Call me crazy or a masochist, but I actually like that “ouch, I definitely ran hard” feeling in my legs after a really long or intense run. I’ve talked to other runners who feel the same way about this delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It’s a little (albeit, somewhat painful) reminder of our hard work.
Of course, no one wants post-run muscle soreness to be so bad that it’s painful to walk around or difficult to continue with a training program. Although DOMS should go away on its own after a couple of days, here are six tips for dealing with it so you can get back in the groove:
1. Get relief with cold water.
Although it’s not the most pleasurable experience, taking a cold bath or shower reduces inflammation and soreness all over. If you have access to a pool or a body of water, go for an easy swim after a hard workout. Or, at least dip your legs in some cold water.
2. Replenish carbs and protein.
You burn through a lot of stored glucose (glycogen) during long runs, so it’s important to replenish that energy as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. If you eat during that window, you can minimize your muscle stiffness and soreness.
A good rule of thumb for post-run food is a ratio of 3 grams of carbs to 1 gram of protein. Nutrition bars, such as Clif bars, Kind bars, or Power bars, are convenient, healthy options. Look for bars that have that ideal 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Other examples of quick nutrient replacement would be a bagel with peanut butter, a fruit and yogurt smoothie, a protein shake, or a banana and yogurt.
If you feel like you can’t stomach solid food immediately after a run, try drinking some chocolate milk. Chocolate milk provides plenty of protein, carbohydrates, B vitamins, and also has that perfect 3:1 carbs to protein ratio — making it a great recovery drink for runners.
3. Use massage therapy.
Some research has shown that massage can help ease DOMS, so you can try gently massaging the sore areas with your hands or a massage tool such as a foam roller. A professional massage can be very beneficial, but tell the massage therapist to be gentle if you’re really sore.
4. Try active recovery.
Don’t assume you need to take a break from exercising until the pain has subsided. Go for a walk, bike ride, or easy run. Yoga is a safe and relaxing day-after activity, and it may help reduce DOMS. Just make sure you avoid vigorous activity until the soreness is gone.
5. Do a pre-run warm-up.
After a hard or very long run, you may feel very stiff at the start of your next run. Give yourself a chance to warm up those stiff areas. Make sure you do some warm-up exercises, such as walking lunges, jumping jacks, or butt kicks before you start. Then walk briskly or do an easy jog for 5-10 minutes before your run. If your muscles are still sore after your warm-up, stop and do some easy stretching before continuing.
6. Do regular strength-training to prevent post-run soreness.
One thing you can do throughout your training to reduce DOMS is to increase your muscle strength.
I notice a huge improvement in my post-run and post-race soreness when I’m more consistent about my strength-training during my marathon training. The stronger your legs, the less fatigued they’ll get, and the more they can handle the pounding of all those miles.
You don’t need to do a lot of strength training to reap the benefits. Aim for two or three 15- to 20-minute strength-training sessions a week. Use light weights with a high number (12-15) of repetitions, or try body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, planks, and push-ups.
Don’t Ignore Lasting Pain
Normal post-run muscle soreness should only last one to three days, or four to five days if you’ve done a long distance race such as a marathon. If your pain lasts longer than a week, make sure you check in with doctor because you may be dealing with an injury, not just DOMS.