This morning my alarm clock went off at exactly 7 a.m., and a long run was on schedule.
But as soon as I was out of bed, ouch, every step hurts.
It’s then that I realized that my lower back, glutes, and hamstrings had another plan.
In fact, I was so sore that I couldn’t walk straight.
Of course, I know why this happened.
Yesterday I completed a series of exercises that pushed me to the breaking point. I performed 25 reps of barbell back squats and 30 deadlifts at 80 percent of my One-Rep Max.
But still, I thought I’d feel OK by now.
So, guess what happened next?
Then the internal debate started. And started asking myself all sorts of questions…
Should I skip on my run today? Should I hit the snooze button? Or should I go run instead in spite of the soreness and pain?
After a few minutes of back and forth I made up my mind and decided to go run. That’s the right decision to make.
And thank God, I knew what to do next. I grabbed my foam roller, and after a few dynamic stretches, a strong cup of Joe, I was set and ready to go.
Of course, I still have some residue soreness, but, all things considered, the payoffs of getting my butt out the door for my long run far exceeds some minor and temporary discomfort.
Muscle Soreness demystified
The most popular theory is that muscle soreness occurs as a result of muscle damage, caused by microtrauma in the form of teeny tiny tears in your muscles.
Muscle soreness is pretty common among runners of all fitness levels and training backgrounds.
Nevertheless, beginner runners or those coming back to running after a long layoff report more muscle soreness episodes than those who keep a regular training program.
There are mainly two types of exercise-related soreness.
The first being the immediate or acute soreness—the muscle soreness you feel during and/or shortly after a run.
The second type, the more common, is what’s known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS in the fitness circles.
In most cases, muscle soreness is mild, emerging after a hard run—think long runs and gut-busting sprint and/or hill reps, and lasting no longer than a couple of days.
At other times, this soreness does not emerge until after two or three days following a workout.
The thing is, when the soreness is intense (or crippling at times), it’s almost always a case of DOMS.
Dealing With Post-Run Muscle Soreness
Unfortunately, according to the current scientific theory, there are no fool-proof ways for speeding up the recovery of muscle soreness.
(Of course, there is one fool-proof way to avoid soreness altogether, which is to give up running altogether. And I guess that you don’t want to do that)
With that said, here are a few helpful training tips and recovery guidelines that are worth trying to get your body primed for the next run.
1. Start Slow
It goes without saying, but if you are a beginner, or returning to running after a long break, slow and gradual is the way to go.
For starters, if you are a complete running newbie, then start with the walk/run method.
For more on that, check my some of my full guides to this awesome method:
Once you can run for 30 to 40 minutes straight without much trouble, then start adding speed work in small increments.
Use the 10 percent rule. Increase your running mileage by no more than 10 percent from one week to the next.
2. Eat Right Away
Immediately following a run, your body has roughly one to two hours to most efficiently absorb the food you consume.
That’s why if you skip post-run nutrition, then you might not have enough energy for your next session, and you’ll fall short on the protein you need for muscle recovery, all of which can compromise your fitness routine.
As a result, make sure to eat something immediately following a hard workout.
For the best results, aim for 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein.
Easier said than done, but it’s worth trying out different ratios and foods until you find what works the best for you.
In my experience, the best way to refuel following a hard run—especially if you are pressed for time and/or don’t have the stomach for solid food—is to consume liquid nutrition.
And by far, my favorite is chocolate milk or a banana based smoothie.
Other options include yogurt, banana with peanut butter, or orange juice with two hard boiled eggs and whole toast.
If you have the stomach and the time, then go for brown rice with chicken, a bowl of quinoa, an omelet with an avocado.
3. Consume Protein
I hate to sound like a broken record, but when it comes to avoiding muscle soreness, protein is key.
Proper protein intake is not only key for building muscles but it has also been shown to reduce post-workout muscle damage, according to study.
This happens by stimulating protein synthesis, which is one of the most basic biological processes by which amino acids are linearly arranged to allow individual cells to build specific proteins.
Also, the increased blood amino acids level serves as a sort of biomechanical signal that instructs the muscles not to turn to protein as an alternative fuel source.
In other words, consuming enough proteins provides the muscles with the key building blocks needed to repair and rebuild damaged tissue.
4. Compress it
There is strong evidence that wearing compression attire can reduce post-workout soreness, and speed up recovery afterward.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, opting for compression garments while and after working out can reduce muscle soreness.
Another research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, found that marathoners who wear compression socks in the 48 hours following a race reported a faster recovery rate than those who didn’t.
According to theory, technical compression fabric helps reduce soreness by supporting muscle groups, reducing muscle micro-tearing in the process. Not only that, but research also shows that compression can increase circulation.
As a result, if you are chronically sore after a run, then try wearing compression tights, compression shorts, and compression socks, and see if this helps you alleviate some of the pain.
5. Foam Roll
One of my favorite methods for alleviating post-run muscle soreness is foam rolling.
In fact, the long, cylinder-like tool has saved my ass on so many occasions.
So, what is foam rolling and how can it help?
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release that uses laser focused massage to help release tight and sore spots. According to theory, this might help ward off scarring of the connective tissues, known as fascia, between your muscles, preventing all sorts of pain and injury in the process.
Also, foam rolling increases blood flow to your worked-up muscles through applied pressure—vital for speeding up recovery.
Therefore, use the foam roller at least a couple of times a week, especially after a hard run or right before if you have any serious symptoms.
You can do this right after running, or just before a workout as a part of your dynamic warm-up.
If you feel extreme soreness, then spend at least 15 to 20 minutes using a foam roller to roll over areas of soreness and tension.
For an extensive foam rolling routine, check my post over here.
6. Drink Coffee
If you are a fan of coffee, then this is going to be good news.
Not only that research shows that caffeine has a positive impact on training and endurance, drinking the stuff can also alleviate post-workout soreness.
According to research conducted at the University of Georgia, taking caffeine, a dose that’s roughly the equivalent of two cups of coffee, can help reduce muscle soreness following a hard training session.
Why is that?
According to the scientists, coffee can reduce soreness because it blocks adenosine by binding its receptors sites.
Wait? What is adenosine? Well, it’s a vital biochemical for energy transfer that’s released by your body, mainly by the central nervous receptors that is heavily involved in pain processing,
With that said, drinking a gallon of the stuff won’t make you sore-proof.
In fact, research suggests that too much coffee might cause muscle spasms and some serious stomach issues while exercising.
So be careful.
7. Use the Ice
Another helpful thing you can do to alleviate post run soreness is to take a cool bath following a hard session.
Well, according to theory, ice therapy can minimize the inflammation response.
What is the inflammation response you might ask?
In essence, that’s your body’s natural attempt to heal itself after an injury, fight off infections and repair damaged tissue.
But it also works like a cast, typically causing the affected area to swell and become stiff, immobilizing it until it fully heals.
As a result, take the time to sit in a cold tub for 15 to 20 minute after a hard workout.
If a cold shower is not an option, then place an ice pack on troubled and hot areas that feel strained or overworked.
8. Use Topical Ointments
If all proves futile, then you might consider using a topical ointment to alleviate the pain.
How do they work?
These ointments contain an ingredient that is numbing and cooling to the muscles. And they work by inducing a cooling and pain-relieving sensation, boosting blood flow, and improving circulation.
Therefore, feel free to run these ointments into your typical sore and troubled spots after and up to a couple of days after a hard run. Or until the soreness wanes.
Some of the best popular remedies you can find in the market or online, include Ben-Gay, Arnica Rub, Tiger Balm, Traumeel, and magnesium oil.
9. Don’t Stop
The last thing you’d want to do if you are sore is…more exercise.
Just don’t call me crazy yet.
There is a method behind this madness.
The best thing you can do, according to science, is to keep moving.
Of course, running might seem like a bad joke when your leg muscles are in a world of hurt.
Nonetheless, research confirms that light activity increases blood flow and speeds up the body’s ability to eliminate the chemicals and toxic waste linked with muscle soreness.
Of course, this does not mean that you should go and repeat the same gut-busting hill workout or long trail run you just did yesterday.
That’s a big mistake. And doing so will only spell disaster on your performance and health.
Instead, what I mean by active recovery is all about performing light, easy exercise. This will boost blood flow to the sore muscles without putting too much pressure on them.
Some of the best examples of active recovery include a long walk, a bike ride, yoga, or even performing a light weight training session.