Whether you like taking bootcamp, a dance class, or going for a run, one thing for sure is recovery is important. Recovery is the key to reducing the chance of injuries, keeping you healthy, and helping you regenerate your muscles in order to come back stronger and ready for your next workout. There are many ways to approach recovery such as focusing on your nutrition, foam rolling to release muscle tightness or even getting a deep tissue massage. As I’ve been going through my marathon training journey I’ve learned the importance of putting recovery first as much as I do my daily runs. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to perform well or even make it to the starting line of my upcoming race. There are various ways to approach recovery and often times combining two different techniques can help you achieve relief quicker than sticking to one method. Check out some of the best ways to get relief ASAP after a grueling workout.
Make Time to Stretch
It’s important to make sure to add stretching to your daily exercise routine. As long as you include a mixture of dynamic and static stretching when your muscles are already warmed up, there isn’t the risk of over-straining a tight muscle. “Stretching post-workout can help tease out muscles that are tightened during the workout,” explains Thomas Watson, UESCA-Certified Running Coach. He says getting into a pigeon pose after a long run, for example, as it helps stretch out the hips and glutes.
Active recovery is when you perform a lower intensity activity after a hard workout. Usually, after a workout that’s tough on your body such as a High-Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T) class, you produce high lactate blood levels. Active recovery (such as walking, biking, jogging at an easy pace) has been found to help remove blood lactate from your system. In fact, studies have shown that there are greater benefits to active recovery compared to passive recovery (a.k.a. sitting on your couch binging Netflix) because it can actually help your body adapt to take on harder endurance exercises. In my case, my form of active recovery is by running a shorter distance at a slower pace the day after my long runs.
One of my favorite recovery tools to reach for before and after a tough workout is my foam roller and massage roller. These tools are intended to be used for self-massaging and can help soothe some muscle soreness, and release any muscle tightness you may have before activities. Research has shown that foam rolling may help with muscular performance, recovery, and reduce the pain that comes with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). “I personally think an active warm-up/stretch is best before a workout. However, if you have areas that tend to be tight or are taking care of an injury, foam rolling before a workout can help to decrease pain and any feeling of tension in those areas which will help your performance,“ explains Nicole Kennelly, LMT at Body Balance Massage Therapy. She adds that foam rolling after a workout can help reduce muscle soreness, which leads to faster recovery.
It’s important to replenish any nutrients you may have lost during your workout as soon as possible. “The most straight-forward (and overlooked) form of recovery is eating well within 45 minutes of completing your workout,” advises Watson. He says having a decent-sized meal rich in three to four grams of carbs for every gram of protein is sure to kick start your body’s recovery phase.
Another important way to help your body recover is to reestablish any electrolytes lost during extended activity. Some people favor coconut water, sports drinks (Which should be consumed if you’re exercising for longer than an hour), or electrolytes. I personally enjoy adding Revive electrolytes to my water before, during, and after my runs. While many energy supplements on the market are caffeinated, Revive is not and instead was biochemically designed to activate mitochondria and create more energy. Surprisingly an alternative beverage that also helps as a post-exercise recovery aid is chocolate milk. Scientists say chocolate milk may be a great option to replenish those nutrients lost because it contains carbohydrates, fats, protein, and electrolytes.
Get a Massage
Getting a massage is a nice way to pamper yourself, but your muscles will also thank you for the extra TLC. If you choose to see a massage therapist there are a few things to know. “We utilize different techniques such as long strokes or kneading which help to increase local circulation, decreasing that “full” feeling in the muscles after a hard workout by flushing out fluid,” says Kennelly. Not to be confused with the lactic acid our body produces, the fluid is simply byproducts of the muscles being used. Kennelly says the pressure used during massages are lighter and help to better stimulate circulation through the lymphatic system.
If you can’t afford massages on a regular basis, at-home percussive therapy massagers, such as the Theragun (although pricey, but worth the investment) are a good alternative. “These tools help tenderize and loosen deep muscular tissue, which can become tight and knotted or scarred,” explains Watson. This technique also loosens up deep muscular tissue, which promotes blood flow to the region, and is the equivalent of a deep tissue massage. Kennelly adds, “They [percussive therapy tools] provide percussion and vibration, two other massage strokes that are useful in calming down nerve endings which helps the muscles to relax and will help to decrease pain.”
One of the big recovery tools many people tend to neglect is getting enough sleep. “Sleep has been proven to help with muscle recovery, glycogen store replenishment, mood, and energy level balancing,” Watson says, adding that the secret to a good night’s sleep is having a good evening routine that allows your body and mind to wind down before bed. “This means you should establish a period of relaxation, where you minimize screen time, don’t do any work or chores, and focus on slowing down,“ he explains. He also suggests hydrating well for a good night’s sleep, and to keep your smartphone in another room.
Other Recovery Methods
There are other forms of recovery that can help with any muscle soreness, but they can be pricey depending on the technique you go with. One cost-effective method is cold therapy. One way to achieve this method at home is by icing different sore areas of your body with a bag of frozen food. Or if you’re brave enough, take an ice bath or get in a Cryotherapy session. “The cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, then when warmed up again the flush of blood to the previously-constricted areas helps wash out the lactic acid built up during exercise,” explains Watson. Other ways to recover are wearing compression boots, which many athletes swear by and have been proven to help reduce muscle soreness. Or if you prefer a heat-based recovery method, Infrared saunas, unlike traditional saunas, are known to increase your skin temperature without raising your core temperature. This allows your joints, muscles, and even cardiovascular health to improve circulation and help with recovery. “Anything that can be proven to loosen tight muscles and promote blood flow to the area can be seen as a useful recovery tool,” says Watson. As always before trying out one of these recovery methods, consult with your doctor to make sure your health is in good standing.