I hope everyone is staying healthy and spending time on things that light up their hearts. For this post, I’m delving into post-exercise recovery methods that are restorative for the body and easy to attain.
A good recovery strategy is a vital component of any fitness program. Exercise creates microscopic-tears in our muscle fibers, especially with higher intensities, such as HIIT or weight training activities. Scheduling a recovery session will help these fibers rebuild strong and pliable, which will enhance your fitness gains and subsequent performance. I’ve chosen these specific methods because they fit my “simple yet effective” criteria and are incredibly easy to implement, hence, the “mere mortal” title. Before I go any further, I’d like you to look at your schedule and set aside a minimum of one hour a week to implement one or a combination of these recovery suggestions. Will you accept this challenge? Yes? Read on.
How wonderful is walking? I love it; it’s free, it doesn’t require fancy equipment, it’s easy to get started, and offers tons of health benefits with little to no risk, win-win. If you have a nature path nearby, you get the added benefit of breathing in that fresh forest air. If pandemic life has stifled your creativity, you’ll be happy to know that a Stanford study finds walking improves creativity; click here to read the study. I can personally attest to that one; I can barely contain all the creative juices spewing from my brain during a walk. A few more reasons why walking is a wonderful muscle recovery aid.
- Stimulating yet gentle, this is an excellent combination if you’re experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness or known to us anatomy geeks as DOMS.
- It improves circulation, bathing our achy muscles and damaged tissue with a fresh boost of nutrient-rich blood, which will decrease recovery time.
- Joint motion increases synovial fluid; this lubricates and delivers nutrients to the joints and its structures. During a walk, you’ll address the neck, shoulders, pelvis, hips, knees, all the way down to your ankles and feet.
- Improves sleep, which is critical for muscle repair. It’s no secret that exercise improves sleep. This study found that walking helps you fall asleep quicker and helps you sleep for a longer duration. Include a walk after a meal. You will decrease your blood sugar levels, ideal for individuals with type II diabetes.
Roll-out, Foam Rolling
So this is one you either love or hate. You can’t beat its simplicity or availability. I’ll admit, it may seem awkward and somewhat painful when you’re first getting started, but I promise you it’s worth your time. Here are a few reasons why. After an intense workout, a natural inflammation occurs to begin the tissue-repair process. Foam rolling can aid this process by decreasing the chance of these tissues developing adhesions (knots) and organizing them in proper alignment. Our fascia, the 3-dimensional connective tissue that surrounds our organs, muscles – everything really – contains mechanoreceptors that detect and respond to pressure by decreasing tension and enhancing parasympathetic activity. With muscle tension gone, albeit temporarily, your muscles will be pliable, facilitating a good stretch and increasing joint range of motion. A few more benefits to foam rolling, as stated in this study.
- Shortens recovery time by reducing soreness; this may potentially allow you to train at a higher volume.
- Increases local blood flow, great for getting all that good “juju” into the muscles.
- Increases joint range of motion without losing muscle strength; this enhances muscle performance. NOTE: This makes it a great adjunct to your warm-up routine; keep it brief and rhythmic to reduce muscle tension and increase tissue temperature.
- Foam roll in sections.
- Begin with the trunk, then extremities.
- When you find a tender or sore spot, pause in that area for 30 – 90 seconds, use your body weight to adjust pressure.
Foam roll rhythmically and repeat the area 2-3x. Learn more foam rolling tips and techniques by reading my blog post on the subject; click here.
Contrast Water Therapy/Shower
Hydrotherapy has been used in therapeutic ways for eons. From athletes dipping their bodies into a bucket full of ice water or rehabilitating an injury in a pool, to restorative hot springs. Contrast water therapy, or, because I’m keeping this super attainable and straightforward, a contrast shower will have to do! When possible, I do use contrast water immersion, which is ideal. However, I’ve got some ways around that, but first, I’ll run down some of the benefits of contrast water therapy.
During an intense exercise bout, our muscle fibers tear, our joints are bracing impact, and our bodies are left inflamed. Immersing our bodies in a cold bath will quell the inflammation. Follow that with a warm water immersion. Now we have vasoconstriction and vasodilation, which enhances blood flow, thereby reducing inflammation. As a massage therapist, I often do this treatment for my hands and forearms. I fill up the kitchen sink with ice water and a deep bucket with warm water. This works even better if you have a double sink. I begin with warm water immersion for 2 minutes, followed by cold water immersion for 1 minute, and keep alternating for 10-15 minutes. By altering tissue temperature and blood flow, you may reduce muscle spasms, inflammation, and improve range of motion. Some studies show that contrast water immersion after exercise lowered post-exercise lactate and resolved muscle soreness quicker. I know you can’t wait to read all about that, so here’s the link to the study.
While not as effective as completely being immersed, a contrast shower will offer therapeutic value. Depending on your shower head, a wonderful massage will accompany your treatment. I’m a fan of a contrast shower after an intense exercise session. I find a contrast shower is easier to adhere to, and it feels awesome after a sweat session. I follow the 2:1 minute ratio of warm water to cold and repeat three times. I gradually adjust the water warmer and colder with each subsequent round. Always finish with cold water. I feel incredibly revived afterward. What makes these methods valuable is their sustainability and how easy it is to incorporate them into your lifestyle.
Recover with a Mindful Movement Session
Recovery days offer the opportunity to restore your body and catch up with your programming. It’s a chance to tune into your body and perhaps adjust or modify certain aspects of training. Using mindful movement, mobility, flexibility, or “call it what you prefer” will help your muscles align optimally and improve flexibility and mobility. Connect your breath to that movement, and you’ve got a simple yet powerful combination. It will strengthen your mind to muscle connection, boost mood, and decrease mental stress (we all could use that right now). At the start of your routine, try bringing attention to the rate and depth of your breath. Place one hand over your chest and the other on top of your navel; as you inhale and exhale, feel the waves of your torso. Lock that into memory and repeat that exercise at the end of your cool-down to compare.
How do you recover? Do you use any of the methods I mentioned? If you don’t have a plan in place, begin with one thing, and remain consistent. Check back soon, I will have a part two to this post. I will delve into recovery methods using CBD oils and percussion massage tools.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need guidance and support with your fitness journey. With a customized training program that considers your lifestyle habits and stressors, you will learn tools and strategies to build sustainable habits and maximize your health. Start today by scheduling a free 20-minute consultation; click here. We will discuss your top fitness priorities, perform a postural body scan, and figure out how to incorporate a meaningful program into your lifestyle.
Thanks for stopping by!
Stand tall, Breathe deep-
ACE/NASM Certified Trainer
NYS Licensed Massage Therapist