Here Are All the Ways You Can Restore Your Sore Muscles Back to Health After a Workout
Tips from the experts inside.
Within the past year, we've had many changes to our regular routines. Some of the most prominent changes we've had to endure are those regarding our workout routines. No longer are we attending sunrise classes at our favorite yoga studios, nor are we getting a cathartic workout with our kickboxing trainers after a long and taxing day. Instead, we set our mats up in the "dining room" section of our shoebox-sized city apartments, where almost little to no movement can occur. It can be discouraging to follow through with an entire movement session when there is a lack of space and even more discouraging to restore one's body with stretching and rest after a good workout properly.
But resting and stretching after a workout is critical for caring for the body post-exercise. As yoga teacher, author, and youth mentor Ally Maz from mindfulness studio Open explains, "When we rest, our muscles can recover and our nervous system gets out of the stress response of 'fight or flight' and can relax into what we call a 'rest and digest' state. Rest is essential to our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. By listening to what your body needs, you can begin to create a ritual that works for you that consists of both action and ease." Intrigued by the call to restore your body to health after an intense workout? Here are some ways to properly rejuvenate and care for your body post-exercise.
Don't Skip Out on Your Stretching
After a workout, we might feel tired, fatigued, and in no way interested in continuing to move our bodies, but stretching is crucial for properly restoring the muscles we've just damaged with some intense movement. According to a 2014 article that examines the effects of stretching after muscle movement, stretching releases tension in muscles, improves flexibility, and prevents joint pain. A stretching session of about five to 10 minutes after a workout is certainly enough to reap these benefits. Still, Alomoves instructor Roxie Jones reveals that a stretching session after a workout "can [even] be 15 to 20 minutes after a training session and can vary. If you want a longer session, 30 minutes is also great." Here are some stretches you can do for each muscle group.
Legs: Reiki practitioner and founder of Helen Phelan Studio Helen Phelan states, "I like to include hip openers, hamstring, IT band, and calf stretches as those tend to be tight spots on most people." Jones adds, "Stretch the quads with a standing quad stretch, a lying hamstring stretch, the glutes with a figure-four stretch, and the calves with a downward dog pedal."
Abdomen: Phelan explains that a thing people tend to do is suck in their stomachs regularly. Although this may be so habitual that a person doesn't even notice they are sucking in, it tightens muscles, which leads to muscle weakness. Pair this with a core workout, and you are sure to wreak havoc on the muscles in your abdomen. Phelan recommends "a cat-cow pose. Laying over a foam roller to release the gripping through the abs [also helps]. It feels great, but it also helps you build functional core strength in a way that you'll never be able to if you're sucking in all the time." Jones recommends stretching the abdominal wall with a baby cobra or standing oblique stretch.
Arms: "With so many of us working from home in less than ideal desk setup situations and just generally holding our stress tension in our neck and shoulders, coupled with the fact that we can often compensate with our upper traps when doing upper-body strength exercises, I like to get a tennis ball in at the top of my shoulders to help release tightness and pain," Phelan says.
Back: As we continue to work from home, hunched over our laptops, our posture is collectively becoming worse and worse. This creates unnecessary tension on the muscles in the back, which can lead to pain. Says Phelan, "I love a good twist to relieve back tension, but a child's pose is also super restorative, especially if you focus on directing your breath through the back body to improve rib mobility and unlock tension through the upper/mid-back."
Post-Run: Since a great run around the neighborhood activates most muscles in the body, it's important to decompress with some great stretches. Phelan reveals, "Pilates is incredible for runners—I do a lot of ankle mobility and hip mobility work and core exercises with my runners, so their stride improves and they are protected from injury." Jones adds, "I would recommend a hip flexor stretch in addition to the leg stretches listed above—it's the same muscles involved with running."
Self-Massage the Pain Away
After a good stretch session is over, it's important to continue to soothe sore muscles through self-massage. We love to massage any pain away through the use of pulsing guns and foam rollers. These tools effectively target and release any knots in muscles that can lead to tension and soreness the next day.
Another great way to massage any kinks in the body after a workout is through topical products. Consider taking a warm bath after a workout, as "applying heat to sore muscles can help post-workout, whether it's a hot salt bath or a heat compress to [the] area. Both promote blood flow," explains Jones. After you've finished submerging yourself in relieving heat, apply a muscle cream or lotion to any muscles that might be extra tight.
How to Supplement the Body
Of course, stretching and massaging the muscles is nothing compared to nourishing your body with the nutrients it needs to restore itself. Jones reveals, "I think it's best to focus on getting wholesome, nutrient-dense foods after a workout or in the totality of your day. Once that's fulfilled, adding in a protein supplement or getting more protein in your day can be beneficial after a training session since, generally, most people don't get enough."
Rather than acquiring a diet regimen from a fitness coach on Instagram, Phelan recommends looking for the foods that typically work best for you. Says Phelan, "The average person, in my opinion, doesn't need to really fixate on specific macronutrients. I'm an intuitive eater, so I focus more on eating meals that are both physically and emotionally nourishing. I'd never make a blanket statement about anything health-related, including nutrition." Both professionals agree that instead of consulting with the internet for your nutritional advice, check in with your doctor, nutritionist, and, most important, yourself to see what works best for you.
Other than eating hearty meals full of whole foods, consider upping your water intake. Jones says, "A few rules of thumb are drinking two cups of water for every pound of sweat lost during exercise. Or drink 500–1,000 ml after a workout." Phelan also recommends drinking water throughout your workout to prevent dehydration.
Words of Affirmation
And finally, go easy on yourself as you wind down after a strenuous workout. "It takes courage and commitment to show up for yourself. Often there is an internal battle of resistance to working out," says Phelan. So make sure you thank yourself for putting the time and effort into your health. And don't be afraid to have a blast after hitting a new goal. Phelan explains, "Whenever you learn a new skill or hit a new personal best, make it a celebration. This is another trick that keeps exercise from feeling like punishment, but more like a reminder of the privilege you have to be able-bodied and healthy. Taking time to feel proud of your physical strength translates to emotional resilience and mental wellness over time—making your workout so much more holistic."
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