11 Tips for Better Muscle Recovery (& Why It Matters)
Author: Flex Wheeler
As an ex-bodybuilder and full-time body transformation coach, I've seen firsthand how important muscle recovery is to your performance journey. Whether you're an athlete pushing your limits or you've just had an intense workout, taking care of aching muscles is a crucial step to feeling better and doing better.
Muscle pain after a workout, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is an unavoidable symptom in any fitness journey. Although you won't want to let sore muscles stop your progress, the recovery period post-workout is actually just as important as your gym session. It's the time your muscles need to heal, rebuild, and become stronger.
When muscle pain is getting in the way of my or my clients' progress, I've found some natural solutions like hot and cold therapies, massage, and muscle gels that help bypass those roadblocks. I've also been getting great results using HEMPE products, which combine natural pain relievers with CBD to soothe aches and pains topically. Let me explain why muscle recovery matters, and how I use natural solutions like CBD alongside healthy habits to recover better, faster, and stronger.
What Causes Muscle Pain After a Workout?
It's important to understand your body to know what kind of muscle pain is normal and why. Here's why your muscles hurt after a workout:
Microtrauma: When you engage in physical activity, you put stress on your muscles. This can cause tiny tears in your muscle fibres, leading to inflammation and pain.
Lactic acid buildup: During intense exercise, your muscles produce lactic acid. This can build up and prevent your muscles from contracting properly, causing discomfort and pain.
- Dehydration: It's easy to get dehydrated during exercise. When this happens, your body can draw water out from your muscles, making them stiff and sore.
After a light workout, muscle pain is less severe, and you'll probably bounce back within 24 hours maximum. After a more challenging workout, muscle pain can persist for a few days.
Why Recovery Matters
Muscle recovery is an essential part of any workout program and it plays a critical role in your overall fitness journey. Here are some reasons why muscle recovery matters:
Improves performance: Proper muscle recovery helps to reduce muscle soreness, reduce injury risk, and improve performance during future workouts.
Increases muscle growth: When you exercise, you put stress on your muscles, which causes tiny tears in the muscle fibres. During the recovery process, your body repairs and rebuilds these muscle fibres, making them stronger and increasing muscle mass.
Prevents injury: Taking time for muscle recovery can help to reduce the risk of injury and keep you active and healthy for the long term.
- Enhances overall health: Regular exercise and proper muscle recovery can improve your overall health, increase energy levels, and boost your mood.
So, if you want to reach your fitness goals, make sure to prioritise muscle recovery as part of your workout routine. Taking care of your muscles is key to your success, so trust the process, give your body time to heal, and you'll be on your way to a stronger, healthier, and more confident you!
How to Maximise Your Muscle Recovery Before, During, & After Your Workout
Don't let muscle pain discourage you from staying active. You can manage muscle pain and keep up with your fitness routine with the right mindset and some simple steps:
1. Warm up and cool down properly
Warming up before exercise can help to prepare your muscles and reduce your risk of injury. Do some light cardio and dynamic stretching before you start, which will increase blood flow to your muscles and prepare them for exercise. Foam rolling for a few minutes can also help release tension and warm up your muscles before a workout.
After your workout, cool down with some light cardio or stretching, to let your heart rate and blood pressure settle.
2. Stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of water can help to prevent muscle pain and stiffness. Research shows that dehydration can lead to decreased muscle performance, so it's important to stay hydrated to maintain peak muscle function. Water also helps lubricate joints, which can reduce the risk of injury during exercise.
So, whether you're a seasoned athlete or just starting your fitness journey, make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to support your muscle health and overall wellness. Aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, and don't wait until you're thirsty to drink, as thirst is a sign that you're already dehydrated.
3. Don't forget to stretch
Stretching helps reduce muscle pain by improving circulation, flexibility and range of motion. When you stretch, it helps to elongate the muscle fibres, which can reduce tension and tightness.
Dynamic stretching, where you move your joints and muscles through a full range of motion, is best during your pre-workout warm-up. Static stretching, where you hold a stretch for 15-30 seconds and breathe deeply, is better for your post-workout cool-down. Dynamic stretching will activate your muscles and prevent strain during your workout, while static stretching will help prevent tightness and tension after training.
Massaging sore muscles can help increase blood flow, relax soft tissues, and reduce pain and stiffness. You can use a foam roller or get a professional massage to help soothe your sore muscles.
Massage can help to break up knots that have formed as a result of muscle strain or injury. This can improve circulation and increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the affected area, which can help to reduce pain and promote healing.
Massage can also stimulate the production of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers, and reduce levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol. This can have a calming effect on the nervous system and help to soothe exercise-induced muscle damage.
5. Switch it up and take rest days
It's important to mix up your workout routines, as doing the same types of exercise every day will put repetitive strain on the same muscle groups. Cross-training (alternating between different types of strength, cardio, and balance training) targets different muscle groups, improves cardiovascular fitness, and provides a more well-rounded workout for your entire body.
It's also key to include rest in your routine. Taking regular rest days can help to give your muscles time to recover and prevent muscle pain from becoming chronic. You can use recovery days as active recovery (light activity like yoga, walking, or cycling) or passive recovery (no major movements), depending on your energy and your goals.
6. Try hot and cold therapies
Subjecting your muscles to hot and cold temperatures can help in a number of ways. Heat therapy can help to increase blood flow and relax tight muscles. On the other hand, cold therapy can help to reduce pain and swelling.
If you're suffering from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a workout, a heat pack, a hot water bottle, a warming gel, or a warm bath can help soothe your pain. If you're suffering from a strain or sprain, an ice pack, cooling gel, or cold water immersion can calm inflammation and reduce swelling.
Studies show that alternating hot and cold temperatures can help relieve the symptoms of muscle damage. By switching between temperatures, you can stimulate your blood vessels to contract and dilate, which boosts circulation and promotes healing. Check out our guide to hot and cold therapy for more information and how to do it.
7. Use a muscle pain relief gel
Topical pain relief gels can boost blood flow and reduce inflammation, and because they work by penetrating your skin, they can deliver targeted pain relief more rapidly than oral painkillers. Gels are great for achy muscles, muscle cramps, and muscle strains, and you can use either hot muscle gels or cold muscle gels depending on your needs.
HEMPE Hot Muscle Gel is a natural alternative to painkillers like ibuprofen — it's safe for regular use and effective against all kinds of muscle aches and pains. It's enriched with CBD, clove oil, menthol, eucalyptus and vitamin E to relieve tension and stimulate your muscles. CBD is a natural bioactive ingredient with strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-itch and anti-bacterial properties, which can speed up healing in your muscles and your skin.
HEMPE Cold Muscle Gel is enriched with CBD, mint, pine, menthol and laurel to provide a refreshing cooling sensation while relieving pain and inflammation. Combining the best natural ingredients with CBD, it's a powerful alternative to traditional painkillers.
You can try both with the HEMPE Hot & Ice Combo. Alternate between each natural pain-relieving gel for your own hot and cold therapy, targeting specific areas of pain whether you're at home or on the move.
8. Wear compression garments
Compression garments are specific types of clothing made to compress your muscles while you train. Compression leggings, shirts, or sleeves help apply additional pressure to your muscles and increase blood flow during and after your workout. This can help to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, speed up recovery, improve performance, and reduce the risk of injury.
Additionally, the tight fit can provide support and stability to the muscles, improving posture and reducing muscle oscillation during physical activity.
9. Keep your nutrition on track
Whether you're an athlete or just occasionally working out, your diet will have a big impact on your muscular health. Eating right before and after a training session can also help speed up your recovery.
Eating protein before a workout can help regenerate connective tissues and speed up muscle protein synthesis. If your workout is cardio-based, carbohydrates are important for energy and endurance — just don't overload on them or you'll be more prone to lactic acid buildup (and more muscle pain). After your workout, it's important to replenish energy stores, hydrate, and help repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Protein can help build muscle after exercise and speed up your recovery.
Active adults should aim for 1–1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you struggle to meet your protein goals, you can try adding collagen or whey protein supplements to your routine. These supplements contain amino acids, which are essential building blocks for healthy muscles.
10. Get plenty of sleep
Regular, restful sleep is just as important as active movement. Sleep is crucial for proper recovery after exercise, as it will give your muscles time to heal and recover from a tough workout.
During sleep, your body is able to repair and rebuild damaged muscle tissue, replenish energy stores, and release growth factors that help to promote muscle growth and development. In fact, without enough sleep, your body won't be able to properly repair and recover, leading to a decreased rate of muscle growth, increased risk of injury, and decreased athletic performance.
With each night of quality sleep, you are investing in your health and well-being, and setting yourself up for success in the gym, on the field, or in your daily life. So, take charge of your recovery and make sleep a non-negotiable part of your routine. Your muscles will thank you for it.
11. Don't let bad habits slow you down
For quick and full recovery of muscle function, it's also important to avoid bad habits that could slow you down. Alcohol and cigarettes can both have harmful effects on your body and your muscle recovery process.
Alcohol disrupts the quality of your sleep, dehydrates the body, and alters your hormonal balance, all of which can decrease the rate of muscle recovery. Cigarettes increase oxidative stress in the body, which can cause inflammation and inhibit muscle growth. Smoking also impairs circulation and oxygen delivery to the muscles, leading to decreased performance and increased risk of injury.
So, if you want to aid recovery and reach your fitness goals, it's a good idea to moderate your consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Every small step you take towards a healthier lifestyle will feel like a big win for both your body and your mind.
CBD for Muscle Pain: Natural Pain Relief to Maximise Your Progress
If you want natural pain relief for your muscles without using pharmaceutical painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol, CBD is a powerful solution that might just work for you. HEMPE's sustainable, high-quality range of topical products for muscles, joints, and skin has already shown real results for so many people around the world, thanks to the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-microbial properties of CBD combined with other all-natural ingredients.
Incorporating CBD into your recovery and wellness routine can be a powerful tool for managing pain and promoting overall wellness. CBD interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system to regulate pain perception, relaxes the mind and body, and contributes to a good night's sleep. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects can help reduce inflammation after exercise, heal damaged tissue, and speed up your recovery time.
Despite some misconceptions out there about CBD, it's non-psychoactive, legal, and safe. All of HEMPE's CBD has been independently audited for quality and safety, and you can learn more about CBD here.
The Bottom Line
There are plenty of ways to manage muscle pain and pave the road to recovery, without the need for pharmaceutical interventions. By maintaining a safe workout regimen, nourishing your body, resting, and using topical therapies like HEMPE's Hot and Ice Muscle Gels, you can move past the pain that's getting in your way.
No matter your fitness level, age, gender, abilities, or background, you can invest in yourself and your future when you take control of your recovery. Remember, muscle pain is a normal part of the workout recovery process, and it's an indication that your muscles are growing stronger. So don't let it stop you from reaching your fitness goals!
About the author:
Kenneth "Flex" Wheeler is a retired IFBB professional bodybuilder. He won the Arnold Classic four times and was once described by Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the greatest bodybuilders he had ever seen. Since retirement, Wheeler focused on martial arts and has become a body transformation specialist, sharing his passion and helping others get in shape.