5 Post-Run Habits That Will Actually Improve Muscle Recovery
There's nothing better than the high of finishing a run and feeling strong, fast, and powerful. But one thing that can quickly knock you down a few pegs is waking up the next morning and experiencing the telltale signs that you pushed your body too far. Making sure to follow good form and adequately stretching before your workout is great for keeping your body feeling limber, but another key to getting the most out of your exercise regimen is practicing proper recovery techniques.
Whether you're working to create a sustainable workout routine or simply wish to prioritize muscle recovery (as all runners should!), there are five core habits you should integrate into your post-run routine that will make a world of difference in the longevity of your running career. Yes, even if you aren't running competitively.
Prioritize active recovery.
Following intense exercise, it's important to ease out of the elevated heart rate phase and allow your body to cool down before abruptly coming to a stop. In terms of running, this means practicing active recovery, building this time onto the end of your workout. "End each run with active recovery or a slower walk or jog," suggests Raj Hathiramani, RRCA-certified run coach and fitness instructor at Mile High Run Club in New York City. When your heart rate is elevated as it is when doing cardio, the best way to recover is by returning your heart rate to baseline gradually, mitigating any dizziness that may come from suboptimal blood flow throughout your body after working out, he adds.
Practice static stretching.
Stretching is absolutely key for proper muscle recovery. Shocking, we know. While active stretches are great for warming up and preparing for your run, static stretching after exercise can release tightness in your muscles and allow them to recover more easily so you don't wake up the next morning with limited mobility and discomfort. "Static stretching after your cool-down will improve your flexibility and lengthen key muscle groups such as the lower back, hamstrings, and hip flexors that get tight from running," explains Hathiramani.
Stretching immediately after your cool-down is the ideal time to lengthen your muscles, and building this into your workout session will ensure you have a moment to rest before hopping back into your day. "The main thing you don't want to do after your run is charge straight on with your day without spending at least a few minutes breathing, stretching, and replenishing lost hydration and nutrients," adds Abi Carver, NASM-CPT. "The most important thing is to stretch out your hips and hamstrings after every single run so that you don't tighten up."
Check out this cool-down routine from fitness instructor Janeil Mason, M.S., for some inspiration:
Roll it out.
Along the same lines as static stretching, foam rolling should also become a key step in your post-run recovery. "Foam rolling, a technique for self-myofascial release, enhances stretching by breaking up muscle tension and pushing new blood to fatigued muscle tissues or fascia," explains Hathiramani.
Focusing on the larger muscles in your legs such as your glutes, quads, and calves will get the most bang for your buck, and the more frequently and longer you roll out, the better you'll feel. We're not saying the sensation is painless (tight muscles beget more severe discomfort), but in the long run, your legs will hold on to less tension. From the smaller muscles, integrating a hard object like a lacrosse ball into your routine can help loosen things up even further. "A hard ball will loosen localized and deeper soreness, with a golf ball for your feet or a lacrosse ball for your glutes," suggests Hathiramani.
Consume enough protein.
Diet is just as important to muscle recovery as stretching and rest, and while carbs are the ideal pre-run fuel, protein is the nutrient to turn to after finishing your workout. "Make sure to consume protein within 30 minutes of finishing a run or race as protein helps your muscles heal faster and accelerate growth," says Hathiramani.
Not hungry? Your body still needs fuel to repair the wear and tear on your muscles, so it can be helpful to have a small protein-rich snack anyway before the hunger catches up to you. When you're under intense strain for extended periods of time, your body may shut off hunger cues to divert energy elsewhere, so keep this in mind when your growling stomach mysteriously disappears after a run.
Bring in a supplement.
Vitamin D deficiency is super common in the U.S. with 29% of U.S. adults meeting the criteria for deficiency1 and 41% for insufficiency—and with that comes an impact on muscle strength and comfort.
Paired with a stretching and recovery routine, mbg's vitamin D3 potency+ supplement can help promote vitamin D sufficiency and in turn help support your muscle and bone health.*
The bottom line.
Completing your workout doesn't mean you're done supporting your body. Neglecting to slot in time for active recovery, stretching, and proper fueling can result in muscle discomfort and soreness that may be simple to avoid otherwise. Treating post-run recovery with as much importance as the run itself will ensure you're able to keep up this movement practice for years to come. Remember, being proactive about recovery is always easier than retroactive care.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.