Whether you’ve just completed a strength training class, returned home from a jog, or wiped your brow after a dance class, all workouts should be bookended by healthy habits that make the workout itself more effective and less likely to cause injury. You do a lot to prepare for your workouts: you choose workout clothes, pack a water bottle, and probably do some warmup stretches. So shouldn’t your post-workout habits be equally as thoughtful?
Sore muscles, tendons and joints can result from activities like running, cycling, plyometrics, or many other forms of exercise, which is why post-workout recovery is a crucial part of a healthy exercise program. If you want to stay injury-free and continue to see results from your workouts, get acquainted with these six healthy post-workout habits.
1. Cool Down
Never miss a cool down! After you’ve put in all that hard work, you need to gently bring your heart rate back down. Dr. Joseph Mercola recommends cooling down to bring heart rate down quickly to prevent any dizziness from blood buildup in veins. He also suggests doing cooling down activities as a relaxing transition from exercise back to normal physical activity. Think light stretches, a few yoga poses, or soaking in a hot tub to physically and mentally switch from intense activity to a comfortable, enjoyable rest.
2. Soak To Relieve Muscle Tension
If you work out regularly, a hot tub soak (either your own or at the gym) is a great way to relax your muscles. If you don’t have a hot tub or have access to a public one, a warm bath with Epsom salt can be a soothing alternative. You may be surprised to find out all the things Epsom salt can do to ease stress, relive sore muscles, eliminate toxins from the body and more!
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Adequate fluids are important before, during and after exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic. Water is a healthy fluid to prevent hydration, and drinking two to three cups of water after a workout is recommended. If your exercise routine is an hour or longer, the electrolytes and carbohydrates in sports drinks will help you feel better during and after extended exercise.
4. Have a Protein-Packed Snack
Good nutrition after exercise is just as important as it is beforehand, and helps muscles recover by replacing glycogen stores. Protein and carbohydrates within a couple hours of exercise are recommended, such as a peanut butter sandwich, cheese and crackers with organic smoked salmon, or a meal that includes meat and vegetables. When I’m on-the-go, it’s a protein shake with fruit or a baggie of homemade trail mix with nuts and dried fruit.
5. Practice RICE for Muscle and Joint Soreness
Some muscle and joint soreness after a workout is normal and can be alleviated with self-care such as rest and gentle massage. But for stronger post-workout pain and discomfort, DoctorOz.com explains the importance of ice in post-workout recovery with the acronym RICE: rest, ice compression and elevation. According to the site, ice treatment decreases pain, reduces swelling and inflammation by quickly reducing blood flow in the affected area, and reduces muscle spasm. Ice promotes healing after exercise for sore muscles and joints but is not recommended for those with circulatory problems or hypertension.
6. Foam Roll
Ahhhhh, the foam roller! Results from a 2013 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found using a foam roller after exercise improves symptoms of muscle soreness, increases range of motion and decreases muscle contraction. Using a foam roller speeds recovery and greatly lessens uncomfortable symptoms so you can return to your regular workout more quickly. I keep mine in my bathroom so I remember to roll out before I hop in the shower.