10 tips to feel better after a run

Matt Trappe

Whether you run every day or a few times a week, you know how important it is for your body to feel rested and ready for miles. To prepare the body for the challenge of training, you need a solid running-recovery routine – one that includes everything from light daily steps to foam rollers to a diet that fuels you.

If you feel like you’re just not recovering after a workout, a variety of factors can contribute to slow recovery, from the weather outside to how you slept at night. But these running recovery tips will help you feel your best.

While runners typically have a training schedule, they rarely have a recovery schedule. Here’s how to create one.

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Cool down after each workout

Once you’re done with your run, jog very lightly or walk a half mile (or even 10 minutes) to ease the return to “normal” status.

Cooling down helps the body redistribute blood flow, gradually lowering heart and breathing rates, lowering your body temperature, and flushing out metabolic waste products, which helps reduce muscle soreness. The main thing is not just stop running and go home to the couch.

Gentle exercise like a brisk 20- to 30-minute walk, light stretching, or yoga the day after a hard run (or race) can also help improve circulation and recovery, says Elizabeth Corkum, a New York City-based certified personal trainer and running coach.

Recovery begins before the run, says Roberto Mandje, training manager for the New York Road Runners. He suggests jogging slowly or walking for a few minutes before you start putting on the miles and then stopping for a few dynamic stretches to prepare your muscles for the actual run.

These dynamic stretches can include walking lunges, butt kicks, torso twists, high knees, and leg swings (front-to-back and side-to-side).

When you’re done with your run and cardio cooldown, do some static stretching. Mandje suggests holding these stretches for 10 to 30 seconds and doing movements like toe touches (when seated or standing) and a standing quad or calf stretch (as shown).

Another way to relieve sore muscles: foam rolling. “A foam roller is a great tool in a runner’s arsenal that can be used both before and after a run,” says Mandje. Research suggests this self-massage technique can help make your legs feel better for your next run, so make sure to include it in your running recovery plan.

After a run, Mandje suggests rolling out your calves, quads, and even your lower and upper back. “All of this will help loosen up kinks and knots and further promote blood flow and recovery, which will help with sore and stiff muscles,” he says.

“Post-run nutrition is often the most important factor in rapid recovery and is usually something most of us are bad about,” says Corkum. “We get distracted after our runs and often eat an hour or two later.” The best time to refuel after a run is within about 30 minutes. “Our bodies strive to rebuild the stress of training, but we need nutrition to do this optimally,” adds Corkum.

Your post-run meal or snack should include protein and carbs, which Corkum suggests consist of a protein powder smoothie or Greek yogurt with fruit. “Training adaptation is ultimately about putting constant stress on the body and then allowing the body to adjust to that stress,” she adds. “Runners will see and feel a big shift in their recovery and with it the overall adjustment when post-run nutrition is taken as seriously as mileage.”

Don’t forget that drinking plenty of water and getting electrolytes should also form part of your refueling strategy.

Change out of wet clothes

Wet clothing can make you cool down too quickly after a run. Wearing dry clothes keeps your muscles warm, which increases blood flow and aids recovery. Good blood circulation provides the exhausted muscles with much-needed nutrients and removes metabolic waste – exactly what you want after a run.

Analyze your training plan

Is your plan appropriate for your current fitness level? Training plans should alternate hard and easy days, vary weekly mileage, build long miles in gradual increments, and have one or more days off from running. If you cluster hard workouts or don’t get enough rest, consider reducing it.

A cutback may also involve taking more than one rest day between workouts. “Sometimes it takes an extra day or two to really feel the fatigue after a run — it might not be the day after, but two days after,” says Corkum. If this is how you feel, make sure you have two full days between hard efforts.

Mandje agrees, offering this example of a solid schedule:

  • Monday: hard interval or tempo run
  • Tuesday: Easy run
  • Wednesday: easy or free
  • Thursday: hard interval or tempo run
  • Friday: easy or off
  • Saturday: hard (long run)
  • Sunday: easy or free

“The idea — no matter how many days a week you run — is to combine each hard day with an easy day or two to ensure adequate recovery before running hard again,” Mandje says.

Make simple days really simple

As for the easy days on the schedule, make sure you don’t run too fast. This is a very common mistake made by avid runners, thinking it will make them faster – in fact, it often leads to unnecessary fatigue and increases the risk of injury.

If you have a day off on your calendar, take an actual day off as well. “You often hear about runners using their day off for cross training,” says Mandje. “While this may work for some, it certainly interferes with true recovery. Despite the lack of pounding, your muscles and heart may still need that extra recovery time with limited to low-impact activity.

Focus on getting the most out of your tough days and your easy days “The best way to recover between workouts is to take recovery as seriously as training,” adds Mandje.

Speaking of sleep, we just can’t talk about running recovery without mentioning how badly you need it. “Sleep is the ultimate and best form of rest. Then our bodies have the best opportunity to rebuild and recover,” says Corkum.

If you feel like you just can’t recover, or you’re constantly tired, burned out, or unfocused, turn your attention to getting more rest. You may need to set some boundaries when it comes to screen time or creating a nighttime relaxation routine to ensure quality sleep.

Mandje also says that there is strength in napping. “The truth is, many of us with families, jobs, and/or a busy work-life balance rarely get as much sleep as we should,” says Mandje. “That’s why I champion the restorative magic of napping.” He recommends 15 to 20 minutes of rest to speed up your recovery. “When you feel more refreshed, you’re not only better equipped for recovery, but also for your upcoming workout,” he adds.

Consider the weather

The weather can easily affect both your training and recovery. “The demands on your body are different when running in hot and humid conditions than in cold and dry climates,” says Mandje.

In extremely hot and crowd-friendly conditions, you’ll likely want to reduce your pace, intensity, and/or mileage. You may also need more rest days when it’s warm outside, as well as more fluids and electrolytes to keep your body performing at its best. “That means drinking throughout the day, not just while you’re running,” Mandje says, suggesting that the more you sweat, you’ll have a drink with more electrolytes.

In the winter, you’re likely to focus more on light runs, but it’s especially important to warm up before your miles and remove sweaty clothing afterwards.

The weather can also come into play while you sleep, so make sure your room is at an optimal temperature so you can catch zzz’s, he adds.

Consider the rest of your day

“Our decisions during recovery runs, rest days, and when we’re not running have a direct impact on how we feel, perform, and adapt to the next tough workout,” says Corkum. “Often the opportunity to get the most out of this important training session was the day before. So making mindful choices when not running can make all the difference.”

According to both experts, not only the activity you do throughout the day, but also the amount you drink throughout the day and the day before a long run can impact your overall recovery.

If you’re not feeling great after a run, take a look at your physical activity and diet the day before and you may find that you need to make some changes that will translate into better recovery from your run.

Associate Editor, Health & Fitness
Mallory Creveling, an ACE certified personal trainer and RRCA certified running coach, joined the Runner’s World and Bicycling team in August 2021.

Susan Paul has trained more than 2,000 runners and is an exercise physiologist and program director for the Orlando Track Shack Foundation.

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