Muscle Recovery: 13 Proven Ways To Speed It Up
If you’ve been on your health and fitness journey for a while now, you would know that taking a rest day is just as important as regular exercise. But how can you speed up the recovery process and get the results you are training for?
If you’ve ever experienced delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) — that crippling muscle ache the day after a tough workout — then these tips are for you!
13 Muscle recovery tips
We get lots of questions from women in the SWEAT Community asking how to recover faster from your workouts. To answer some of your questions, here are our best tips for post-workout muscle recovery:
Drinking water is essential for post-workout recovery, but if you’ve been pushing extra-hard, you also need to consider your electrolytes.
Electrolytes include minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium, and are found in most foods. These minerals are important for your nervous system, and they also get used up during muscle contraction.
By implementing healthy eating habits and including plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet, you can get enough electrolytes for your muscle recovery.
Having a fruit smoothie after your workout can help replace electrolytes in your blood and aid recovery. If you have a very low-sodium diet, you could also add salt to lemon water in the morning.
2. Grab a post-workout snack
If you enjoy chocolate milk, the good news is that it’s a perfect snack right after a workout. If you work out in the morning, you could try this coffee smoothie after a morning workout to start your day right!
You don’t have to drink milk if it’s not your preference — it’s just one of many convenient post-workout snack options! When your goal is to increase lean muscle mass, replenishing your protein and carbohydrate stores soon after a workout can help.
If you follow a plant-based diet, eating almonds, tofu, chickpeas and other high-protein foods can give your muscles the nutrients they need to repair.
A high-protein snack in the evening can also aid muscle repair overnight.
3. Use a workout supplement
Some trainers and athletes use branch-chain amino acids (BCAA’s). One study showed that women who take BCAA’s before a workout may have less post-workout soreness and shorter muscle recovery time1.
For those who already follow a healthy diet, using supplements may not have a noticeable impact. BCAA’s are found in whole foods like eggs, tuna, yoghurt and milk.
Find some post-workout snacks that you really enjoy for optimal recovery, and remember that what you eat before your workout can have an impact too!
4. Warmup and cool down
An effective warmup can help to minimise delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and decrease any risk of injury. By activating your muscles during the warmup, you gently lengthen them in preparation for exercise, which can prevent over-stretching of the tissue during the workout.
A proper warmup is especially important before exercises like deadlifts, pull-ups or single-arm rows. These exercises involve slow eccentric movements, where the muscle lengthens but contracts simultaneously. Warming the muscles before beginning the exercise will help to prevent strain or injury.
Taking 5-10 minutes to jog slowly or walk on the treadmill can help your body to cool down, especially if you’ve just completed a tough workout or a HIIT session.
It’s recommended that you use dynamic stretching, where the target area is continually moving, for your warmup and static stretching, where you hold a stretch position, for the cool down.
Static stretching can help to improve your range of motion — doing a short stretching session before bed may also help you to sleep better.
5. Foam roll and stretch
Foam rolling before a workout can help to increase performance2. You should use dynamic stretches as part of your warmup to prepare the muscles you are going to use in your workout.
For example, doing stretches and activations for your glutes before and after a leg workout can help to improve flexibility and help you to get the most out of your training.
Taking time on rest days to stretch tight hips can help reduce any discomfort and improve flexibility.
6. Elevate your legs
We spend most of our time with our legs down, whether it’s sitting, standing, walking or running.
Elevating your legs up a wall for 5-10 minutes can help to reduce swelling in the muscles. These calming yoga poses may also help to improve circulation.
7. Take an ice bath
When you work out you cause microdamage to your muscles, which can result in swelling, inflammation and soreness. This is a normal process as the muscles adapt to the workload and become stronger!
If you are still sore one or two days after your workout, taking an ice bath could help to reduce inflammation.
For any soreness that lasts more than five days, or if you have a very high level of pain, make sure to see a health professional.
There are times when you just need time to rest, plain and simple. Getting an early night and a good sleep can help to speed up the muscle repair process and leave you feeling refreshed the next day.
With any training program, you should aim to have one full day of rest each week to allow your body to recover and adapt to the work done on the previous training days.
9. Keep moving
Light movement on your rest days can help to keep the blood circulating throughout your body, bringing nutrients to repair the muscles and flush out any metabolic waste products.
When you work out, you cause microtears in the muscle which need time to repair — that’s what rest days are for! Keeping the blood flowing will help to speed up muscle recovery.
You don’t have to go too crazy — take the stairs rather than the elevator or make time for 10 minutes of walking during the day.
10. Wear compression tights
Wearing compression garments can help to reduce your perception of muscle soreness. Compression clothing may also help to reduce inflammation and swelling that cause soreness.
The tightness of the fabric can help to promote blood flow through the deeper blood vessels rather than those on the surface, which may aid with clearing waste and providing nutrients to the muscle fibres.
11. Reduce stress
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that your emotional and mental well-being can affect your muscle recovery.
When you are under stress, the body is focused on the stress response and doesn’t have the capacity to prioritise muscle recovery.
Stress can also affect your sleep, eating patterns and general self-care. All of these things can impact your immune response, which is essential for muscle recovery.
Taking the time to reduce stress in your life using techniques like mindfulness and meditation can benefit your muscle recovery and also improve your overall wellbeing.
12. Follow the principle of progressive overload
Your training program shouldn’t leave you feeling sore for days on end each time you do a new workout. Ideally, any resistance training program will gradually increase the intensity of each workout within your limits.
By applying this principle, you will continually challenge your body without pushing it beyond its current threshold. An important part of progressive overload is selecting the right weights and number of reps for each exercise.
13. Listen to your body
Sometimes after a workout one side of your body might feel tighter than the other. These imbalances can occur as a result of our lifestyle and habits.
For example, if you are right or left-handed, one side will usually be stronger than the other. The weaker side may get tighter when you work out.
Take a moment after your workout to breathe and focus on how your body feels — then you can tailor your cool down to what your body needs that day.
You might spend a little extra time stretching one area that’s tight and pay some attention to how it feels during your next workout.
Use these muscle recovery ideas to bounce back after your next workout!
Being sore isn’t necessarily a sign of a good workout. However, when you first start a new workout program, muscle soreness is almost inevitable.
If you make some of these changes to your routine and you still find that you get sore more than most people, it might be worth flagging with your doctor.
Feeling rested, recovered and ready to get back into it? Check out our trainers' top 50 workout tips.
1 Shimomura Y, Inaguma A, Watanabe S, Yamamoto Y, Muramatsu Y, Bajotto G, Sato J, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H, Mawatari K. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Jun;20(3):236-44.
2 Wiewelhove T, Döweling A, Schneider C, et al. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Front Physiol. 2019;10:376. Published 2019 Apr 9. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00376
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.