How to Help Your Body Recover When You're Sore AF

Photo by funduck/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by funduck/iStock / Getty Images

My hamstrings are killing me and I can't lift my arms above my head. I know exactly how it happened: jump squats and deadlifts in a circuit class on Friday, followed by an inhumane series of burnout drills in boxing on Saturday. I'm teaching 15 group fitness classes this week, so I have to work through the pain.

Ever wonder how the trainers at your studio go hard and still teach the next day? The truth is that anyone can get sore after a good workout.

Let's start with when and where muscle soreness begins. There are two types of soreness: acute and delayed onset. Acute soreness is what you feel when you're working out; delayed onset muscle soreness—or DOMS—is the pain that sets in about 12–24 hours later. For me, the not-so-sweet spot is 18 hours.

DOMS stems from microscopic tears in your muscles and responsive swelling to those tears, according to WebMD. The pain typically lasts for 24–72 hours, and will make you question all of your life choices when you're hobbling around like an arthritic octogenarian. There are, however, ways to minimize the discomfort. 

  • Keep moving. WebMD says that muscles in motion recover faster. While WebMD says a lot of shit I disagree with, I've always found this to be true. 
  • Yoga. A hot yoga class will go a long way in stretching your muscles back out, but take it slowly. If an instructor attempts to push you into a harder pose, ask him to namaste away from you.
  • Epsom salt baths. Hot baths are a soreness lifesaver. Epsom salt is chock full of magnesium, a mineral the body needs and can absorb through the skin, and its helps ease aches and pains. I love Dr. Teal's Epsom salt soak, especially the lavender scent,
  • Topical treatments. Tiger Balm and Icy Hot work. Both include methyl salicylate to temporarily relieve muscle pain and menthol to cool; Tiger Balm also has camphor, which can also relieve muscle pain. I'm more of an Icy Hot girl, but I'm not mad at Tiger Balm.
  • Foam rolling. Let's be clear: I hate foam rolling. It hurts. I do it anyway. Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release, is a cheap way to get a massage. It can break up knots and help restore normal blood flow to your muscles. Caroline Jordan, the oh-so-popular trainer at Equinox, has a great collection of foam rolling videos to help you get started.
  • Massage. Try deep tissue, which uses deep pressure to alleviate chronic muscle tensions, or sports therapy massage, which targets muscles stressed from repetitive motion. Before you book a massage to address muscle pain, gauge your inflammation situation. If it hurts to apply any pressure to a muscle group, then wait.
  • NSAIDs. When you're really, really hurting, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) can alleviate the pain. However, WebMD warns that long-term use can interfere with your muscle's ability to repair itself, and Men's Health notes that pain meds could keep you from hitting your muscle targets. In other words, don't pop pills after every workout.