A closer look at some protocols that will not only ensure that you keep your post-workout aches and pains to a minimum while also allowing your body to gain better fitness and strength from that killer workout that landed you in this hot and sweaty mess.
Since I published the article "6 Reasons Recovery is Essential to Your Exercise Routine," I have received several questions from readers looking for more information on how to properly recover. So in this article, we are going to look at some protocols that will not only ensure minimal levels of post-workout discomfort, but also allow your body to recover quickly and gain better fitness and strength from being the dedicated mover and lifter that you are.
Why Workout Recovery Is Important
As you learned in the previously mentioned article, our fitness builds, our muscles grow, and we become fitter and stronger when our bodies are placed under a certain amount of stress. Then, during the recovery period after a workout, the body repairs its fibers and builds new blood vessels to the stressed area. In addition, the energy-generating components of our cells develop a better work ethic and even our bones step it up a notch.
But—and this is a big but—none of these adaptations will occur if the body is not allowed to get the rest and recovery it needs. Basically, exercising without recovering is a bit like trying to cook a steak without turning on the grill: you go through all the steak cooking rituals, but your meal is still going to be served raw.
Often when I tell an athlete that they need to take a recovery day they panic and think I am telling them that they need to stay in bed or lay on the couch with a box of bonbons. That rings alarms in their well-trained brains. But that's far from what I intend for them to do. What I prefer is something called Active Recovery.
What Is Active Recovery?
The activity known as active recovery is simple. Rather than letting all that inflammation, swelling, and muscle damage simply sit there like a lump after you have crushed a hard workout or race, you move the muscles instead.
An active recovery includes easy workouts that are the equivalent of no more than 60 percent of your maximum effort (in other words, very low to moderate intensity). This type of movement helps the muscles stay loose and can bring more blood flow to the areas with damaged tissue. This can help them heal faster and allow you to bounce back more quickly.
Circulation of blood in and out of a stressed body part improves the speed of recovery. Techniques that can improve blood flow include cooling down after your workout, taking a walk or easy bike ride, performing light stretching during or after each workout, alternating between warm and cool running water during your post-workout shower, taking an ice bath after a weight training workout or hard run, and performing a light jog, swim, or easy exercise routine the day after a hard workout.
Active recovery has also been shown in studies to help your immune system by moving what is known as lymph fluid around your body. That can make you less likely to get sick after a tough event or workout.
The Recovery Day
When one of the athletes that I coach sees “Recovery Day” in their schedule it usually reads something like this:
This is not a day to lay on the couch or to make up for a missed workout, today is a day to actively focus on recovery.
Morning: Start with 10-15 minutes of foam rolling and massage ball. Hunt for every tight/sore spot and roll it out. Next, move on to 10-15 minutes of gentle movement, stretching, and deep breathing.
Afternoon/Evening: Choose any or all of the following depending on time.
- Cold/hot contrast shower (20 seconds cool, 10 seconds warm, 10x times through for a total of 5 minutes).
- 30 minute sauna.
- 20 minute ice bath/cold water soak.
All day: Eat and Hydrate well. Focus on a variety of veggies, a decent amount of protein, and add in a few more carbs than usual (avoiding inflammatory refined sugars).
So with that in mind, let’s examine those techniques, and a few others, in detail.