alcohol
While I LOVE a good glass of bubbly or rosé, it is important to remember that it is a toxin.
And of course alcohol can be a part of any healthy lifestyle in MODERATION — it’s important not to go overboard. This is especially true when you are trying to make progress in your workouts or change your body shape.
Research has found that consuming alcohol after a workout impairs your muscles ability to replenish glycogen stores after exercise. Alcohol can also impair muscle building as well. (source)
Stay active, even on rest days
Active recovery is so important for you overall workout routine. Even on rest day you should aim to get some light movement in such as a walk, easy hike, restorative yoga, or even a joyride around your neighborhood on your bike.
Contrary to what you may think, keeping your muscles moving will help to prevent muscle soreness because it increases blood flow which increases lymphatic drainage and decreases inflammation.
Now even though active rest days are important, it’s also equally important to be careful of overtraining.
Not only can overtraining invite injury, it also will decrease recovery and negatively impact how quickly you will progress or see results. (source)
Some common signs of over training are:
- Decreased performance over 7–10 day period
- Increased resting heart rate and/or blood pressure
- Decreased body weight
- Reduced appetite or loss of appetite and possibly some nausea
- Disturbed sleep patterns and inability to attain restful sleep
- Muscle soreness and general irritability
- Reduced motivation/adherence
The important thing here is to listen to your body. If you are feeling lethargic for a few days try backing off for a week or two, or reducing your intensity to allow more time to recover.
Learning how to recover after a workout and learning to listen to your body is a key part in your training, and with time you’ll develop an amazing mind-body connection that will help you thrive in your workouts.
Looking for More?
Try out the Fitness Collective App FREE for 14 days!
Instant access to over 150+ full-length workout videos, hundreds of recipes, and built-for-you workout programs!