Lifting weights damages muscle tissue—but that’s OK, because muscle damage as a result of resistance training contributes to hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) if the training is done properly. When muscle tissue is damaged, you may feel soreness within the next couple of days. While there are many theories as to why delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) occurs, most research suggests that it’s a result of pain receptors being sensitized by the inflammatory response to muscle tissue damage. Luckily, there are ways to quickly recover from DOMS and get right back into getting strong. Use these strategies immediately after your workout to speed up healing so you build muscle faster.
A general rule of thumb is to replace the amount of fluid you lose after a workout prior to your next workout. Aside from weighing yourself before and after workouts, you can judge hydration levels simply by looking at the color of your urine. If your pee resembles apple juice, it’s time to drink more water. Replace that cumbersome gallon water jug with the hands-free Mil Tac H.A.W.G. ($172, camelbak.com), a backpack that carries your gym clothes plus 100 ounces of fluid in a bladder that’s connected to a drinking tube.
A new workout causes little tears in your muscles, which results in pain and stiffness lasting a day or two. The secret to minimizing the effects of DOMS is to flush out waste products and increase blood circulation. Use hand-held massage rollers, like the Roll Recovery R8 ($99, rollrecovery.com) to break up tight spots and muscle adhesions.
“Foam rolling plus heat will help ease rolling by relaxing you, taking the pressure deeper, and optimizing the rebuilding process of your body,” says Shawn Babiarz a physical therapist and president of koreextreme.com. “The cold is great for slowing down swelling and edema.”
The theory behind compression clothing is that super-tight shirts, shorts, and other form-fitting gear push blood through veins, thereby helping you slow fatigue. “There is research that supports the use of compression gear to enhance recovery, however, it must be significant graded compression to actually work,” says Carwyn Sharp, Ph.D., director of education for the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
The TITIN Weighted Compression Shorts ($149, titintech.com) not only reduce swelling but also come with a set of reusable hydro-gel weight inserts that fit into thigh and hip pockets and can be heated or cooled for post-workout recovery. Added bonus: Wear the five-pound shorts during training to crank up intensity.
Your body’s natural production of muscle-building chemicals, like growth hormone (GH), increases during deep stages of sleep. Get at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep to promote muscle building. Many coaches would like their athletes to get eight to nine hours of sack time to properly recover.
A recent study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition questions the idea of eating protein within the 30-minute post-workout window.
Aim for 20 grams of high-quality protein, like whey, every couple of hours. It is more important to have these smaller feedings, called protein pulsing, rather than a single large dose. While consuming protein after your workout ensures that you get it in, it’s not necessary to build muscle.