In 2024, there’s little debate on the role exercise plays in our overall health! From reducing stress to improving mobility, exercise is medicine. But, like most things, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Yet, amidst the rush of our fitness progress, we often overlook these key elements: rest and recovery. Why is this? Perhaps you fear losing progress, or maybe you believe pushing yourself harder is the secret to success. It’s also possible you feel societal or familial pressures to constantly be active. Whatever your aversion to resting, my aim is to shift your thinking on workout recovery. Like consistently getting good rest and healthy nutrition, resting and recovery are key to enhancing your workout recovery!
During exercise, homeostasis is disrupted, affecting the body’s normal functions. This can lead to symptoms like inflammation, weakened immune function, and fatigue. This makes the body less efficient and can increase risk of illness or injury. Recovery is about giving the body time to repair, rebuild, and strengthen between workouts.
For some, rest means getting more physical sleep. But I want you to know that there are several ways to rest and recover that don’t involve a couch or a bed! There are various tools you can use to restore balance to your mind and body. Some of these strategies may prove more effective than others. What’s important is that you try different options to find what works for you. Today, I’m going to share with you my Top 6 Tools for Workout Recovery! Let’s jump in.
Ever felt sore a day or so after working out? Of course you have! Working out can cause muscle soreness from tiny tears, especially when you’re trying new exercises or pushing yourself hard. This process, called delay onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is your body’s way of rebuilding and getting strong. It’s like a signal telling your muscles they need to get stronger to handle the increased demands. Studies have shown that massage may help reduce DOMS. For some, massage can also alleviate stress, improve circulation and lymphatic flow, and enhance recovery perception. However, ensure the massage isn’t too aggressive. Some of the deeper more intense massage methods could cause more muscle damage if performed too soon after exercise.
Cryotherapy is a recovery technique where you expose your body to an extremely cold temperature for a few minutes. The most popular form of cryotherapy involves sitting in a cryotherapy booth for 3–5 minutes. Other ways involve filling up a bathtub with ice. Cryotherapy works by chilling the body, which lowers muscle temperature. As a result, a narrowing of the blood vessels reduces inflammation and pain. For some, cryotherapy may lead to reduced soreness, faster muscle recovery, increased energy levels, improved skin health, and potentially aiding in weight loss.
If you’re considering trying cryotherapy for workout recovery, here are a few things to keep in mind. While some studies suggest it can speed up recovery, critics argue that it may slow down the body’s natural healing process by reducing inflammation. Some potential negative effects could include risks such as frostbite, skin irritation, nerve damage, breathing difficulties, hypothermia, and adverse reactions. Overall, cryotherapy could be a great workout recovery option for your health journey! Consider consulting with your healthcare professional before you try it.
A contrast bath, also known as hot-cold immersion therapy, involves alternating between hot and cold water for a body part or the entire body. Typically, you switch between soaking in hot water for a few minutes and then in cold water for a shorter time. This temperature change makes your blood vessels contract and expand, affecting your heart rate. Studies have shown that contrast bath therapy may lead to improved blood flow, reduce muscle soreness, and accelerate recovery after exercise. The great news is that you can easily do this therapy for workout recovery at home with just two containers of water—one hot and one cold. Just be sure to adjust the temperatures for your comfort.
Compression involves wearing compression garments like socks, sleeves, or clothing during or after exercise to apply pressure to the body. These garments are designed to provide a snug fit without restricting movement and are believed to help alleviate muscle fatigue, soreness and stiffness. They may also accelerate the removal of lactate and metabolic byproducts, increase venous and lymphatic flow, and enhance muscle oxygenation. As a result, we could experience increased muscle recovery between workouts and less muscle soreness overall. Thinking about trying compression garments? You can start with compression socks or sleeves which can be found at sporting goods stores, local pharmacies, specialty running stores, and online stores like Amazon. I also recommend visiting your local wellness center to try relaxing in compression boots!
So far, the methods I’ve mentioned would fit into the passive recovery category. In those methods, the goal is to not engage in additional physical exertion. With active recovery, a little bit of movement can enhance your workout recovery. This recovery method involves gentle activity to boost blood flow, aiding in removing waste products from muscles after intense exercise. This blood flow delivers nutrients that help repair and rebuild muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Studies have shown muscles recover faster with this type of recovery when compared to passive recovery. Examples of active recovery exercises include walking, swimming, cycling, stretching, foam rolling or yoga.
Lastly, there’s Sauna Bathing. This heat therapy helps reduce muscle soreness by loosening muscular contractions. It also opens up blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach tired muscles. Additionally, the heat cleanses the airway, promoting better breathing efficiency by removing mucus and toxins. Increased sweating aids in detoxification, further assisting in recovery. Aim for a 15-minute sauna session, stay hydrated, and exit if you feel dizzy.
Overall, it is very important to recover between workouts to prevent injuries, such as muscle strains, and to decrease the risk of overtraining. Really, the benefits are endless. If you are noticing that your fitness is no longer improving, you are feeling tired, or your muscles are constantly sore, then you may need to spend more time recovering from your workouts. Trying these techniques, in addition to healthy eating and adequate sleep may help to enhance your recovery and even speed up the process.
Director of Fitness
Premier Fitness Camp