If I could spend all day in the gym, lifting weights, I would. However, I’ve learned the body doesn’t make its progress in the gym. It’s the recovery…the rest and eventual return to a greater stimulus…that helps us reach health and fitness goals.
My favorite recovery techniques are as follows.
Walking – I believe walking is the best form of aerobic activity (swimming may be better but not always as convenient). The benefits of walking are too numerous to list but it certainly helps stretch, and increase blood flow, to recently trained muscles. Depending on your surroundings, you may benefit from the tranquility of nature and avoidance of the over-stimulation of modern life.
Stretching – Recent studies suggest “static” stretching (holding and gently pulling on or pushing against a muscle) does not increase flexibility or recovery and may even increase the risk of injury if done before a workout. However, I’ve experienced nothing but positive results when stretching after a workout or hot shower.
Mobility Work – Before working out, I use “dynamic” warm-up routines. These involve active motions, performed with little to no weight, engaging the same muscles as the exercises I’ll be performing that day. I do about 10 movements, for 5-10 reps, focused on upper or lower body. Some examples would be arm swings, bodyweight squats, or torso twists. On my recovery days, I do closer to 20 movements working all the major muscle groups of the body. I find this helps me feel agile and flexible for the day.
Foam Rolling – This may be one of my favorite recovery techniques…well, besides deep-tissue massage which is far more expensive. Most fitness stores have a variety of foam tubes that you can roll on to help massage your muscles. Start with something soft and work up to more firm tubes or PVC pipes. I recently bought a TriggerPoint that is made of metal. It is filled with water so it can be frozen to provide an ice-bath affect while massaging sore muscles.
Alternating Water Temperature – For centuries, athletes have used ice-baths to help recover from workouts. The science behind this is still uncertain but I swear by a shower alternating between progressively hotter and colder water. This seems to wake me up in the morning, relax and cool me off at bed, and make my muscles feel infinitely better.
Protein – That 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight will provide adequate amino acids for the muscles to rebuild after training. Try to consume a complete protein source within 30 minutes of your training session to jump-start the recovery process. Experiment with different intake levels but, keep in mind, if you are consuming more protein than your body can assimilate on a regular basis, it will be converted to carbs and start registering as a fuel rather than a nutrient for rebuilding.
Omega 3 – Remember all that talk about the anti-inflammatory nature of Omega 3’s and the inflammation caused by Omega 6’s? For that reason, try to maximize your intake of things like wild-caught fish and grass-fed beef while minimizing your intake of modern vegetable oils and nuts.
Carbs – Some carbs, like grains and legumes, are very inflammatory while others, like sweet potatoes and fruits, may be anti-inflammatory. Opt for higher quality carbs and consume enough to sustain your training. If you are doing high-intensity work, training multiple times a day, or trying to gain weight, more carbs, particularly starch, will be essential to recovery. Finally, try to consume the majority of your carbs post-workout. The muscles will be primed to absorb glucose and the carbs help transport amino acids and other nutrients post-workout.
Magnesium – Magnesium helps the muscles relax and efficiently utilize glucose. To incorporate two recovery methods at once, take a hot bath with 1 cup of Epsom Salt (magnesium) for 15-30 minutes, and then rinse with cold water.
Sleep – This may be the most important yet overlooked aspect in recovery. It is during the first few hours of sleep that the greatest release of human growth hormone occurs. Try shutting down all electronics an hour or two before bed, use room-darkening shades, and set up a source of white noise such as a fan. Shoot for 8-10 hours of sleep a night. You may feel fine with 6 but try for a minimum of 8 and see how your body and mind performs.
These are the tactics I use on a regular basis. I think professional massages and meditation sessions are very valuable but haven’t had time to incorporate them into my regular routine.
Hopefully this post provides you with new ideas for optimizing your recovery. As always, contact me to let me know what did or did not work well for you, or if you want more specifics about these techniques.
Now make some time for rest & relaxation!