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By Alina Gonzalez, Byrdie (TNS)

If you asked me what the worst part about working out is, the answer wouldn’t be the exercise itself. It would be the seemingly unavoidable post-exercise soreness. And aside from the discomfort itself, the muscle soreness straight-up precludes a next-day workout. Your muscles are so sore that you couldn’t do a squat if you tried; you can barely sit down on the couch, let alone do another boot camp, HIIT or kickboxing class.

Then it takes a couple of days to recover, and you’ve lost momentum; it’s like you’re being punished for trying hard. Yet experts agree that if you’re doing the kind of lightweight, leisurely exercise that doesn’t leave you sore afterward, you’re not really changing your body.

However, the trick that effectively and consistently eliminates post-exercise soreness: taking an Epsom salt bath after exercising.

“I make my own scented Epsom salt mixtures with the salts and essential oils,” Byrdie co-founder Hillary Kerr said. “It’s this very inexpensive, very old-school way of dealing with muscle soreness, but it’s honestly helped like nothing else.

It’s better than massage, better than stretching, better than any kind of arnica balm or Tiger Balm, and better than ibuprofen–ibuprofen can’t touch this. It’s life changing, in the sense that with some of these workouts, my legs would be so sore afterward that it would prevent me from going to work out again the next day. So I would have to take time off, in between, and then you feel like you’re never getting anywhere.”

Kerr said she will do it at night, after she comes home from a workout, and if the workout was particularly rigorous, she sometimes will double up and do it again in the morning: “It makes your legs feel like they are fresh and alive.”

She learned the Epsom salt soak trick from her trainer, Lauren Kleban of LEK Fit, who used to be a Tracey Anderson trainer and now has a private studio with classes such as trampoline cardio. But Kerr eventually began customizing it with essential oils.

“Donna Karan is really into essential oils, and I had a meeting with her awhile ago in which she gave me two different kinds,” Kerr said. “One is a clove-based essential oil, and the other is lavender–so I use the lavender one at night because it also has relaxation properties, and I’ll use the other one in the morning because it, along with peppermint, is good for waking you up.”

Kerr further customizes her blends based on her plans and how she feels. For instance, one night when she wanted to relax after a rigorous workout but was heading out for cocktails afterward, she mixed lavender and peppermint to both soothe her muscles but also wake her up a bit.

“It’s so old-school you assume it can’t possibly be as effective as people say, so it very much surprised me that it worked this well,” she said.

But don’t let your newfound comfort lull you into skipping a soak session, warns Kerr.

“Every once in a while, I’ll think I might not need to do it. Because I’ve been taking class four days a week for a while, so I got to the point where I was like, oh maybe I don’t need to do this. And I skipped it one day and very much noticed. My legs felt heavy and dead and sore the next day, and I was just sort of a loser in class.”

Well that’s a feeling we can relate to wholeheartedly–those days when you’re sore and giving class about 20 percent of the exertion rate you would be if you didn’t ache all over.

“It’s 1,000 percent helping me because I need all of the help I can get when it comes to motivation,” Kerr said. “So anything I can do to bounce back as quickly as possible is very important to me, and that’s why this has been truly a miraculous game changer. And I know people have heard about it, but I don’t think people understand how effective it is.”

Kerr mixes two cups of dry Epsom salts with a non-precise mixture of essential oils, pours it into a hot bath, and soaks for 20 minutes.

Photo by Nina Nelson via Flickr

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