Close Up Of Physical Therapist's Hands Performing Cupping On Athelte's Back

5 Methods for Faster Muscle Recovery

BY Fred Ormerod

Professional athletes put effort into their recovery, so why shouldn’t you? Use these methods to speed up your recovery process.

Effective recovery serves as a shield against delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), a common aftermath of intense training surfacing a day or two later.

While DOMS isn’t fully understood, it’s likely triggered by an accumulation of inflammatory compounds, such as creatine kinase, responding to the muscle fiber damage incurred during exercise. Deliberate recovery accelerates the repair of these damaged fibers.

Achieving an optimal balance between training and recovery is key – a balance that ensures continuous gains while affording the necessary time for muscle fibers to rebuild. In your pursuit of this equilibrium, consider giving a few of these recovery techniques a try.

1. Active Recovery

When executed correctly, active recovery, such as gentle or low-impact cardio, brings forth significant advantages:

  1. Enhanced Circulation/Blood Flow: Actively recovering aids in mitigating Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) by effectively “flushing out” accumulated inflammation.
  2. Amplified Training Volume for Underused Muscles: This proves beneficial in addressing underdeveloped or underused muscle groups, contributing to injury prevention, provided the intensity remains within appropriate limits.
  3. Increased Skills and “Brain Training” Volume: Many coaches incorporate mental skills during active recovery, engaging athletes in activities like responding to changing lights or participating in word games.

Active recovery methods are adaptable and vary among athletes. Examples include yoga, easy crosstraining, walking/jogging/hiking, stretching, and core/hip activation exercises. By tailoring active recovery to individual needs, athletes can optimize its benefits as a valuable component of their training regimen.

2. Massage Therapy

Massage holds a cherished spot as a preferred recovery method for many individuals. Despite ongoing debates about the precise physiological impact, there’s a consensus that message therapy alleviates pain experienced by athletes, whether it’s perceived or actual.

Considerable evidence points to massage as a potent means to prevent and treat DOMS. It achieves this by enhancing acute circulation and reducing the spaces between muscle fibers where toxins tend to accumulate.

The realm of massage encompasses diverse techniques, including deep tissue, METs, shiatsu, foam rolling, and more. As a sports massage therapist, my recommendation is to explore and identify the type of massage that resonates best with you. Prioritize this personalized massage experience at least once a month to optimize its benefits as a crucial element of your recovery routine.

3. Hot/Cold Therapy

Both hot and cold therapy serve as temporary influencers of body temperature and circulation, ultimately boosting the immune response.

Studies indicate that creatine kinase levels, an enzyme associated with recent muscle damage, exhibit similar reductions after both hot and cold therapies. Some research even suggests that the combined use of hot and cold (as opposed to solely hot or cold) creates a pumping/flushing effect, potentially enhancing the overall recovery process.

As always, my recommendation is to embrace the temperature that aligns with your personal preferences and works best for you.

Athletes employ various methods, including giant stand-in/sit-in freezers for cryotherapy, infrared saunas, plunge pools, and hot baths. While cost can be a consideration, there’s no need for a significant investment to enjoy the benefits of hot/cold therapy.

Personally, I find a balance by alternating between a sauna blanket and a refreshing swim in the ocean. Check with your gym to explore available amenities like saunas or steam rooms, as many gyms offer these at no additional cost. Incorporating hot and cold therapy into your routine doesn’t have to break the bank, ensuring accessibility for all athletes.

4. Alternative Medicine: Cupping, Gua Sha (Muscle Scraping), and Acupuncture

Ancient Chinese techniques, often surrounded by controversy in therapeutic circles and occasionally performed without a license in certain countries, claim to enhance circulation and eliminate toxins. Among the most prevalent practices are:

  1. Cupping: Practitioners employ a cup to create a vacuum effect on the skin and muscles, drawing them away from the body. This process aims to release stuck tissues, resulting in distinctive circular bruises.
  2. Gua sha: Utilizing a tool made of materials like bull horn, stone, or metal, practitioners scrape along muscle fibers, inducing localized bruising.
  3. Acupuncture: Tiny needles are strategically inserted at specific points to alleviate pain.

While research on these techniques yields mixed results regarding acute, local increases in circulation and immune response, a consistent finding is a reduction in reported pain by patients. This aspect holds significance, considering the continued use of these techniques for over 2,000 years, as athletes perpetually seek methods to alleviate muscle tension and pain.

5. Mindfulness/Meditation

Incorporating mindfulness into your routine serves as a powerful tool for stress and anxiety management, ultimately contributing to improved sleep and muscle recovery.

Numerous apps and tools are available for mindfulness and meditation, with my personal preference being Headspace. However, if you’re hesitant to download or purchase an app, an abundance of free guided meditations is accessible on YouTube.

Now, the question arises: which method is most effective for expediting muscle recovery? In my perspective, the key factor lies in RPF or RPR (relative perceived fatigue/recovery).

Athletes who believe in their recovery often outperform those who perceive themselves as fatigued. In essence, it’s akin to the sports therapist philosopher’s version of “I think, therefore I am.”

Experiment with these methods, discover what resonates best for YOU, have faith in your process, and witness the payoff of your hard work.

This post originally appeared on TrainHeroic and has been adapted for TrainingPeaks.


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Fonseca, L., et al. (2016, July). Use of Cold-Water Immersion to Reduce Muscle Damage and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Preserve Muscle Power in Jiu-Jitsu Athletes. Retrieved from

Mizumura, K., & Taguchi, T. (2015, October 14).Delayed onset muscle soreness: Involvement of neurotrophic factors. Retrieved from

Shadgan. B., et al. (2018, August). Contrast Baths, Intramuscular Hemodynamics, and Oxygenation as Monitored by Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. Retrieved from

Zainuddin, Z., et al. (2005, July). Effects of Massage on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, Swelling, and Recovery of Muscle Function. Retrieved from

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Fred Ormerod
About Fred Ormerod

Fred Ormerod is a freelance coach, Army Reserve medic, nurse, master’s student, and massage therapist. He has a decade of experience working in healthcare and five years of coaching in one of Edinburgh’s leading training facilities. He sells training plans on the TrainHeroic Marketplace and regularly contributes to the Training Lab Blog.

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