The 3 BEST Therapies to Improve Athletic Recovery
Why Is Athletic Recovery Important?
There are two types of recovery: normal everyday recovery from a recent workout and long-term recovery from an injury.
Recovery After a Workout
We’ve all experienced sore muscles and joint stiffness a few days after a workout.
Working out fatigues our muscles, joints, and minds. Our bodies need time to recharge with a period of recovery. This is the first type of recovery. This recovery period is what helps our bodies build our muscles back up after we’ve worked them hard in the gym. But optimal recovery doesn’t only mean being inactive or letting your body rest. Instead, it’s better to take an active approach! An active approach speeds up your recovery and improves your athletic gains.
Recovery After an Injury
The second type of recovery is when the body is healing from an injury. This type of recovery takes much longer and is a much more grueling process. It’s the type of recovery that we hope we never have to go through—it’s no fun being injured! But unfortunately, it happens to the best of us.
When we hear the word “injury”, most of us think of something like a broken ankle or torn ligament. While those are definitely serious injuries, more common types of athletic injuries are the ones that creep up on us. These injuries are from repetitive motion, improper form (in the gym, at work, etc.), and imbalance in the body. They are the ones caused by our everyday movement–and we may not notice our poor form until we start to feel pain! We all enjoy the “burn” during a good workout, but sharp and shooting pain is a sign of an injury—NOT good! This pain can linger for days, weeks, months, and longer.
If not addressed, these injuries can have lifelong effects on our bodies. We can be proactive about this type of recovery too! The root of these injuries is how we move. I’ll be talking about that in another blog. But if we do sustain an injury, a proactive approach to recovery is key!
Recovery After a Workout
First, let’s look at ways to recover from soreness and stiffness after a workout. These recovery methods enable your muscles to keep moving and functioning every day. Optimizing this type of recovery helps push yourself when you’re working out, without breaking your own body down into pieces.
Not all recovery means resting! Being active, without pushing ourselves too hard, is great for recovering from a hard workout. Intense workouts put stress on joints, muscles and connective tissues. Our bodies need time to rebuild and recover from this stress. Our bodies don’t like being stagnant. A 2016 study showed that being active after muscles have been pushed to fatigue during a hard workout, will help them recover faster. Plenty of low-stress and low-load movement is key to speeding up recovery.
Active recovery helps to:
- Keep our joints mobile and lubricated
- Prevent stiffness and inflammation in our joints the next time we work out
- Remove waste produced by our bodies from our muscles and tissues
- Stretch out and ease stress in our body’s tissues and joints
Our legs have the largest muscle groups in our bodies. Our leg muscles can output a lot of energy, and they need an appropriate amount of recovery! If you had a killer full day work out a low-impact hike, or a 15-minute stretch routine the next day are great ways to speed up your body’s recovery.
Below is a 15-minute stretch routine that is PERFECT after a full-body workout:
Downtime, nutrition, and quality sleep
Downtime, nutrition, and quality sleep are all huge factors when it comes to recovery. Skipping these will impact the gains we work so hard for in the gym. We already discussed how active recovery helps speed recovery. But at some point, our body DOES need rest too! Most of us think of exercise as a form of therapy to get our endorphins flowing and make us feel good! That being said, time away from intense exercise is also good for our bodies. Quality downtime is essential to keeping our bodies healthy. It needs time to rebuild our muscles, recharge our energy reserves, and process the movement we’ve put it through during the day. This downtime is also important for keeping our minds healthy as well.
It’s no secret that we are what we eat. It sounds cliche, but if our bodies don’t have the right nutrients, they won’t have the building blocks to recover, grow, and get stronger. You can spend all the time you want in the gym, but if your diet is lacking, your gains will be as well.
What you choose to put in your body has an enormous impact on how you feel, perform, and recover. A well-rounded, high-protein, nutrient-dense diet is key to a speedy recovery. That doesn’t mean that you have to avoid all your favorite sweets and treats though–it’s OK to splurge every once in a while! What is important is that you are giving your body the fuel it needs to power your growth and recovery. Lots of veggies, fiber, and protein are a great place to start! Check out these recipes for some great examples of nutrient-rich meals.
Also check out our video on our favorite healthy meals: Top 3 Easy, Healthy, and Inexpensive Meals!
Lastly, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of quality sleep! Our bodies simply can not function efficiently without enough sleep. Sleep is essential for our bodies to recover and grow. If proper nutrition provides the building blocks for growth and recovery, then quality sleep is the construction crew. Sleep plays an important function in how our muscles grow and our health. I’ve seen many people that have great diets, fantastic training programs, but whose sleep suffers because of work or personal habits. They often wonder why they aren’t seeing the results they expected from their training. But don’t realize that the problem is their poor sleeping habits.
During the night, our soft tissues, neural connections, joints, etc., repair. When we sleep our bodies and brains don’t have to process all our senses, movements, and stresses, that it does when we are awake. Sleep is the period where the body is able to focus most on rebuilding and strengthening itself.
Sleep Builds Strength
One major factor in this growth and recovery is human growth hormone (HGH**), which occurs naturally in our bodies. HGH promotes muscle growth, bone density, and boosts metabolism. According to a 2012 study sleep is important to the natural creation of HGH in our bodies. The same study also found that HGH surges every two hours while we’re sleeping. This points to the fact that both the quantity AND quality of your sleep affect the production of HGH. If we sleep for 10 hours, but all that sleep was restless, our bodies may not reach the periods of peak HGH production. If we get great quality sleep, but only 4 hours of it, our bodies don’t have the time to focus on what it needs to recover. Without good quality sleep, you are seriously hurting your athletic and recovery goals!
Don’t forget to stay well hydrated as well! We are ~70% water after all. 🙂
** NOTE: It’s important to note that we are referring to the NATURAL production of HGH in our bodies (produced in our pituitary gland). There is little to no evidence that synthetic HGH, HGH supplements, or HGH injections provide any benefit to your health (unless prescribed by your doctor for a specific medical condition, such as an HGH deficiency) and can actually cause severe health risks. Read more here!
Encouraging Blood Flow
Our bodies are built to move. Movement is healthy, movement is life. It can be helpful to think of our bodies as though they were a body of water. Would you rather your body be a stagnant pond or a flowing river? Stagnant water is often full of nasty things like sludge, viruses, and bacteria. A flowing river is constantly moving, flushing things out, and bringing new nutrients and minerals to the organisms that live in it as it flows. While our bodies don’t work EXACTLY like this (and yes, certain things do still live in stagnant water), it’s a good analogy for the importance of movement in our bodies.
As mentioned above, movement is especially important after a workout or exercise. Following a workout, we don’t want our bodies to be like a stagnant pond. We want our bodies to be like the flowing river. It’s important to encourage a healthy amount of blood flow to help our bodies recover. It can be improved by being proactive with your recovery. Studies have shown that therapies such as massage, percussion therapy, and compression techniques can promote blood flow to speed this process up. Increased blood flow helps deliver important nutrients and minerals to your muscles. When we train our muscles, they develop micro-tears to promote future growth. Increased blood flow helps your muscles get the building blocks they need to repair these tears to build them up stronger than before.
An easy way to increase blood flow is by using contrast therapy. There are many different types and styles of contrasting therapy. Fortunately, there is one way that can be easily done at home, all you need is your shower! It’s one of my favorites because nothing feels better than a nice long shower after a heavy workout. Contrast therapy works by applying contrasting effects to the body–in this case, temperature using your shower.
The application of contrasting temperatures “exercises” your arteries, veins, and lymph system. The heat from the hot water expands vessels and fluid passages, while the colder water constricts them. This can create pressure gradients in your body that alter localized blood and fluid flow. This post-workout treatment has many health benefits ranging from an increase in the skin’s elasticity to reduced muscle soreness. It also helps give your body and mind a bit of a “pick me up” from the fatigue of your workout. It has also been shown that this type of contrast therapy can also have positive psychological effects that can lead to improved athletic performance–after all, performing at your best means a healthy mind too! This ‘pumping’ increases circulation, encouraging the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to tissues. The best part of using your shower for contrast therapy is that it’s free!
Using Contrast Therapy
To incorporate contrast therapy, first, take a long hot shower, (make sure that the water is warm enough, slightly raising your body temperature). After your nice long hot shower, finish it off by switching to cold water for about 30 seconds. Make sure that the cold water is approximately 18-20°F (10-11°C) colder than your hot shower. Make sure that your entire body is in the cold water, including your head, for the most benefit. If you’re not sure if the water is too hot or too cold, try slowly increasing or decreasing the temperature. If you’re recovering from an intense workout, you can repeat this hot-cold cycle 2 more times.
Let me know how you feel after trying this! Always check with your doctor before initiating this or any treatment.
Using all Three
While each method has its benefits, using all three can be a powerful combination.
Imagine your body like a car. Any car needs regular maintenance in order to continue to function efficiently. Changing the oil, tires, and belts is a part of regular car maintenance. Cars have lights that come on to remind us that maintenance is needed before a more serious problem occurs. Our body’s maintenance is sleep, nutrition, active rest, and increasing blood flow. It’s important to take note of our own body’s reminders so we can avoid injury.
Start incorporating active recovery into your daily routine so it becomes second nature. I suggest taking one active recovery one step at a time. For the first month, try contrasting therapy. Always end each day with a nice cool rinse in the shower. Starting the next month, start scheduling a post-workout activity or a 15-minute stretch program following your exercise routine. In your third month, download a sleep app to track your sleep habits. Analyze your sleep patterns and find ways to improve sleep quality. When we are aware of what we need to do, we can set up a plan to achieve our goals. This includes getting on track to improved athletic recovery!
No matter how active (or inactive!) you are, soreness and fatigue is bound to happen. By taking the extra time to recover you can ensure you will enjoy the activities that you love. And stay injury-free and pain-free! Stay tuned for next week’s blog where I’ll be talking about what we can do when recovering from an injury.
If you need help with your recovery, we can help! Our ELDOA exercise and SOMA training programs are perfect for maintaining your athletic performance and recovering faster. Check out our home training programs here. If you want a free consultation, let us know! Click the “FREE SESSION” button below to schedule a session.
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