In the bath-versus-shower debate, I'm adamantly pro-bath. I've always found the ritual of soaking in near-scalding water with a great book in hand to be the most relaxing way to end a long day. That is, until I started training for a 10K with Nike, which turned the calming ritual into a muscle-recovering necessity. In fact, there's evidence that a warm post-workout bath can actually have a reviving effect on sore limbs.
"Muscles recover better after exhausting exercise if they are warmed than if they are chilled," reports The New York Times on a study published in the Journal of Physiology. Although the exact reasoning behind this effect wasn't determined by the study, "Warming muscles probably aids in recovery by augmenting the muscles' uptake of carbohydrates," speculated Arthur Cheng, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute who led the study, in a response to The NYT.
Considering this science-backed information, I figured what better time to put the best sore muscle soaks on the market to the test to find out if they actually have an effect on aching limbs? Ahead, I'm breaking down what happened when I put five of the best bath soaks for sore muscles to the test. (Spoiler alert: There was a clear favorite.)
If You're Prone to Cramping…
Effectiveness: Magnesium, a mineral hailed for its therapeutic benefits, and sweet birch, valued by Native Americans for its pain-relieving qualities, are what make these bath flakes so effective at combating sore muscles, cramps, and stiffness. After a 30-minute soak, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the pain-relieving benefits lasted well into the evening. (5/5)
Fragrance: When dissolved in hot water, this soak emits an earthy smell with a hint of sweetness. (3/5)
Price: It isn't cheap, but I'd be willing to shell out the $38 for this product based on its effectiveness alone. (4/5)
Final Score: 12/15
If You're Looking to Detox…
Effectiveness: Mustard, known for soothing muscle aches and providing relief for those suffering from colds and fevers, is the main ingredient in this pain-relieving bath product. After soaking for the recommended 20 minutes indicated on the product's packaging, I did indeed feel detoxed, relaxed, and focused. (4/5)
Fragrance: I have to admit, the fragrance of mustard powder mixed with eucalyptus, rosemary, and thyme essential oils was not my favorite at first. However, it did grow on me over the course of the 20-minute soak. (3/5)
Price: Although the effectiveness of this sore muscle soak is rather high, the scent and price bring down the overall value of this product. (3/5)
Final Score: 10/15
If Your Workouts Include Strenuous Strength Training…
Effectiveness: In addition to soothing and detoxifying magnesium and sea salt, this sore muscle soak also boasts "a hand-sourced intention crystal that aims to reset and balance your body's energy." Now, I don't know if it was the crystal, but after a 30-minute soak, I actually did feel replenished and relaxed. (4/5)
Fragrance: The soothing scent of lavender makes this the ideal sore muscle soak to pour into a bath after an evening workout. (5/5)
Price: At $39, this was by far the most expensive post-workout soak I tested (note that one bag equals one bath treatment). If I were Gwenyth Paltrow, I would have an infinite supply of these miracle-workers under my bathroom sink. Alas, I am not. (1/5)
Final Score: 10/15
If You're All About Convenience..
Effectiveness: This sore muscle soak treats tired limbs with a combination of alleviating Epsom and sea salts and soothing spirulina and green tea. After a 30-minute bath, my aching muscles felt significantly less tight. (4/5)
Fragrance: Scented with cardamom, cinnamon, and clove, this bath bomb re-creates the aromatherapeutic effects of a soothing cup of tea. (5/5)
Price: While a one-time-use bath bomb isn't particularly cost-effective, the convenience of not having to scoop out a measured amount of powder is worth paying a little extra for, in my opinion. (4/5)
Final Score: 13/15
If You're on a Budget..
Effectiveness: Made with Epsom salts, a natural compound of magnesium and sulfate, this bath product eases muscle pain and promotes blood circulation, which is sorely needed (pun intended) after a tough workout. After 20 minutes, I felt rejuvenated despite having just run five miles. (5/5)
Scent: A blend of blood orange, rose geranium, and bergamot essential oils lend these bath salts an uplifting citrus-floral scent. (5/5)
Price: This was by far my favorite sore muscle soak, considering its effectiveness, scent, and price. Each bottle contains enough salts for approximately five to eight generously salted baths. (5/5)
Final Score: 15/15