Sore No More: 4 ways to speed up muscle recovery after exercise

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During that intense workout, you may be feeling the burn, or you might even feel it days after! It’s called DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), a delightful reminder of your gym-based achievement which also prevents you from moving properly. Don’t let muscle soreness stop you! Stay on track with our muscle recovery tips! But first, let’s understand why you get sore.

Feeling the burn – what happens during exercise?

When exercising we break down our muscles in many ways. This can be as simple as depleting the sugar that’s sat inside them by doing cardio or creating micro-tears in the muscle myofibril by doing strength, hypertrophy or power training. This can often leave us feeling sore in the days following the session as our muscles recover.

This raises some big questions to ask ourselves:

  • Should I be sore?
  • Is it important to be sore after every workout?
  • How sore is too sore?
  • Is the word sore starting to sound weird? Sore.

To answer these, we need to know what kind of damage each type of training does to the active muscles during a workout.

Exercise recovery from cardio

Whether the cardio is long steady-state endurance, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) – the main goal is to raise our heart rate and expend our energy levels. As a result, the soreness will mainly be due to general fatigue and inflammation around the muscles you’ve been using.

Exercise recovery from resistance training

This type of exercise includes strength, strength endurance, hypertrophy and power training. Overall, the main goal is to create damage in the form of micro-tears in different areas of the muscle dependent on the style of training. So, the soreness is likely to be from the damage you’ve dealt to the muscles (walking around on these broken-down muscles doesn’t make things feel any easier either).

You might experience inflammation following both types of training, and you may be genetically more susceptible to this. Our DNA Fitness Test can tell you whether you’d experience higher inflammation after exercise and therefore be less likely to recover quickly. Or maybe you share the same genes as elite athletes and your DNA gives you enhanced muscle recovery during endurance exercise! Either way, you can know how far to push your body, so youget the most from your workout.

woman holding sore calf muscles

4 ways to boost your muscle recovery

Now that you understand why you’re suffering from soreness following exercise, you can start to decide on some strategies that’ll improve your recovery rate.

  1. Don't wait to rehydrate!

    Following cardiovascular exercise, your focus should be on replenishing what you lost during the workout – water, glucose and electrolytes. Down an isotonic sports drink or sink your teeth into some sweet, juicy fruit like nectarines or grapes, alongside drinking plenty of water.

  2. Get bready to carb-up

    Once you’ve finished a resistance training workout, you need to focus on fixing your broken-down muscles. Choose your post-workout snacks wisely! To replenish any lost muscle glycogen, you should choose a carbohydrate that’s medium glycaemic index. Make sure to pair this carb with a protein source and those are the perfect muscle repair foods. How does peanut butter on multi-seed toast sound? Or how about some rice with fish or chicken?

  3. Warm-up those muscles

    There’s stuff you can actually do during your exercise to aid muscle recovery and reduce soreness. Before the workout, make sure to do a thorough cardiovascular and dynamic stretching warm-up. Check out fitness guru Zanna van Dijk’s video for 5 pre-workout routines.

  4. Time to cool down

    Finish off your session with a thorough static stretching session, working particularly on the muscles you were focusing on in the main workout. Follow NHS's cooling off tips to recover your muscles.

All this will improve both the speed and effectiveness of exercise recovery, allowing you to hit it hard again within a matter of days. So, you’ll progress towards your goals faster!

woman stretching before workout muscle recovery

Back to those questions from earlier …

  • Should I be sore?
  • Is it important to be sore after every workout?
  • How sore is too sore?

The answer:

You should be sore. It’s totally normal to be sore for 1-2 days following an intensive workout. Being sore isn’t always bad. It’s just your body telling you it’s repairing itself and you’ll end up with bigger, stronger muscles.

Anything over 3 days of pain is a sign that you’ve maybe overdone it in the gym or your nutritional intake since that session has been less than sufficient.

And no, you don’t have to be unable to make it upstairs after every single workout. You shouldn’t be so sore that you cannot go about your normal life! Your focus should be more on your physical performance during the workout, lifting more weight, running further, swimming for longer, holding that plank with better form.

Maybe your workout isn’t working out for you? DNA genetic testing can give you insights into which exercise gives you the best outcome and why, so you can recover quicker!

Train harder, train smarter.

Written by
Evergreen Life

Article updated:
April 30, 2018
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