That soreness feeling you get after a day or two of working out is something that we’re all familiar with, especially after intense sessions. Take this as a good sign as it means you’ve created micro-tears in your muscle fibers, which the body then repairs and adapts to better accommodate the training stimulus for the next time you work out.
This soreness is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or “DOMS”, which occurs when you start a new exercise routine or increase the intensity or duration of your usual workout. DOMS occurs after 1 or 2 days after exercise and generally lasts between 3 and 5 days.
Other than being uncomfortable, especially with leg soreness, this discomfort feeling can adversely affect your training. This applies in particular if it is rolled forward into your following workouts. Studies have found that training with sore muscles can reduce the muscular force of a targeted muscle, decrease physical performance, and increase the risk of injury.
For this reason, you must take measures to reduce the post-workout soreness and accelerate the muscle recovery process. A meta-analysis review concludes that massage appears to be the most effective method for minimizing DOMS and perceived fatigue after workout sessions, but there are other methods you can employ to minimize the risk of DOMS.
Muscle Recovery After Workout
- Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, which is commonly done with a foam cylinder or lacrosse ball massage. Not only does this relieve muscle soreness, tightness, and inflammation, it also improves your mobility.
A 2015 study examined the effects of foam rolling as recovery after an intense exercise workout involving eight healthy and physically active males. These individuals foam rolled for 20 minutes straight away after exercise and every 24 hours thereafter. Results suggest that foam rolling effectively reduced DOMS. This method is a cheap, affordable, and time-efficient way to enhance muscular recovery.
One of the most neglected aspects of exercise is stretching after a vigorous workout. Stretching has several beneficial effects on recovery. If you dread that muscle soreness feeling after a workout, then one of the ways to reduce tenderness is through stretching.
A good stretch would include two types of stretching: static and dynamic stretches. You may not be aware of the best stretches after a workout, therefore, I have covered a full-body stretching routine that you can follow along either as a warm-up or a cooldown. Also, I highly recommend you stretch after foam rolling to increase the effectiveness of self-myofascial release.
Below are three reasons why you shouldn’t skip stretching after an intense workout:
- Reduce Muscle Tightness and Increase Flexibility – Stretching can increase the range of motion to reduce stiffness and DOMs.
- Reduces Lactic Acid – The body produces lactic acid when you work out, which gives you muscle soreness. Stretching can lower the accumulation of lactic acid across the body and relaxes tense muscles.
- Increases Blood Flow – Stretching boosts oxygen levels and increases blood flow to assist deliver nutrients to your muscles, and removes metabolic wastes such as ammonia, uric acid, and carbon dioxide.
3. Cold Shower
Taking a post-exercise cold shower or plunge into an ice bath is a common practice among many athletes. Water has been used in various forms of therapy for post-exercise. This will reduce muscle pain and soreness after workout sessions and competitions.
Many use cold-water immersion between 5 to 10 minutes, and sometimes up to 20 minutes. You can take a cold shower at home, at the gym, or if you’re feeling adventurous try cold water dipping in your local rivers or lakes.
A study has shown that cold temperature will cause constriction of blood vessels. This is a mechanism that helps with the flushing of waste products such as lactic acid out of the muscles, therefore, reducing swelling and tissue breakdowns.
4. Workout Recovery Supplements
Post-workout nutrition is crucial if you want to optimize your performance and recovery. Recovery is a process of repairing muscle and tissue, reducing inflammation, removing waste products, and replenishing nutrients stores that were robbed when you exercise intensively.
Studies have demonstrated that omega-3 fish oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound that reduces joint pain and tenderness, which can help you speed up recovery time and lower the risk of pain from DOMS. Primary findings from a recent study indicate that between 1800 -2400 mg/day is most effective for delaying perceived muscle soreness.
Another great source for recovery is protein. This provides your muscles with the amino acids necessary to rebuild, repair, and supply the building blocks necessary to rebuild new muscle tissue. Findings from a meta-analysis review suggest that you intake around 0.73 to 1 gram per pound of body weight after a workout.
If you’re curious to know how to plan your diet to achieve your dream body, I’ve written at length about dietary basics for calisthenics, nutrition, and meal plans that I personally use.
Someone has likely recommended foam rolling to you before, and you may acknowledge this suggestion, but don’t know how to use it. Here is a foam rolling routine that you should do before doing a full-body stretch.
The trick to this is to go slow to pinpoint the area of tightness (where it hurts the most), and gradually roll back and forth on these tight areas, spend around 10-30 minutes foam rolling using your body weight for pressure. You will feel the difference the next day!
- Upper Back Foam Rolling
Lie on your back with the foam roller placed directly underneath your upper back. Your knees are bent and your feet are flat on the floor. Brace your core and roll up and down slowly.
- Lats Foam Foam Rolling
Lie on your side with the foam roller posited underneath your left lat. Keep your left leg straight and right leg bent. Gradually roll up and down focusing on tight areas. Work on both sides.
- Shoulder Foam Rolling
Begin on your knees with your left front shoulder on top of the foam roller and your right palm on the floor next to your head for stability. Slowly roll back and forth focusing on tender areas. Switch to the opposite side once done.
- Hip Flexor Foam Rolling
Start by lying on your front with the foam roller underneath your left hip flexor. Your left leg is extended and your palms are on the floor. Slowly roll up and down, followed by switching sides.
- Adductors Foam Rolling
Lie on your front with your forearms on the ground and shoulders over elbows. Extend your left leg out to the side with your left knee bent and the roller directly underneath your left inner thigh. Shift your weight back and forth to target tender areas. Work on both sides.
- Glutes Foam Rolling
Sit on the floor with the roller under the left glute. Place your hands behind you for stability, with your left leg extended and your right knee bent. Use your hands to push yourself back and forth. Repeat on the right glute.
- Quadriceps Foam Rolling
Lie facedown on your forearms with a roller placed underneath your right quad. Your shoulders are stacked on top of your elbows. Use your forearms to slowly shift up and down from the bottom of your hip to the top of your knee. Repeat on the left leg.
- Hamstrings Foam Rolling
Sit on the floor with a roller underneath your left hamstrings. Your left leg is straight, and your right leg is bent, with your palms on the floor behind you for stability. Lift your left foot and shift your body back and forth from your knees to glutes. Repeat on the opposite side.
To sum up what we have covered on how to maximize recovery and minimize muscle soreness after your workouts:
- Foam roll after your training for 10 minutes with an emphasis on the muscles you’ve used that day. Alternatively, you can do a full-body foam roll for 20 minutes at least twice a week.
- Perform stretches after your foam roll session, focusing on the muscles used. The effectiveness of foam rolling increases with stretching.
- Take cold showers at least twice a week on days for 2-5 minutes after heavy workout sessions.
- Raise your intake of omega-3 between 1800-2400 mg/day from good quality sources
Now that you have four effective ways to reduce muscle soreness after a workout – hopefully, this will ease some suffering from intense sessions, you should be almost as good as new for your upcoming sessions!
Before you go… Don’t forget to check out some of my previous articles here also:
Thank you for being here, I’ll catch you later!
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.