7 Workout Recovery Methods to Reduce DOMS and Boost Performance
If you're feeling a little sore after your last workout, you're not alone. Symptoms like reduced mobility, muscle tenderness, and muscle tightness — collectively referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) — often arise 24-48 hours after you've finished exercising. And a study in the journal Sports Medicine found that DOMS is very common among fitness enthusiasts and athletes of all skill levels.
But just because DOMS is such a common issue doesn't mean you should have to put up with it every time you try a new exercise, play a new sport, or push your limits in the gym. In fact, exercise physiologists and elite coaches have identified seven workout recovery tips and techniques to speed up your recovery, reduce your muscle fatigue, and get you back to your regular workout routine faster.
Why Everyone Needs to Incorporate Active Workout Recovery Methods
Contrary to popular opinion, you don't build endurance or strength during your actual workout or training. It's the post-workout phase, during which your body rebuilds and repairs itself, that you start to see those critical improvements and gains in your performance.
By investing time and energy into a strategic, healthy post-workout recovery routine, you:
- Support the natural repairing process.
- Expedite your performance improvements.
- Reduce your total recovery time so you can fit more workouts into your week.
The best workout recovery methods tackle the underlying physiological causes of DOMS, including:
- Inflammation in your muscles, joints, and tissues.
- Micro-tears and damage to your muscle fibers.
- A buildup of metabolic waste and lactic acid in your muscles.
If you want to overcome DOMS faster, the following seven workout recovery methods will do exactly that.
7 Workout Recovery Methods to Try After Your Next Workout
1. Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release technique (SMR) that is ideal for beginner and elite athletes alike.
Using a foam roller or ball, you apply your body weight to the foam roller and roll back and forth, massaging deep into your muscles and tendons. Aim to roll each sore muscle group or body part for 30-60 seconds.
2. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
The National Institutes of Health reports that a growing number of modern medical practitioners are turning to traditional Chinese medicine for effective treatments and strategies. Acupuncture is a commonly cited example that's proven highly effective in recent medical studies.
In that same vein, an increasing number of athletes are turning to TCM to boost their workout recovery:
- Cupping: Invented by Taoist herbalist Ge Hong more than 1,700 years ago, cupping involves placing high-suction cups to various parts of the body.
- Scraping (gua sha): A TCM technician uses a Chinese massage tool to scrape your skin with a deep level of pressure. A similar approach is the Graston Technique,® utilized by many massage therapists, physical therapists, and chiropractors.
Cupping increases blood flow to areas where the cups are placed. This increased blood circulation carries nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the affected area, while the increased blood flow also carries away built-up lactic acid. This may boost your exercise recovery time.
Gua sha and the Graston Technique likewise boost blood flow to sore, tired muscles and limbs. The scraping movement may also break up soft tissue scarring and reduce inflammation.
3. Deep Tissue Massage
A deep tissue sports massage is quite different from the soothing, relaxing experience you'd find in a spa. During the massage, a specially trained registered massage therapist (RMT) goes deep into the specific muscles and tendons where you're experiencing DOMS.
In a systematic review of nearly 100 different massage therapy studies, researchers found that a massage was the most effective technique for workout recovery, muscle fatigue, and DOMS, and that it was especially helpful for tackling:
- Muscle damage
- Muscle pain
4. Trigger Point Therapy and Myofascial Release
RMTs don't just offer deep tissue massage. Some RMTs have also earned additional credentials for myofascial release. Using this technique, the RMT manipulates the fascia (a protective membrane around your muscle fibers). There are several ways to do myofascial release, such as trigger point massage therapy, active rhythmic release, shiatsu (acupressure), and dry needling.
Whether you request trigger point therapy or other forms of myofascial release from an RMT, studies suggest that these workout recovery techniques may support faster muscle recovery and even boost your muscles' flexibility and elasticity.
5. Recovery Workouts
The science is clear: Doing a strenuous workout while you're sore and fatigued will sabotage your recovery goals. However, a light recovery workout can actually speed up your recovery.
Your best bet is some light cardio, such as a jog or a swim. According to research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOMS was reduced most dramatically when athletes did 20 minutes of low-intensity aerobics immediately after their workout.
6. Cold Therapy (Cryotherapy)
Elite athletes, including many Olympians, have long used cold therapy as a recovery tool. Now, more and more everyday athletes and fitness enthusiasts are doing the same.
Cryotherapy involves entering a specialized cryo-chamber where you're exposed to ultra-low temperatures (−148° F to −220° F). A systematic review of nearly 20 medical studies found that cold therapy may reduce DOMS, improve recovery, and enhance overall athletic performance.
Cold therapy has also been shown to:
- Boost testosterone levels
- Reduce cortisol levels
- Protect against oxidative stress
- Reduce the risk of muscle cell damage
7. Proper Nutrition and Supplementation
As Hippocrates once famously said, "let food be thy medicine." When you're in recovery mode, your nutritional requirements shift. Provide your body with the fuel and supplements it needs for optimal recovery:
- Stay hydrated. Researchers have linked dehydration with increased DOMS symptoms and slower recovery.
- Eat extra protein. Studies in both the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and the American Journal of Physiology noted increased recovery results when people ate 20-40 grams of protein right after a workout.
- Take supplements. Recovery-enhancing supplements include branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), creatine, and probiotics (a healthy gut may reduce cortisol levels).
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