There’s no arguing that running does a number on your body. A 5-minute km, for example, consists of approximately 1,700 steps, each one producing a ground reaction force about two and a half times your body weight. That’s a lot of force for your muscles and joints to absorb day after day—and why what you do when you’re not running is crucial to staying on your A-game. In order for your muscles to adapt to all that stress, they need time in between workouts to rest, recover, and rebuild. The better you treat your body off the road, the harder you can push yourself when you hit the pavement. Take your recovery to the next level with these easy tweaks.
1. Set a bedtime—and stick to it.
Allowing your body enough time to snooze and recover from the stress of exercise may actually be the single most important factor in exercise recovery, according to 2019 research published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine. Skimping on sleep has been shown to negatively impact runners’ speed, strength, muscle recovery, and even enthusiasm toward their sport, the researchers note.
But it’s not just about how many hours of shut-eye you get; it’s about how consistent you are with your sleep habits, a 2018 study published in Scientific Reports found. Of course, getting to sleep and waking up at the same time every day is easier said than done, especially if you’re running in the evening or waking up early to squeeze in a workout. The trick: Think of sleep as a commitment the same way you’d think about making it to a group run at a certain time. Reframing sleep as a time commitment will help improve your sleep regularity, according to a 2021 study published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine, so you can get the most out of your Zzz’s. To do this, set a recurring alarm or calendar appointment to remind yourself that it’s time to start your bedtime routine.
2. Get up and walk around.
After a tough run, your brain is probably telling you to face plant onto your bed or melt into your couch. While that’s okay later on, you should first aim for 20 minutes of active recovery—such as low- or moderate-intensity activity that targets the same muscles, like a walk—which is more effective in reducing muscle fatigue than passive recovery, according to 2016 research published in PLOS ONE.
But walking still has an impact, and “wearing a shoe that’s too flexible or too hard, firm, or flat can set you up for injury,” says Timothy Karthas, a podiatry specialist in Peabody, Massachusetts. Swapping your running sneaks for recovery-specific footwear though, like OOFOS, can help soothe your soles as you stroll. The styles, which range from sandals and sneakers to clogs, are made from a foam that absorbs 37 percent more impact than traditional materials and have a supportive footbed arch that reduces ankle exertion by up to 47 percent. “[The design] eases the strain on your muscles and tendons when they’re at their weakest,” Karthas explains.
The footwear also features a thicker-than-normal treaded sole with a rounded heel, known as a rocker bottom sole, which a 2018 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found to enhance recovery in lower leg and thigh muscles damaged by marathon running. Overall, the shoes will decrease the load on your feet without compromising function—just what you need for active recovery.
3. Turn up the hot water in your tub.
You probably don’t need an expert or study to tell you how good soaking in a hot tub can feel after a hard workout. It eases tight and sore leg muscles and puts you in a more relaxed mental state. But what you may not know is taking a bath about 90 minutes before bed could also help you fall asleep faster, as a 2019 studypublished in Sleep Medicine Reviews found (and you already know how important a good night’s sleep is to recovery!).
But the temperature can make a difference too: Bathe in hot water for 30 minutes, three days a week after moderate-intensity workouts, and you might also see improvements in your VO2 max, lactate threshold, and running economy, according to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology that tested participants in hot tubs reaching 102℉. Improvements in these three areas can make running faster or harder feel easier and more efficient. It’s a win-win.
4. Treat yourself to a DIY rubdown.
Stretching post-run is one of the quickest ways to bring your heart rate down, keep you from stiffening up, and making gains in mobility and flexibility. But loosening and lengthening your muscles isn’t always enough; adding a little pressure with a foam roller can make all the difference in off-setting soreness and kickstarting the recovery process.
Foam rolling reduces delayed onset muscle soreness, according to a 2020 scientific review published in the Journal of Body Work & Movement Therapies. In fact, just 60 seconds of rolling the lower back and hamstrings was shown to significantly improve flexibility and range of motion in those areas, 2019 research published in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology showed.
You can also use your roller (or even a frozen water bottle) on the small muscles in your feet: “Those are very active in supporting the toes throughout workouts,” says Karthas, pointing out that you may not even notice they’re putting in the work. “Rolling your feet can get the blood flowing there and help relieve post-workout inflammation.” So stop letting that foam roller gather dust under your bed and put it to use so you can get back to 100 percent in no time.