These simple recovery strategies will transform your energy – and your body.
What’s the big deal if you take your sore legs out for a run? It could mean wasting your breath rather than netting results. To help you get the most out of every workout, we’ve recruited top experts to explain the best post -exercise dos and don’ts. “Being smarter about recovery can help you become faster, leaner, stronger and fitter,” says physical therapist Robert Forster, the owner of Phase IV Scientifi c Health and Performance Center in the US.
For the most part, fit people can bounce back from a moderate workout within 24 hours, Robert says. During that time, your body resets itself: Hormone levels rebalance, inflammation goes down, the liver and muscles stock up on fuel, cells rid themselves of lactic acid and other waste products, and muscles and connective tissues lay down collagen and patch up tears. But a killer boot camp session might require 48 hours or more to recoup from fully. “And it could be 72 hours before you regain your entire range of motion,” Robert says.
That’s why it’s important that you limit intense workouts to three days a week, and if you’re doing daily resistance training or Crossfit, plan your routine carefully so you’re not challenging the same muscles in the same way each time. (That holds true for any exercise you do several days a week. Give your body a break by changing up your pace, intensity and distance, and by adding crosstraining.) “Overdoing it creates hormonal havoc, endocrine burnout [when chronic stress, in the form of too much exercise, overtaxes the system, making it less responsive], and injury,” Robert explains.
How you structure your routines is just part of the equation. What you do after can maximise the bodyshaping effect of those sessions. Try these top techniques for recovering faster and stronger, and you’ll see the results not only in the renewed power of your reps but also in the sculpted body they carve.
ICE RIGHT AWAY; HEAT THE NEXT DAY
Ice for 10 minutes after a tough workout (for example, ice your shoulders after a WOD loaded with clean and jerks). This slows blood fl ow to the area, which thwarts inflammation and swelling, says Alyssa Alpert, head athletic trainer for the New York Cosmos men’s professional soccer team. Keep icing throughout the day if you’re really sore. With stiffness or spasms, which might kick in the next day, use heat, suggests Dr Nadya Swedan, a physiatrist in the US. “The warmth speeds blood fl ow to the area, relaxing muscles.” Take a hot shower or use a heating pad.
FOAM-ROLL, THEN STRETCH
“Rollers help increase circulation and relax knotted tissues; stretching returns muscles to their normal resting length and helps line up new collagen fibres that your body creates during recovery,” Robert says. The National Academy of Sports Medicine in the US says to roll before getting bendy, because the pressure helps turn off over active muscles so you can stretch them more easily. During your cooldown, target the major muscles that you used – especially those in the lower body and back – for five minutes, rolling slowly back and forth along the length of the muscles. Next, stretch the same areas, Alyssa says. Later, go back over your entire body or zero in on still-tight areas with the roller. When you find a tender spot, don’t roll; remain stationary and breathe deeply for 30 to 60 seconds.
EAT PROTEIN AND CARBS SHORTLY AFTER YOUR WORKOUT
Thirty to 60 minutes after your workout is the window when your muscles are primed to take in protein to start the repair process, and carbs to refuel. “Make sure that within 30 minutes you have a snack containing 10g to 20g of protein and a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of protein to carbs,” says Andrea Vintro, a dietitian specialising in sports nutrition in the US. She suggests a cup of low-fat yogurt and a small banana for a total of 14g of protein and 40g of carbs. Eat the same ratio again within about two hours, unless you’re having a meal. To rehydrate, down at least two to four cups of water during this time as well. “Studies show that with rest and a balanced diet, your muscles’ glycogen stores can be replenished in about 24 hours,” Andrea says.
SLEEP WELL; KEEP MOVING
Lack of sleep leads to fatigue, depressed immunity, and higher stress hormone levels, which all make for a lousy workout, Dr Swedan says. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality shut-eye a night. If you’ve scheduled a workout but are feeling fatigued or achy or your muscles have that heavy sensation, that’s your body telling you it hasn’t recovered. Take a rest day, but don’t just sit around. “A little activity will help flush out any remaining lactic acid and keep your muscles loose, particularly if you’re working out hard every other day,” Alyssa says. That means stretch, hop on a bike for 15 minutes, or do yoga.
Many pros spend up to half their total training hours on recovery to fully net the benefits of all their hard work, Robert says.