4 RECOVERY METHODS YOU SHOULD ADD TO YOUR ROUTINE.
The most important part of the workout isn’t the workout—it’s after.
That’s when muscles grow, when you get stronger, when mitochondria replicate, when glycogen regenerates, when depleted cells rehydrate. It’s where the actual benefits of physical training occur.
The workout is the stimulus, and the time after your workout is where your body adapts to the training. Your recovery methods make or break your training.
What’s the typical advice?
Eat, sleep, repeat.
This advice isn’t bad. It’s actually the foundation of workout recovery.
But it’s the absolute bare minimum. There’s more you can do, and should do if time allows.
COLD WATER IMMERSION
Cold water immersion done right after a workout can reduce soreness and muscle pain and get you back into competition more quickly, but it may impair strength and fitness gains.
How do you reconcile this?
If you absolutely need to get back into the gym or on the track on short notice, cold immersion will get you competing faster. The studies are clear:
- Cold water exposure restores muscle contractile function and reduces soreness following simulated collision sports
- Both cold water immersion and hot/cold contrast therapy help restore force production following high intensity interval training.
- Cold water immersion helps sprinters maintain their performance over the course of consecutive training days.
- Cold water immersion helps basketball players recover from their games.
This is why you see athletes of various sports getting into ice baths after games/ events: so they can perform again tomorrow. Makes sense for competition, but not necessarily for training.
If you’re training for long term adaptations to your strength and cardiovascular fitness, cold immersion should not be done immediately post-workout. Doing so (within 10 minute after a training session) has been shown to reduce long term strength adaptations and even size gains by attenuating the normal post-workout rise in satellite cell number and activity of the kinases that control muscle hypertrophy.
For as average joes, training for life – take a cool bath/shower or dip in the ocean the evening after a workout (if you’re a morning athlete), or the next morning (if you’re an evening athlete). Don’t do it right after the workout. And don’t do it every training day.
1-3x per week is optimal based on studies.
If the post-workout effects of cold immersion are often undesirable, the post-workout sauna is a wholly positive force for workout recovery.
Post-workout sauna sessions improve endurance performance in runners. A study lasting three weeks, had endurance runners sit in 89° C (+/- 2° C) humid saunas for 31 minutes following training sessions. This amounted to an average of 12.7 sauna sessions per runner. Relative to control (no sauna), sauna use increased time to exhaustion by 32%, plasma cell volume by 7.1%, and red cell volume by 3.2% (both plasma cell and red cell volume are markers of increased endurance performance).
Post-workout sauna use increases plasma volume in male cyclists. Following training sessions, cyclists sat in 87° C, 11% humidity saunas for 30 minutes. Just four sessions were sufficient to expand plasma volume. This is important because increasing plasma volume improves heat dissipation, thermoregulation, heart rate, and cardiac stroke volume during exercise.
Again, us average joe’s don’t need to be hitting the sauna within seconds of finishing a workout, but 1-2 x a month using a dry sauna, an infra-red sauna, or simply a hot bath or dip in the hot tub has proven to work wonders in aiding recovery.
Walking is always a good idea. No matter your situation, go for a walk. At the worst, it doesn’t make anything worse and nothing changes (but you still got a walk in). And there’s a very good chance it improves whatever situation you’re dealing with. Same goes for workout recovery.
There’s a real epidemic of people who train hard in the gym a few times a week and then sit on their asses the rest of the week. They might even look strong or fit, but they’re leaving a lot of fitness on the table by not moving frequently at a slow pace.
Resting doesn’t mean “being sedentary.” On the contrary, consistent low level movement helps stimulate lymph flow, which helps reduce and repair muscle damage and speed up both recovery and adaptations – think back to those times where you hit a MOVE Class full of squats, and then spent the following day at your desk, and how hard it was to get up and walk to the bathroom 😂.
A post-workout walk will also burn many of the free fatty acids you just liberated during the workout. This can improve body fat loss, if you’re going for that.
If you have the time, immediately post workout, go for a brisk 15-20 minute walk to cool down and to get some gentle movement for the tissues you just stressed.
On your rest days, make sure to get a lengthy walk, or series of short walks in. Walk as much as you can, as often as you can, basically. Let’s call this strategy JFW—”Just F—ing Walk.”
Although a legitimate deep tissue massage from a professional (or enthusiastic loved one) can’t really be topped, its beneficial effects on recovery can be emulated.
Self massage, also known as self myofascial release, involves using an object (usually an external implement, but sometimes a knuckle, elbow, or knee) to break up adhesions/knots in the fascia/muscle. This “releases” the tissue and allows normal, full movement that was being limited by the adhesions. If you can’t move your body or get into the proper positions, you haven’t recovered from your workout and any future workouts will suffer. Here’s a couple of go to’s when your muscles need a release:
Foam roll. A formerly conspicuous dearth has recently given way to a steady stream of evidence supporting the use of foam rolling for increasing knee range of motion without decreasing strength, increasing hamstring range of motion without decreasing strength, reducing soreness after a hard workout, and even improving arterial function. In my experience, foam rolling is most effective on the upper back, the anterior and lateral thighs, and the calf. If the foam roller isn’t enough for you, try a PVC pipe.
A lacrosse ball. More precise than the foam roller, the lacrosse ball is well suited for hamstrings, that area right above the knee cap, the hips, the glutes, feet and the scapular region.
A good rule for self release is to find a sensitive spot and stay there until it stops being so sensitive, moving the joint through a full range of motion and oscillating back and forth on the spot. So, if you’re digging into the area above your knee cap with a lacrosse ball, flex and extend the knee while applying pressure.