If you workout consistently or practice a sport, you’ll want to include recovery training in your routine. The accumulated strain from these activities can cause adhesions (knots) and chronic low-level inflammation. If left untended, adhesions and inflammation disrupt normal movement mechanics. This creates muscle imbalances and increases your risk of injury. Recovery routines ensure the body adapts to training in the most efficient manner. It protects against excessive inflammation and helps restore your strength and energy.
This post will bring you recovery methods you could start using right away. Some require a bit of an investment but are worth considering if you have an active lifestyle.
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Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Voodoo
Indulge me here, I like to have some fun while writing. I call Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) voodoo because the exact mechanisms by which it works are not clear. There are many theories, all involving neuromuscular pathways. There’s no shortage of research papers that will delve into these theories – here’s one of them, click this link if you’d like all the dirty details.
Okay, but what is it?
PNF is a stretching technique commonly used in clinical settings to restore range of motion after surgery or injury. It was originally developed to treat patients with neuromuscular conditions such as polio. Later, the treatment philosophy and approach expanded and it was used to treat musculoskeletal issues. It has been adopted in the fitness world for its effectiveness in increasing both active and passive ranges of motion. It has also been found to improve muscular performance if incorporated post-exercise or on recovery days – this is what makes it a great recovery tool!
If done before exercise, it will actually decrease muscular performance, especially in activities such as sprinting, plyometrics, and weight-lifting. PNF is believed to engage our muscle reflexes causing a temporary inhibition in the target muscle. This inhibition facilitates the applied stretch. Basically, telling the muscle to chill out so that your stretch will go farther. This leads to increased muscle flexibility, allowing you to improve strength and force production.
In order to maintain your newfound flexibility, PNF must be performed regularly and consistently. The recommendation is two times a week. Some factors that affect the effectiveness of PNF are; the method applied, the muscle being stretched, age, and gender. Some populations that PNF might not be right for; pregnant women, people with cardiovascular issues, and people with ligament laxity.
I am a huge fan of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) for its ease of implementation, accessibility, and effectiveness. I assign it as homework to training clients to help maintain and improve flexibility. Want to train with me?
I use two methods of PNF, contract-relax method (CR), and contract-relax-antagonist-contract method (CRAC). You will come across variances of these methods, many in the amount of muscle force applied and the stretch length. PNF is best done with assistance from a trainer or therapist but can certainly be applied solo with the help of a stretch band (a towel or belt will work too!). Below I’ve embedded two videos that execute both methods. Some critical things to keep in mind;
- Whether working with a partner or stretch band; find your initial stretch barrier, that is your starting point, hold there for 10 seconds, and breathe rhythmically.
- Your breath is a vital component of the technique; resist the urge to hold your breath and exhale on the stretch and contraction.
- On the contract portion of the technique do not apply maximum force (people tend to cramp up when they do), use a third of your strength, and move slowly through the contraction (no abrupt movement).
- The same applies to the stretch portion of the technique; do not apply a maximum stretch. Instead, slowly increase the stretch barrier with each repetition.
- Repeat sequence 3-4 times.
Massage Gun and Vibrating Foam Rollers
This suggestion comes with an investment in time and money. Here, I’ve gathered information to streamline your search! To begin with I’ll answer; What’s a massage gun, why use one and what precautions to take?
A massage gun is a powerful handheld device that uses percussion therapy to affect deep layers of muscle tissue – envision a jackhammer at work. Much like a power drill, it comes with various attachments that will literally beat into your muscles – big or small. It’s like a cyborg massage therapist without the intuition.
Benefits and Usage
Percussion therapy allows for a more intense treatment of the target muscle compared to foam rolling. This efficiently increases local blood circulation, delivery of nutrients, and removal of cellular waste products. This is a big deal because it speeds up recovery time after a workout, meaning that after leg day, you’ll be able to walk up a flight of stairs instead of crawl. It also helps decrease excessive muscle tension and minimizes adhesions.
Studies have shown vibration and percussion therapy to help increase range of motion, flexibility and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. A summary of benefits:
- Facilitates exercise recovery by reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and pain.
- Helps with injury prevention.
- Increases range of motion and flexibility.
- Minimizes accumulation of adhesions.
- Portable and more affordable than getting a massage weekly (please don’t break up with your massage therapist).
The massage gun comes with varying “beat you up” intensity levels. Use it wisely. Consider the size of the muscle you’re working on. Work on area 1-2 minutes and utilize small shifting movements to keep from numbing one spot. Stay away from areas where nerve bundles reside, such as the groin, back of the knee, and anterior neck. Target the beefy muscles, steering clear of any bony prominences.
The massage gun can treat a diverse population of varying ages and occupations. However, consider seeing an actual massage therapist if you have any sensory problems or are taking blood thinners. Sensory issues can make it difficult for you to gauge pressure or pain. Blood-thinner medications can cause you to bruise easily. Consult your doctor before using a massage gun if you have any medical conditions or are taking prescribed medications.
Ready to review and compare? Here’s a great site that will give you the low down on the best massage guns as of July 2021, CLICK HERE. One that I really like is the Theragun Prime with app-guided presets, 5 speeds, and 4 attachments; including thumb and cone attachments which are great for pinpoint muscle treatments.
Check out the embedded video below, which details the attachments that commonly come with massage guns and how to use them properly.
Vibrating Foam Rollers
Ready to level up from your lifeless foam roller? Enter the world of vibrating foam rollers! It’s a great recovery tool to have on hand. It’s portable, effective at increasing flexibility and decreasing muscle soreness. If GOAT and Super-God Tom Brady uses them, then a mere mortal like myself is sold.
So why add vibration to a foam roller?
Vibration affects the nervous system by stimulating mechanoreceptors on our connective tissue that respond to pressure, vibration, and percussion. The end result is either relaxation or excitability, depending on the intensity and duration of the vibration.
The big bonus with a VFR is that it has an inhibitory effect on pain signals. This is based on the gate control theory. Essentially, only one painful stimulus can reach the brain at a time. The vibration is momentarily masking your painfully sore muscles. This will allow you to tolerate more pressure getting into deeper areas of muscle tissue. The benefits are; enhanced local blood flow, hydration of tissue layers, removal of metabolic waste, and feeling limber!
What to know before you buy
Consider what you want to use the foam roller for, i.e., are you an endurance runner, cyclist, or overworked software engineer? What muscles are in need of relief? Rollers come in various lengths, vibrating speeds, shapes, and a bevy of medieval knobby surfaces, etc.
- Surface Texture: Notice the bumps, ridges, and their depth. This will determine how far they’ll dig into you. Some rollers come with protruding nodes to target a small area, this simulates trigger point work which is great for relieving chronic tension.
- Vibration Settings: Some rollers come with up to 4 intensity levels. The more levels you have, the more versatility you have in treatment. Smaller muscles won’t require the same intensity that bigger muscles will. This also helps to introduce your body to the method slowly.
- Density: This could be hard as wood or more rubber-like and something in between. This affects the intensity of compression against your skin, muscles, and connective tissue. The denser the material, the more intense the compression.
- Shape: Just as rollers come in varying lengths and sizes, they also differ in shape. You will find sphere, ball, or peanut-shaped rollers in various sizes. These tools offer targeted treatment within a muscle. This shape is great for small areas, such as the calves, upper trapezius, or glutes.
Check out this website for a little side-by-side comparison of the 7 best foam rollers of 2021, CLICK HERE. I’ve been using the Lifepro 4-speed vibrating foam roller and have been happy with it so far. Its density is high, meaning I get more compression against my skin (think deep tissue massage). I’ve only used up to the 3rd vibration setting – this feels great and stress relieving for my bigger muscles. I’ve found that it helps relieve my inflammation and post-exercise soreness.
Now just for fun!
A little background on where all this vibration technology came from. You might have noticed at your gym an odd-looking machine with a vibrating platform. Above it is a giant poster with various fitness poses to hold while standing on this mini earthquake.
Vibration therapy didn’t always look so modern, but it did always look awkward. It has been around for some time, like since 1865. It was created by physician Dr. Gustav Zander to help people with injuries or disabilities get the exercise they couldn’t perform otherwise.
The video below gives us a nice ride through history and introduces us to the birth of gym machines.
As important as getting enough exercise is to improve physical and mental health, it’s equally important to rest and recover. Find what set of recovery tools work best for you and rotate between them. Cycling between these tools will give you a well-rounded routine.
I hope this post has been helpful.
If this post caught your interest be sure to read part one, Recovery Methods for Mere Mortals. It details simple yet effective recovery methods to aid your fitness routine so that you remain consistent and achieve your goals.
Thanks for stopping by!
Stand tall Breathe deep,
ACE, NASM Certified Trainer
NYS Licensed Massage Therapist