Most new runners anticipate some muscle soreness after running for the first time. It seems natural that our legs might ache after a run when we are not used to this type of physical activity.
However, we often fail to realize that this muscle soreness will continue to return even after your body adjusts to the act of running. Between the harder workouts, longer runs and new race goals, we are constantly challenging our bodies to improve.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is normal after running.
Although it is normal, it is definitely not pleasant. Luckily, there are a few ways to ease this muscle soreness and prevent the stiffness that comes after harder runs.
In order to deal with sore muscles after a run, you’ll need to experiment with a variety of recovery techniques to find the one to which your body responds best. Many runners swear by ice baths after long runs, while others find relief with a simple post-run stretching routine.
The key to developing a successful strategy to reduce muscle soreness, though, is understanding what is causing your sore muscles to begin with.
What causes muscle soreness after running?
Many of us are aware of the fact that hard or new physical efforts often lead to muscle soreness the next day. Whether we climbed a bunch of stairs, tried a new workout at the gym or were just on our feet significantly more than usual, we’ve all experienced DOMS at some point or another.
DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. The aching we feel in our legs after running is a perfect example of DOMS. The start of this soreness is a bit delayed – usually occurring sometime within the 24-48 hours after a run, but rarely within minutes of completion.
The exact cause of this muscle soreness has not yet been officially determined, but most scientists believe that it could be caused by a buildup of lactic acid, minor muscle damage, or inflammation.
In general, though, we do know that it is likely caused by a variety of factors.
Luckily, there are also a variety of ways to relieve sore muscles.
Regardless of whether lactic acid buildup, inflammation, muscle tears or other forms of muscle damage are to blame, experiencing sore muscles after a run is entirely normal.
When treated appropriately, this muscle soreness can even be sign that your body is improving and adapting to new levels of stress.
Keep in mind, though, that understanding your body’s signals and being able to differentiate regular soreness from pain is key to long-term success as a runner.
Is it okay to have sore muscles after a run?
Absolutely. Muscle soreness after running is common, especially with harder workouts or long runs. Most runners deal with their fair share of post-run soreness over time.
Whether you’re a seasoned runner or are brand-new to the sport, you’ll likely be dealing with muscle soreness at some point or another during training.
What’s the fastest way to get rid of sore muscles after running?
Although muscle soreness is common among runners, many runners incorporate practices to relieve muscle soreness in their routine without even realizing it.
The fastest and most effective way to get rid of sore muscles is to practice these recovery techniques immediately and consistently after your runs.
Relieving sore muscles quickly involves finding the right recovery method for your body. If you find that your legs ache after running intervals, try experimenting with your refueling strategy, a post-run walk, simple stretches, yoga, or any other tactics below until you find one that works.
Depending on the severity of your muscle soreness, it might be helpful to incorporate multiple different recovery tactics into your post-run routine as opposed to just one.
Here are 13 simple ways to help relieve sore muscles after a run.
13 Ways to Ease Muscle Soreness After Running
Warm up before running
A simple way to reduce muscle soreness is to spend a few minutes warming up before your run.
Dynamic warmup routines help get your blood flowing before you even begin, help loosen your joints and help avoid running on tight muscles.
The easier your run is on your muscles, the less they have to work and the easier it is to recover afterwards.
Keep moving when you’re done
After finishing up your final mile, it can be really tempting to just stop and rest. The hard work is complete, and you’ve certainly earned some relaxation.
However, coming to a complete stop at the end of a hard workout or long run comes as a bit of a surprise for your body. Nothing will make you feel stiff more than completely stopping at the end of a run.
Instead of coming to a halt, add a short walk or cool down to the end of your run. Help your muscles decompress and prevent extra lactic acid build up by keeping moving for a few minutes after your run.
Practice some post-run stretches
A simple, practical way to prevent soreness after a run is to get in the habit of completing a post-run stretching routine. Even just a few simple stretches will help prevent unnecessary stiffness and keep your muscles from tightening up right away.
Try some relaxing stretches to cool down both mentally and physically after running.
Refuel with carbs and protein
Since muscle soreness is thought to be caused by multiple factors, it’s important to focus on all aspects of recovery – not just the physical.
Replenishing lost sugars and proteins after a run can help improve your recovery as well.
Refueling with a snack or refreshing smoothie within 30 minutes of finishing your run will provide your muscles with the fast-acting sugars they need to rebuild.
Complete a recovery yoga routine
Completing even just a few simple yoga poses after a run has many restorative benefits. Encourage your muscles to relax and avoid post-run stiffness with a quick, relaxing yoga routine.
Classic yoga poses such as downward dog, cat cow tilts, half pigeon and more can be especially beneficial for runners.
Utilize the foam roller or self-massage
If you’re dealing with consistent, intense muscle soreness after running, a great activity to add to your recovery routine is foam rolling or completing another form of self-massage.
These techniques can be especially helpful for reducing tension in problem areas and hot spots.
Invest in a foam roller, lacrosse ball, the stick or one of the many other tools for self massage. Spend time rolling out your muscles and lingering on any tight spots or knots that you may find.
Make rehydration a priority
Another theory behind muscle soreness is that it can be influenced by dehydration. Without adequate fuel, your muscles are unable to function to their fullest extent and therefore tighten and contract.
Before, during and after hard runs, be sure to prioritize your hydration. Make a point of drinking water regularly throughout the day, and replenishing any extra liquids you lost during a long run or hard workout.
Try an ice bath
Many distance runners swear by the restorative qualities of icing their muscles after hard runs.
The easiest and most effective way to do so: an ice bath.
While jumping in a tub full of ice water hardly sounds appealing, many runners find themselves hooked after experiencing its benefits. Soaking in ice shortly after finishing a run may help reduce some of the inflammation that can lead to muscle soreness.
Heat up your muscles
In contrast to an ice bath, another method to help ease muscle soreness after a run is to apply heat to your muscles. The heat helps muscles relax and reduce tension that may have build up during your run.
Try soaking in a warm bath, a hot tub, or applying a heating pack to especially tight spots on your legs.
Soak in an Epsom salt bath
Another relaxing way to potentially help relieve sore muscles is to soak in an Epsom salt bath. The salt is said to help remove toxins from your body, while the warm bath helps everything relax.
Try adding 4 cups Epsom salt to a warm bath after your next hard run and soak for 10-15 minutes.
Elevate your legs
When we run, we spend all of our time in a vertical position on our feet. During this time, our muscles produce lactic acid, which is thought to increase with time and effort. While we’re on our feet, the excess lactic acid has nowhere to go but down.
Spending a few minutes with your legs elevated can not only help reduce lactic acid buildup, but will help encourage blood flow elsewhere to potentially reduce swelling after a run.
Sit with your legs up the wall for 5 or so minutes after finishing a run to test the benefits of this recovery tactic.
Prioritize rest and sleep
It is no secret that one of the best, most effective things we can do to help our bodies recover is to rest. After a tough week of training, rest is the key to recovery, health, improvement and injury prevention.
While rest can be incredibly beneficial during the day, these benefits are multiplied during sleep. Sleep is arguably one of the single best things you can do to help your body recover.
If you’re struggling with muscle soreness after running time and time again, take some time to evaluate your sleeping habits. It might be worth heading to bed a bit earlier than usual to help your body recover.
Be aware of any lingering pain
Finally, remember that while sore muscles after running is normal, there is a difference between muscle soreness and muscle pain.
Any isolated, sharp or lingering pain is a sign that something is not right. Listen to your body and get to know its signals. If you are experiencing something out of the ordinary, take a day off. If the pain continues after extended rest, it’s probably time to visit your doctor.
Muscle soreness after a run is quite common, but with the right recovery tactics we can help greatly reduce some of the discomfort and encourage our bodies to recover quickly.
Test out some of these recovery practices to create a healthy routine that eases your muscle soreness and keeps you feeling fresh and rejuvenated with every run.