Wondering what to do after a workout to reduce soreness, enhance recovery and feel your best? Check out our top 7 tips.
by James Han
Pushing yourself during exercise can feel great — your brain releases more endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoids — but how you feel later depends on what you do right after a workout.
It’s no secret that rushing your body into the next thing too quickly can exacerbate overall soreness and, in the long run, make your exercises less effective.
However, you may not have known that the familiar ache you feel during a workout — acute muscle soreness — is actually quite different from the tenderness and pain you may feel a day or two later. Acute muscle soreness is caused by lactic acid buildup and disappears soon after your workout session is done. Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), on the other hand, may appear 12 to 24 hours later, and is caused by the inflammation triggered by the microscopic tears in your muscles.
Though there are pills and other “artificial” ways to enhance your post-exercise recovery, we believe that all-natural, safe and effective strategies are the way to go. In this piece, we’ll share our top tips on what to do after a workout to (naturally) keep DOMS at bay so you can feel your best.
It’s common sense to drink plenty of water if you’re working out, especially if you live in a hot and/or humid climate. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you increase your water intake by at least 12 ounces for every 30 minutes you plan to work out (and more, if temperatures are high). But the consequences of not drinking enough water aren’t just dizziness, fatigue and thirst — dehydration can actually make your muscles ache even worse. One study found that people who drank water before, during and after a grueling workout in a hot, humid environment experienced much less muscle discomfort than those who were restricted from hydrating.
Pro tip: Always bring a large water bottle to the gym, track or wherever you exercise, and use a water tracking app to tally your liquid intake throughout the day. Ayurveda also suggests starting off your morning by drinking room temperature water to ensure you’re staying hydrated.
2. Give Yourself a Massage
Massages certainly feel good when our muscles are sore, but there’s a lot of research to back up the idea that they can actually have an impact on DOMS. A review of 11 scientific studies in 2017 found that getting a massage 24 hours after a strenuous workout session significantly decreased soreness in a group of participants, compared to the group that didn’t get a massage. While the occasional professional massage is certainly worth splurging for, it’s not in most people’s budget to be able to get it every time they exercise. Instead, practice self-massage with your hands or a massage tool on targeted areas like your calves, arms, hamstrings, torso and chest after a workout or as part of your nighttime stretching and yoga routine.
Pro tip: Learn how to practice an Ayurvedic massage from the comfort of your own home with our guide: What Is an Ayurvedic Massage?
3. Eat a Post-Workout Snack
Your muscles use up glycogen (or stored glucose) during exercise, leaving your cellular storehouse depleted. Eating a snack immediately after working out can help your body restore energy levels, repair torn muscles and build strength, especially if you practice an endurance sport like running, which uses up more glycogen than weightlifting. It goes without saying that reaching for a healthy, anti-inflammatory snack is better than munching on junk food, but you’ll need to experiment to find the right balance of macronutrients to help with your healing process. In general, eating something with protein and carbohydrates can prevent the loss of lean muscle mass and refuel your body quickly.
Pro tip: Learn all about high-vibration foods for your Ayurvedic body type to help you plan out your meals and snacks.
4. Don’t Forget To Cool Down
In addition to dynamic stretching before your workout, leaving time for a post-exercise cool down — with static stretching and low-intensity movement — can actually help your muscles heal more smoothly and reduce soreness. One study in the Journal of Human Kinetics found that even a 20-minute cooldown session was effective at reducing aches on the second day after a workout, and even more effective than just having a 20-minute warmup alone. Cooldown exercises can also improve flexibility and lower your chance of injury, keeping you in tip-top shape between workouts.
Pro tip: Incorporate both movement (such as walking and cycling) and static stretching (gentle yoga poses). You can even incorporate movement from the comfort of your yoga mat by marching in place or having a free-form dance session.
5. Honor Your Rest Days
Exercise gurus abound, but the only person who knows exactly how much rest she needs between workouts is you. When it comes to putting strain on your muscles, less is often much better than more, and rest days are essential for muscle recovery and replenishing glycogen stores. Rest days aren’t all about injury prevention, though that is one of their benefits — weaving in low-activity days can actually boost your performance by keeping your energy and endurance high. It’s also important to note that rest days don’t look the same for everyone. Whether you’re doing an arm workout one day and legs the next, or a full-body workout three days a week and swimming in between, find the rhythm and schedule that work for you.
Pro tip: Rest days are a great time to focus on your mental health in addition to your physical health. Take a few minutes to meditate, express your creativity and support your mind-body well-being, however that looks for you.
6. Take a Hot-Cold Shower
Both heat and cold can help soothe some of the side effects of DOMS, though incorporating both of them into your post-workout routine can help you get the best of both. Studies have shown that a 10-15-minute immersion in cold water can reduce muscle soreness, as well as offer mood-boosting and immune-supporting effects. Warm baths and applied heat can also ease muscle stiffness. Though it may take some time to get used to stepping into a cold shower or submerging your body in an ice bath, alternating between hot and cold water — also known as contrast water therapy — has been shown in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning to enhance recovery and reduce fatigue.
Pro tip: Ease yourself into the cold by taking a warm shower and turning the knob to cold during the last 30 seconds. After a few days, gradually increase the time you spend under cold water.
7. Use CBD To Promote Natural Muscle Recovery
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound derived from the hemp plant that research suggests can actually help relieve muscle aches when taken as a tincture or applied topically to your body. One study from 2020 found that three groups of participants who were either given CBD in MCT oil, pure MCT oil or nothing at all reported vastly different soreness levels after an exercise session, with data collected 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours after the workout (in addition to immediately before and after). The researchers concluded: “CBD appears to have a significant influence on muscle soreness associated with EIMD DOMS when consumed immediately after strenuous exercise. Additionally, the rate of recovery with CBD use is greater when compared to MCT only or no intervention.”
Pro tip: Get The Root of It All’s Sport Essentials Pack (with our GO and RECOVER tinctures as well as our REWIND muscle rub) to optimize the before and after of your workout. GO can provide you with a boost of pre-workout energy, while RECOVER can provide full-body soothing during cooldown. Most importantly, apply REWIND Muscle Rub after your shower. This Ayurvedic ointment blend contains skin-soothing fats and essential oils of turmeric, black pepper and clove to help your body manage inflammation, all amplified with the calming properties of CBD.
To learn more about the best ways to find radiant mind-body wellness — whether it’s workout tips, anti-inflammatory herbs, CBD benefits or techniques to squeeze self-care into the busiest schedules — check out our blog.
James Han is a writer, editor and content strategist based in Los Angeles. When he’s not deep in a Google Doc, you can find him reading, watching films and taking long walks.
The New York Times - Getting to the Bottom of the Runner’s High
VeriwellFit - Understanding Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
University of Missouri System - How To Calculate How Much Water You Should Drink
Journal of Athletic Training - Dehydration and Symptoms of Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness in Hyperthermic Males
Educational App Store - Best Hydration Apps
New York Magazine - All the Best Massage Tools (That We’ve Written About on the Strategist)
MedicalNewsToday - What Should You Eat After Working Out?
International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health - The Influence Cannabidiol on Delayed Onset of Muscle SorenessMedicalNewsToday - Are There Any Health Benefits to a Cold Shower?