There’s no way around it: If you’re really getting after your workouts, you’re going to be sore. And that’s okay. New research indicates that you can hit two to three lower body resistance training sessions within a week of daily running, provided you space them out and allow adequate recovery between each. Finding time for lower body recovery (i.e. sit there and exist) can be difficult, though. And chances are you’re not able to shell out money for bi-weekly massages.
Fortunately, you can adequately recover from the comfort of your own home. We tapped Daniel Giordano, a New York-based physical therapist, and Kyle Stull, a physical therapist at the National Academy of Sports Medicine, to learn effective and affordable ways to approach lower body recovery.
Invest in a foam roller. Foam rolling stands as the most effective DIY method of myofascial release you can do. Fascia are a web of connective tissues which surround muscle and bone. They tend to adhere to one another when stressed. And the resulting fascial knots are painful.
“What foam rolling does is increase blood flow back to the sore area,” Giordano says. “If increasing and promoting oxygen and blood flow speed up recovery, it also helps break up any adhesions.”
But how do you get the most benefit out of your foam roller? For lower body recovery, Stull recommends rollers with grid-like patterns to help channel bloodflow to the area. “Hold pressure to reduce tension in a muscle, whenever you’re rolling and it hurts, stop and hold pressure on the painful spot for 30 to 60 seconds,” Stull says.
Also, check out the foam roller stretches on the Aaptiv app to get the most out of your recovery.
Then, you can slowly roll along the muscle fiber lines (up and down the quadricep, for instance), rolling up and down at approximately one inch per second. Last, Stull says you can switch direction to roll perpendicular to the fibers (i.e. across the quadricep) to break up the adhesions across the sliding surfaces of the muscle.
Also known as ice bathing, this arguably masochistic experience involves submerging yourself in a 40-degree cold tub for 20 minutes. Not convinced? You’re not alone; the benefits of this high school track coach favorite have been disputed for some time, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work for you.
“Cold immersion stops the recovery process by cooling down your core body temperature, and you can do it post-workout to cut down on swelling,” Giordano says. “Ideally you’d foam roll prior and then jump in.”
Stull is equally agnostic on cold immersion, although he cautions that it can do more harm than good if done incorrectly. “More than 20 minutes may lead to nerve damage,” he says. “If it’s something mentally that an athlete identifies with, I wouldn’t tell someone who loves an ice bath to stop ice bathing, nor would I make somebody who hates it take an ice bath.”
If you’re super sore and hankering to try it for yourself, fill your bathtub with a three to five pound bag of ice and cold water. Then, lower yourself in. Kudos if you make it the full 20 minutes.
Similar to ice bathing, the research on compression is positive yet dubious. Stull recognizes compression socks and sleeves as “pretty valuable in the realm of helping speed up circulation after exercise,” which he says is key to optimal recovery. “If that’s all they have access to and there’s no time to foam roll, it’s better than nothing,” Stull says.
If you’re going out shopping for compression calf sleeves or socks, makes sure they’re not too tight and cutting off circulation. That would be equal parts dangerous and counterintuitive to your lower body recovery. Giordano recommends the two finger rule: If you can’t fit two fingers between the sleeve or sock and your skin, it’s too tight.
This one is painfully simple and, best of all, completely free. Put a mat down so the long end is up against a wall and lie down on your back. Then pivot 90 degrees so your legs are straight up against the wall.
“Elevate your legs above your heart and gravity will help decrease any swelling,” Giordano says. “Gravity also helps blood flow. So if your legs really hurt, go lie down with your feet in the air.”
Giordano offers one word of caution, though. Don’t get up too fast. “There’s a thing called orthostatic hypotension. That basically means dropping your blood pressure post-exercise after standing up too fast.” So take it easy on the way up, Giordano says. You’ll feel better in no time.
While these methods may be helpful, a sure fire way to promote recovery after a workout is with static stretching. Check out the cool down stretches available on Aaptiv.