Massage it out. Gently massaging the sore area by foam rolling; using a self massage tool; or even better, hiring a professional massage therapist, can help flush toxins out of spent tissue and bring in fresh oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood that hastens recovery. In one study of basketball and volleyball players, massage not only relieved their DOMS, but also improved their vertical jump over players who didn’t get their sore legs rubbed down. The sooner you get a massage after a tough session, the better you can prevent and alleviate soreness.Warm it up. You might be inclined to whip out the ice pack, but put the peas back in the freezer; they’re only useful for acute injury. For general muscle soreness, heating pads or hot baths will make you feel better. When muscle temperature is increased, blood flow increases. That means there’s more circulation in and out of the damaged area, helping it heal and feel better. Heat also relaxes your muscles and makes it easier to get moving again. (There’s some evidence that alternating hot and cold works, too, for the same reason that you’re stimulating circulation.)
Get back on the horse. Speaking of moving, you might be tempted to queue up a Netflix binge and stay parked on the sofa, but you’ll feel worlds better if you move a little. One recent study found that active recovery—moving those muscles, being sure to slowly warm into activity—was as effective as massage for relieving post-exercise soreness.
Eat well and rest. Your body needs nutrients and rest to fully heal. Feed yourself plenty of fruits and vegetables and protein. Get a good night’s sleep. They say the race is won in bed for a reason: Your body does the bulk of its repair work while you’re out cold between the sheets.
Take pain meds sparingly. Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen may help you feel better in the short-term, but won’t speed the healing process. In fact, some recent research suggests that regular anti-inflammatory use might even stall the recovery process—not to mention the fact that it can damage the gut and lead to a leaky small intestine during exercise, which not only compromises your ability to absorb the nutrients you need, but also can lead to general inflammation as your body fights off the germ invasion. So use it when you really need to, but don’t abuse it.
Remember: Even if these techniques help you feel better, you ultimately still need to give your muscles time to fully recover so they can repair, come back stronger, and be less likely to get sore when you push them again.
As for my friend Dave? He went into full DOMS recovery mode, made sure to get ample rest, and raced the next day. Did he feel great? Nope. But not terrible, either.
“My quads were still sore, but only slightly,” he said. “Your suggestions helped, but what the legs really needed was more time to recover, which I’m going to do now.”