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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 about 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 Times.
Considering this science-backed information, I figured I'd conduct a study of my own. One by one, I tested five of the best sore muscle soaks on the market by enlisting them as part of my post-workout routine. I judged them in price, fragrance, and effectiveness to come up with an overall score for each. Spoiler alert: There was a clear favorite.
Read on for the best bath soaks for sore muscles.
Best Overall: Naturopathica Sweet Birch Magnesium Bath Flakes
Magnesium, a mineral hailed for its therapeutic benefits, and sweet birch, traditionally valued by Native Americans, are both prized for their pain-relieving qualities, which 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 the pain-relieving benefits lasted well into the evening. Not to mention, when dissolved in hot water, this soak emits an earthy smell with a hint of sweetness.
Best Budget: Captain Blankenship Bath Salts
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. The scent is heavenly; a blend of blood orange, rose geranium, and bergamot essential oils lend these bath salts an uplifting citrus-floral scent. After 20 minutes, I felt rejuvenated despite having just run five miles.
Best for Detoxing: Fig + Yarrow Mustard Soak
Mustard, known for soothing muscle aches and providing relief for those suffering from colds and fevers.
Mustard is the main ingredient in this pain-relieving bath product. The fragrance of mustard powder mixed with eucalyptus, rosemary, and thyme essential oils was not my favorite at first, but it did grow on me over the course of the bath. After soaking for the recommended 20 minutes indicated on the product's packaging, I did indeed feel detoxed, relaxed, and focused.
Best Post-Workout: Pursoma After the Class
The soothing scent of lavender makes this the ideal sore muscle soak to pour into a bath after an evening workout. 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.
Best for Muscle Relaxing: Jane Inc. Effervescent Cube Bath Bomb
This sore muscle soak treats tired limbs with a combination of alleviating Epsom and sea salts and nourishing spirulina and green tea. Scented with cardamom, cinnamon, and clove, this bath bomb re-creates the effects of aromatherapy. After a 30-minute bath, my aching muscles felt significantly less tight.