Recovery tools for runners


Whether you’re training for your first 100 miler or are new to running, you’ll have heard about the importance of good recovery. How you refuel and rest in between workouts is key to ensuring injury prevention and keeping you enjoying your running for longer.

So, what’s the best way to recover as a runner? While gadgets are definitely becoming increasingly popular, they’re one of several approaches you need to be aware of. From hydration to food, sleep, rest days, and cross-training, it all comes together to help you recharge your batteries and keep progressing.

In this article, we’ll have a look at the top 5 electric and 5 non-electric recovery tools that make a difference to athletes in 2023, as well as at some top tips for how to speed up your recovery after a tough workout and the 3 Rs of recovery that every athlete should know.

Top 5 electric recovery tools for runners

Although nothing can replace the benefits of sleep and adequate nutrition, and rehydration for recovery from a hard run, there are also a range of tools that will work wonders alongside those. 

So, what top 5 electric recovery tools for runners should you know about? Here are a few gadgets we think it’s worth investing in.

1. TENS/EMS muscle stimulator

An image of TENS/EMS muscle stimulator

Muscle stimulators have become more and more popular in recent years as they provide an effortless way to work on your recovery. TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) works by sending electric currents through your muscles, which is thought to help reduce pain and increase motion and function.

Compex has been the leading brand in this type of product for years, offering a range of programs to support exercise recovery, strength building, and pain management with their classic Compex Wireless USA 2.0. This combines the TENS action with EMS (electric muscle stimulation) – which is how you can get blood flow improvements and strength training, as well as massage of your sore muscles. 

2. Massage gun

An image of theragun elite handheld electric massage gun

The massage guns you’ll have seen elite runners using before and after their races on social media are quite pricey, but they might be worth the hype! A good percussive massage gun helps release muscle tension, work on your sore areas at different pressure levels, and generally get all the massage benefits at home when you need them.

Sure, you may still need help reaching some areas, but we love the fact that you can select different speeds to simply “wake up” the legs or go to work on tight spots. You also get a choice of attachments that will apply different therapies to different muscles.

The TheraGun is the market leader here, with impressive battery life, lots of personalization options, and a cool ergonomic design. But, if you’re looking to save money, you can also find some budget options for a fraction of the price (not guaranteeing the same effectiveness, of course!). 

3. Vibrating roller

An image of vyper 3 - high-intensity vibrating foam roller

Combining massage and foam rolling into one action, a vibrating roller can be a great tool to take with you on trips or to running races. Vibrations help you roll slightly deeper into the muscles and stimulate some extra blood circulation, too. 

4. Red light therapy

An image of ratosha red light therapy device

If direct electrical stimulation doesn’t work for you, you may be able to get some relief from tight muscles with red light therapy. This is meant to help repair cells, reduce inflammation, and increase blood flow to your muscles, speeding up recovery time and providing some rejuvenating benefits, too.

5. Recovery boots

NormaTec pulse 2.0 leg recovery system image

Prepare for arguably the most fun, if one of the most expensive, muscle recovery tools out there!

Recovery boots compress the whole legs, giving you a choice of personalized pressure level and time to apply the pressure for. They’re great for leaning back and doing nothing while you get an at-home compressive massage. You’ll see improvements in blood circulation, reduced swelling and inflammation, and hopefully, less delayed onset muscle soreness.

Non-electric recovery tools

Physical therapists and personal trainers the world over rave about non-electric recovery tools for athletes. That’s because they’re cheap, effective, and a great complement to massage guns and other gadgets. If your budget doesn’t extend to expensive items, you don’t need to invest a lot to relieve sore muscles.

Here are some excellent recovery tools on a budget.

6. Foam roller

Image of a foam roller

Studies have shown that using a foam roller before and after a run can improve an athlete’s range of motion and release “knots” that you may feel from a hard workout. Foam rolling is also called myofascial release – the myofascial is the tissue that covers our muscles and bones throughout the body.

When you’re using a foam roller, it’s like performing your own soft tissue therapy, breaking up areas of tight tissue in the fascia. There is also evidence that the movement of the roller over the muscles sends signals to the brain to release tension, which is why the foam roller makes you feel like you immediately have gained more range of motion. Check out the benefits of foam rolling.

We recommend starting with a medium-softness, plain foam roller.

7. Massage ball 

4KOR Massage Balls image

A massage ball is a very versatile tool to relieve tension in aching muscles and work out kinks all over the body. It’s also a low-cost, low-fuss option that you can take with you wherever you go. There are a wide range of balls available, from softer to harder, and some spikey versions. Or, if in desperate need, a good old-fashioned tennis ball works, too!

8. Compression socks

Blueenjoy Copper Compression Socks Women image

Compression therapy works by promoting blood flow throughout the body, helping muscles get more oxygen and nutrients sooner. Additionally, compression socks apply pressure to the muscles, acting like a gentle massage that feels great after a tough session. You can also look into compression leggings for full-leg action.

9. Epsom salts

Dr Teal's Epsom Salt Soaking Solution image

It’s a classic for a reason! Veteran runners swear by Epsom salt baths to release muscle tension and relax overall. These are also great for heat acclimation if you’re planning on heat training for summer races but are currently training in winter conditions, for example. 

Soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts immediately after your run to get the heat adaptation, or whenever you want to wind down and help your whole body shake off tension and get relief from muscle pain.

10. Muscle scraping

sidekick swerve muscle scraper image

Initially used by professional athletes in sports like CrossFit, this is a tool that draws on chiropractic treatments. You “scrape” back and forth across any muscles you want to help relieve or warm up. It is meant to reduce soft tissue and muscle tightness, improving range of motion, and reducing swelling and pain. 

How to speed up your recovery after a tough workout

Running hard, and often, can take a toll on your body. Using the right recovery tools helps replenish your muscles and energy stores, but they won’t work unless you follow the basics first. Here are some essential recovery methods to make sure you’re in shape for your next run.

  1. Drink water – Rehydration is a key part of recovery. Water helps flush out toxins, transporting essential nutrients to your muscle cells and promoting good blood circulation. When you run, you’re losing moisture through sweat, which needs to be replenished afterwards.

    Depending on the weather conditions or your own physiology, you’ll also need to add electrolytes to water to ensure optimal rehydration.  

  2. Prioritize sleep – Resting is a cornerstone of recovery. Getting adequate sleep is an easy, free way to help your body repair and replenish after hard efforts. Growth hormone is produced during stage 3 of dreamless sleep (NREM – non-rapid eye movement stage) and contributes directly to repairing damaged tissues after physical exertion.

    There are even more benefits from adequate and high-quality sleep, including a boost to your immune system, digesting carbohydrates from your diet and metabolizing them into glycogen for energy stores during workouts, improved mood, better concentration… and the list goes on. Suffice it to say that it’s a non-negotiable part of good recovery. 

  3. Eat nutritious food – Diet is a huge part of making sure your body is ready for running. We’ve covered the importance of nutrition for runners, but it’s also crucial that you pay attention to what you eat before and after workouts. In fact, you should consider that your workout begins with the last meal you ate and finishes with the first thing you eat afterwards – this way, you’re always looking at the relationship between your fueling and your effort.

    High-protein foods to include in your meal plan after running are Greek yogurt, whey protein, beans, and chicken. 

  4. Massage – For the best recovery from exercise, especially when you have extra time and want to focus on muscle knots and pain, try and get a professional massage regularly. Increased blood flow to the muscles reduces recovery time while addressing pain points at personalized intensity levels is a good way to relieve pain.

    Of course, at-home massage tools like the ones we described above are great to use, too, but there’s nothing quite like letting yourself be looked after by a professional massage therapist!

  5. Cold therapy – Ice baths and cold water immersion are credited with speeding up recovery from exercise thanks to the benefits to blood circulation. Some research also suggests that cold therapy reduces inflammation in the joints and decreases muscle fatigue. You can try this approach relatively simply by running a cold bath at home or trying some cold water dips in a local lake. 

What are the 3 R’s of recovery for an athlete?

When researching what helps muscles recover faster and how you can speed up recovery after a long run, look to the 3 Rs of recovery. These are principles that support recovery overall and align with our favorite recovery tools.

  • Rehydrate – Taking on fluid after exercise helps your circulatory system move fresh blood around the body and oxygenate the muscles to help them rebuild. It also helps you replenish fluid lost during sweating. 
  • Refuel – You need to put back what you take out (and more) to support muscle rebuilding! So, ensure your diet is aligned with your effort levels. Working on a nutrition plan is not just for elite athletes – paying attention to an adequate balance of macronutrients can pay dividends for anyone’s running. 
  • Rebuild – Protein is essential for repairing exercise-induced muscle damage. Get into the habit of adding more protein to your meals by having snacks like yogurt with berries or a protein shake during the day. You can boost your lunch by adding a boiled egg to your usual salad or having overnight protein supplements like a casein shake or yogurt with cocoa powder and some honey before bed.

Optimize your recovery 

There is no one most effective recovery tool that can teach you how to run faster, better, and longer. To optimize recovery and improve your running, you need to combine healthy approaches with the tools that work for you.

Whether that involves recovery gadgets, more “old-school” items like massage sticks and foam rollers, or just a focus on stretching and adequate protein intake, there’s a lot to choose from. And don’t forget rest days are a key part of training, too! Check back for the latest news in running from Run Trails!

error: Alert: Content selection is disabled!!