Listen, there’s no denying that a little soreness after a challenging workout just feels good. (In case you needed another reminder that you crushed it, voila, your muscles do the trick by screaming every time you try to get up out of a chair.) If you’re tempted to jump right back into the weight room or treadmill anyway, though, you might just want to hold your horses. Fully recovering from your workouts is an absolute non-negotiable if you want to achieve your fitness goals, whether they’re all about endurance, building strength and muscle, or shedding body fat.
Jumping the gun on another hardcore workout session before you’ve fully bounced back is a recipe for fatigue, overtraining, and injury, according to personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach, Marc Megna, C.S.C.S. That’s why many experts recommend a standard of one or two recovery days per week, depending on your training intensity and modality. Ultimately, how your body feels should determine whether you hit the gym or opt for a rest day.
Signs You’re Not As Recovered As You Think
Here, fitness pros break down some of the signs that you’re not quite recovered from a previous workout and might want to take it easy (otherwise you may end up driving yourself into the ground!). Read on for the details.
1. The Ache Is Intense
While you can totally get moving again with some mild soreness lingering from a previous workout, intense soreness that has lasted for more than a couple of days or makes daily tasks (like lowering onto the toilet) difficult indicates you’ve done significant damage to your muscles and need to take it easy to support recovery, says physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach, Alex Stone, D.P.T., C.S.C.S. Any trouble walking, sharp pain, or notable swelling means you should definitely take it easy. Fail to chill and you might risk injury.
It’s a similar story for your joints. Should you notice joint discomfort while moving through daily tasks or would rate any sensations there as anything more than mild, take a day off of training and rest, suggests Stone. (And, if you’ve got joint pain that lasts for more than 72 hours, have it checked out, Stone adds. Lingering pain could indicate you’re in injury territory.)
2. You woke up tired
If you still feel wiped the morning after a challenging training session, even after getting seven to nine hours of sleep, it may indicate that you need to skip working out that day and focus on recovery instead. According to Megna, overworking your muscles can leave you feeling foggy and fatigued the next day, even if you slept well. This is especially true if you didn’t properly refuel or hydrate between your workout and getting to bed. “Sleep is very important, but if you don’t have the appropriate nutrients for your body to tap into while you are sleeping then you will not be able to properly recover,” he says.
3. You’re feeling unusually moody
Since physical and emotional health are inextricably linked, you can bet that poor workout recovery will impact how you feel mentally. “Neglected recovery can massively impact mental health, and mental fatigue, irritability, or mood swings can be red flags,” Stone says.
While moving your body can actually be massively beneficial for your mood, you probably don’t want to go for all-out HIIT or an intense bootcamp class here. On the contrary, a change in exercise type or scenery might be just what the doctor ordered. “If you have been working out inside, I’d recommend getting outside and getting some sunlight to enhance your mood,” Megna suggests. A quick jog or long walk can offer a much-needed boost without negatively impacting your recovery.
4. Your Last Workout Was a Major Fail
If you pushed through a workout despite soreness or fatigue and just didn’t perform well, you probably weren’t recovered enough from previous training to go hard again just yet. “A sudden drop in workout performance, like struggling with previously manageable exercises, can signify a need for extra recovery,” Stone says. Consider this a sign that you. must. rest. Your long-term progress depends on it.
How To Maximize Recovery Post-Workout
We get it, taking unplanned rest days because of poor recovery is just plain annoying. Keep the following factors in mind to make sure your post-workout recovery game remains strong and you minimize your chances of having to spend a day on the couch instead of in the weight room.
1. Stretch Or Do Mobility Work After Training
Fight the temptation to rush out of the gym after that last rep! “Spending 10 to 15 minutes on stretching and mobility after workouts can improve flexibility and aid muscle recovery,” Stone says. Do some classic stretching or work with a foam roller. You can also get creative with temperature to jumpstart the recovery process. “Sauna sessions and cold water therapy have been shown to boost mood and enhance recovery,” Megna says.
2. Eat a recovery-friendly meal
Your body needs protein to repair, which is why Megna recommends eating 20 to 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of wrapping up your workout. Eggs, fish, lean meats (think chicken and turkey), beans, and legumes are all classic go-to’s. A protein powder is also a fast and easy solution when you’re short on time or on the go.
According to The American Council on Exercise, pairing your protein with carbohydrates is another must for optimal muscle recovery. They recommend a three-to-one ratio of carbs to protein, so if you consume 20 grams of protein post-workout, chow down on 60 grams of carbohydrates, too.
3. Drink up
Water might not get as much attention as protein when it comes to recovery, but it’s also crucial. “Hydration is the most important thing both during and after workouts, and, luckily, it’s one of the easiest things to do,” Megna says. Make sure your urine is consistently light in color, which indicates that you’re well-hydrated, after a workout. Water helps transport oxygen and other nutrients to your hardworking muscles, meaning it not only supports performance but supports proper recovery (when your muscles need lots of nutrients), too.
4. Sleep like it’s your job
Ensuring you can get a full night of sleep (that’s seven to nine hours of actual sleeping time, not just seven to nine hours in bed) is essential for exercise recovery, as the body undergoes essential repair processes during sleep, says Stone. If you find you struggle to fall asleep—and that it’s cutting into that seven-to-nine-hour block—try cutting off your screentime earlier in the evening, suggests Megna. Scrolling or binging reality TV late into the night won’t do your muscles any favors. You might also consider a natural supplement that supports sleep, he says. Some popular options: magnesium, l-theanine, and adaptogens like reishi or ashwagandha.