The first thing most runners do (or should do) after a long run is stretch, followed by a soak in the tub and keeping their legs up for the rest of the day. While we love the runner’s high we get from distance runs, we don’t love the soreness we feel in our calves, quads and IT bands. When our team trains for half or full marathons or any long-distance race, we have to find ways to relieve our muscles, particularly leading up to the race. If you’ve been babying an ailing arm/leg/calf, etc., the following seven picks are worth a try, with the caveat that what works for one exercise enthusiast or newbie doesn’t necessarily work for another.
Cooling sprays like Biofreeze are a case in point; some say they work, others don’t buy it. If you fall into the latter group, you can try things like massage, acupuncture and plain old sleep to relieve muscle pain. “The best thing for me has been ice cold water,” says Dylan DiBona, the Director Sportif at Mission Cycling / San Francisco, who often travels to the French Alps for a week of cycling. “There’s a glacial run-off stream that runs by our chalet in France and nothing I’ve tried has ever worked better than that ice water. It’s difficult to sit in — almost burns as you ease into it. And you can only be in there for a few minutes before you have to get out. But it does the trick. You wake up feeling so much better — flexible, relaxed and ready to go at it again.”
If all else fails, there’s always the option to sweat it out. “People have masked muscle soreness with icy/hot, Bengay, or Biofreeze, but it just masks the symptoms… it’s called the Gate Theory,” says David Reavy, PT and founder of React Physical Therapy. He recommends to just keep moving when you’re sore. “A light workout will make 50 percent of your soreness go away. You won’t want to do it, but you will appreciate the aftereffects.”
Disclaimer: Please note that Gear Patrol is not providing medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All the information below is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. We highly recommend you see a healthcare professional before starting a new regimen.
Arctic Ice Analgesic Gel
Zack Nagle of TrueForm Runner on NEOU App swears by Arctic Ice. “Sometimes nothing works better than a classic,” Nagle says. The easy-to-apply gel helps with minor aches and pains. “I can wear it under my gear during training or sports,” Nagle says. And, as a bonus, it never gets your clothes greasy.
If you poke around on Instagram and follow many of the runners of New York — specifically the Old Man Running Club — you’ll see mentions of Tiger Balm. This strong pain reliever is 100 years old and can be used up to four times daily due to its combo of cajuput (similar to eucalyptus oil), cassia (which has been shown to help reduce pain) and clove oil (which helps improve circulation). The next time your plantar fasciitis flares up, give this a go.
Runner’s High Chill AF Muscle Rub
Runner’s High began with a couple — a nurse and a runner in a search for something better than ibuprofen. The brand makes a few recovery balms, but this one features arnica flowers and menthol, both of which relieve sore calves after a particularly brutal speed workout or tempo run. The Super Herb Plus+ also has arnica flowers but differs with its 100 mg of hemp extract, and the Some Like It Hot Muscle rub uses menthol as well, but with cayenne pepper to cause a warming effect on skin. After every race — no matter the distance — I rub this into my calves before I head to bed.
Wildflower CBD+ Healing Stick
CBD is seemingly everywhere these days, including in recovery balms. This Healing Stick features arnica — similar to the Runner’s High muscle rub — and wintergreen, which helps cool the skin. It also has peppermint and hemp seed oil, which help reduce muscle aches and inflammation, respectively. CBD is helpful in these types of products due to its relaxing benefits. At $75, this stuff is on the more expensive side of recovery due to the CO2 extraction, how cannabis is reduced to different compounds like THC and CBD. It’s typically difficult to guarantee a pure amount of CBD and low amounts of THC, which is why there are so many CBD products on the market, but the high price represents the high quality of extraction and guarantee of quality ingredients. While we haven’t personally tested, we’ve heard and read many rave reviews.
J.R. Watkins Menthol Camphor Ointment
Gear Patrol editorial assistant and former triathlete Andy Frakes dealt with a lot of wear and tear during training and racing. “The Watkins Menthol Camphor Ointment is positioned as a cough suppressant first, which it helps with, but I massage it into my knees, ankles and elbows when I feel an overuse issue starting to flare up,” Frakes says. Menthol is the main active ingredient, which you’ll also find in products like AMP+ Recovery Lotion (a more expensive option), and it makes your skin tingle upon use. The thickness of the ointment means you’ll have to spend time massaging it into sore muscles, which only adds to the benefits of using it as you work the product into your skin.
Art of Sport Ultra Strength Recovery Cream
There are a lot of companies that slap the label ‘sport’ on products, causing people to believe that they are healthy. Art of Sport wants to cut through the noise with its athlete-developed and -tested products like this Recovery Cream. The brand worked with athletes like baseball player Javier Baez, football player JuJu Smith-Schuster, surfer Sage Erickson and motocross athlete Ken Roczen. Roczen especially pushed for the ingredients to perform, after he was in a major crash that ended in multiple surgeries and a tough rehab process. He’s now back on the bike and is very particular around his daily recovery — including this Recovery Cream. It features arnica and eucalyptus, which you can smell as soon as you massage it into your muscles. While it doesn’t make your skin instantly cold, it releases a refreshing tingle as it starts to work.
Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
Yes, we know this is not a recovery balm, but we couldn’t help but include it. The peppermint soap is incredibly strong, especially if you use it in the shower. After a tough workout, long day on the trails or intense ride, hopping in a hot shower and using this as a face scrub or body wash will cause your entire body to tingle. If using a shampoo as a recovery aid sounds weird to you, Dr. Bronner’s also sells arnica-menthol organic magic balm, with peppermint oils and menthol crystals to provide you with that ahhh feeling.