Every year it seems like one of my New Year’s resolutions is to become more active and to maintain a solid workout routine. And every year I find myself doing an hour-long stint on an exercise bike wheeled in front of my television, only for the following day to be faced with wobbly legs and incredibly sore muscles that seem to say, “maybe exercise just isn’t for you.” Could muscle discomfort really be keeping me from achieving my recurring health goals?
Liz Bartucci, a New York-based licensed massage therapist and the regional manager of spa for Equinox, told me that muscle discomfort and fatigue can be a deterring factor for a lot of people returning to or starting out new fitness goals. She reminded us that it’s all a part of the process.
“Be prepared for the ‘burn.’ It’s not always an indication that you’ve gone too far, but that you have gone far enough for the body to have a response,” Bartucci said.
What exactly is happening when you experience this “burn” and more importantly, subsequent muscle soreness? Bob Schrupp, a physical therapist and one half of the physical therapy YouTube channel “Bob & Brad,” said that delayed onset muscle soreness is actually caused by micro-tears occurring in your muscles.
“When you perform a squat, your hamstrings are under stress and lengthening. Thus, you may develop some micro-tears in the hamstrings and your body may produce some inflammation in response,” Schrupp said.
Both Schrupp and Bartucci said that muscle recovery and repair is important for muscles to end up stronger in the long run. Schrupp explained that this recovery and repair process can be achieved in a variety of ways, while also helping to minimize that next-day discomfort.
Aside from drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and eating nutritiously, Schrupp recommended to “slowly ramp up your workouts, whether it be weights, running or swimming. Starting off slow and gradually increasing will give your muscles time to recover.” He also added that employing active recovery, which involves performing low-intensity exercise after a heavier workout, can also help manage muscle reparation.
Ryan Balmes, a board-certified orthopedist and Atlanta-based sports physical therapist, said getting back into your routine can also help that muscle fatigue.
“A good rule of thumb for exercising again is to give your body a day or two before you exercise again. You could do exercises within that window, but it would be best if it is at a much lower intensity,” he said.
Some people also swear by massage tools and other modalities to help ease the muscle aches. However, Balmes told us that even though there might not be a lot of research to support that using such tools speeds up recovery, they can certainly feel good and get you back to exercising.
Whichever the case may be, Schrupp says “the best time to apply these types of devices is right before bed. It will relax you, help with sleep and allow the muscles to recover all night long.”
If muscle soreness is holding you back or you just want a way to ease stress, improve circulation and target post-workout body stiffness, keep reading to see some expert-recommend products that may be able to help.
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A way to give yourself a deep tissue massage right in your home
Massage work can reduce any muscle discomfort by increasing circulation, Bartucci said. Using percussive movements, this quiet and portable electric massage gun by Mebak replicates a deep tissue massage and has seven different attachments that can provide both targeted and broad relief. You can also choose from five different speed intensities that fit your level of comfort.Get it from Amazon for $119.99.
A water bottle that reminds you to drink
All of our experts across the board said that maintaining adequate water consumption is key in helping muscles to regenerate and feel less sore — especially right after you exercise. "Hydration assists in the imbalance of electrolytes, which is brought on by intense exercise and sweat," Bartucci said.
This 21-ounce vacuum-insulated water bottle is made from odor-resistant and shatter-proof stainless steel. The HidrateSpark Pro's most impressive feature, though, is its Bluetooth capability, which allows you to track your water intake, set daily goals or even challenge friends through an app. The LED sensor at the bottom also starts to glow when it's time to take a drink, and it contains a location tracker so you never lose your bottle. Get it from HidrateSpark for $69.99.
A headphone band that'll help you get better sleep for muscle recovery
"Get enough sleep, your muscles need time to recover," Schrupp said. "LeBron James reportedly averages 12 hours of sleep after a basketball game."
While 12 hours of sleep might not be possible for everyone, this thin and comfortable headband with built in Bluetooth earphones might get you to sleep quicker and stay that way all night long. The Perytong headphones allow you to listen to relaxing sounds and block out ambient noise for a solid 10 hours without having to deal with the discomfort of traditional earbuds that get dislodged from your ears while you sleep. Get them from Amazon for $19.99.
A red-light therapy lamp
Bartucci recommended trying red-light therapy as well. Evidence suggests
it may help aid in recovery after exercise.
This 22-inch hanging red-light lamp delivers up to 660 nanometers of safe UV-free light to potentially assist in everything from tissue healing, joint pain, muscle recovery and even clearer skin. The panel is also lightweight and foldable, making storage easier. Get it from Amazon for $140.90.
An ergonomic back-stretching device
Balmes said that performing light intensity stretches before and after exercise might be helpful in alleviating muscle stiffness for some.
This adjustable and ergonomically-designed back stretcher has massage pressure points across the surface to mimic the effects of acupuncture. It can be useful for individuals that experience lower back stiffness post workout or lumbar tightness. Get it from Amazon for $22.
An interchangeable massage ball that mounts on the wall
This set of roller ball massagers is designed to reduce muscle fatigue by targeting soft muscle trigger points and muscle knots. Using a suction cup, you can securely mount the massager on a wall and target everything from hip flexers, shoulders and back without having to lay on the ground like other massage roller tools. Get it from Amazon $40.99.
A vibrating foam roller to help relieve tension
Schrupp said that foam rollers can be useful in increasing blood flow to the muscles and this rechargeable electric foam roller by FitIndex is one of his favorites. You can choose between four different vibrational settings and have four hours on continual battery life with each charge. Get it from Amazon for $49.99.
An intensive cream to relive sore joints and muscles
Balmes said that although muscle pain relief creams are no substitute for professional medical care in cases of ongoing or extreme pain, they can certainly be useful in temporally muting discomfort.
The Penetrex recovery cream is a non-greasy formula that uses arnica and vitamin B6 to soothe sore and achy muscles without the burning or freezing sensation of other numbing creams. Get it from Amazon for $18.95.
A foam massage ball with a unique pattern
Using an innovative grid pattern, this compact and lightweight foam massage ball by TriggerPoint channels blood and oxygen to repair muscles as you roll. Its five-inch diameter is also an ideal height to elevate the body and better target hard to reach areas such as the hips and shoulders. Get it from Amazon for $16.49.