We’ve all experienced can’t-walk soreness that leaves us struggling to get up off the toilet—and most of us think we’re doomed to just tough it out, bottle of ibuprofen in-hand.
But groan not! There are a number of things you can do after that particularly grueling sweat to help your body relax, boost blood flow to your recovering muscles, and kick-start the repair process.
1. Drink Tart Cherry Juice
Montmorency tart cherry juice has long been valued for its antioxidant properties, and new research suggests that it may reduce muscle pain and weakness after intense strength training, explains Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that runners who drank tart cherry juice for a week leading up to a race reported less pain and quicker recovery time afterward than runners who downed a placebo juice.
Polyphenolic compounds called flavonoids and anthocyanins are thought to be the antioxidants behind tart cherry juice’s muscle-soothing effect, Rizzo says. So quench your thirst with some tart cherry juice after a challenging workout—eight ounces is all you need!
2. Drink Watermelon Juice
Tart cherries too…tart? Sip on sweet watermelon juice instead. It’s rich in an amino acid called l-citrulline, which has been shown to help with muscle soreness, as it speeds the removal of lactic acid that’s formed during exercise, says Rizzo.
In fact, one study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that drinking 16 ounces of watermelon juice improved muscle soreness and recovery heart rate in participants who completed a high-intensity cycling test.
3. Eat Something High In Potassium
While the jury is out on whether potassium can prevent muscle soreness, this electrolyte does ward off dehydration and related muscle cramping, explains Rizzo. Most Americans don’t reach the recommended 3,500 milligrams of potassium per day, which is especially problematic for your muscles if you don’t hydrate properly and exercise. That’s why Rizzo recommends including potassium-rich foods (like bananas, which provide 400 milligrams) every day—especially after working out.
4. Foam Roll
Instead of bolting out of the gym, do your muscles a favor and foam roll. By using a foam roller or massage ball to apply pressure to your muscles, you essentially give yourself a massage—called ‘self-myofascial release.’ And while you might cringe a bit as you roll, you’ll boost blood flow and help alleviate tightness and soreness, which can both make you feel better and prevent injury, says Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., SoulAnnex and Master SoulCycle Instructor, and creator of Le Stretch. A review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports concluded that it’s particularly helpful after strength training.
“When pressure is applied to the knot, the elastic fibers move from their bundled position back towards their true alignment,” she says. “We are then able to get into lengthening body positions and restore proper movement patterns.” (A.k.a. foam rolling can also improve your flexibility and range of motion.)
Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Foam Rolling
Whether you’re an active athlete or a weekend warrior, Atkins recommends focusing your foam rolling on three common problem areas: your hips, lower back, and shoulders.
5. Apply Heat And Ice
A great way to soothe achy muscles is to alternate between applying hot and cold temperatures. “The idea is that you create an external ‘pumping’ of the blood by cooling your muscles—pushing blood out—and then heating muscles—pulling blood back in,” says Dustin Raymer, M.S., C.E.S., C.H.W.C., Fitness Director at Structure House. “This should bring fresh blood and nutrients into the muscles for quicker recovery.” One Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study found ice and heat therapy effective in relieving some muscle soreness within 24 hours of a workout.
An easy way to do it at home: in the shower. Alternate between 20 to 30 seconds with the water as hot as you can handle and 20 to 30 seconds with it as cold as you can handle, Raymer suggests. Complete 10 rounds, trying to make the water progressively hotter and colder as you go to maximize that ‘pumping effect.’
6. Take An Epsom Salt Bath
Hot baths pretty much always make us feel good—but they can be especially beneficial after a tough workout. “Along with ridding toxins from the body, hot baths soothe aches and pains, boost circulation, and relax the mind and body,” says Rebecca Lee, R.N., founder of Remedies For Me.
Make your steamy tub extra muscle-friendly by adding Epsom salt (a.k.a. magnesium sulfate), which can soothe muscle cramps, aches, and soreness. “Magnesium is a natural relaxer and in salt form it pulls excess water and lactic acid buildup away from the injured tissues,” she explains.
Fill your bathtub with warm water, add two cups of Epsom salt, and soak for at least 15 to 20 minutes, up to three times a week.