Working out is imperative to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but often overlooked is the recovery period after a workout. It can be argued that proper recovery is just as important as the workout itself. If done correctly, you can reduce the chances of injuries, bounce back sooner for your next workout, and even get the results you want faster.
Think of it this way: You just spent the afternoon making a homemade gift to send to a family member. Sure it’s a great feeling when you finish a time-consuming do-it-yourself project. But when it’s time to send the gift, wouldn’t you want to be sure you pack it well enough that it doesn’t break apart during shipping? This is similar to a recovery after a great workout. If you don’t care for your body when it’s in a recovery stage it will not bounce back as strong as it could otherwise, and quite possibly could break apart in the form of an injury.
Why Recovery is Important When Working Out to Avoid Injuries
Injuries most often occur when a muscle, or muscle group fails to do its job. Muscles are used to exert force and to absorb impact. When out on a run, your leg muscles are absorbing the impact with each step you take so less stress is put onto your bones and joints. Similarly, when in the gym performing bench presses or other weight lifting exercises, your muscles are exerting force to move heavy objects. In both scenarios, muscle groups that are not fully recovered cannot perform these tasks at 100%. This creates a condition where more force and impact is absorbed by other muscle groups trying to improperly compensate as well as your skeletal structure. This can result in immediate injury such as a torn muscle or ligament. However, most injuries occur over time through tired muscles that cannot take the shock of each workout. These common injuries can include tendentious, pulled muscles, and even stress fractures.
6 Ways to Optimize Your Recovery Time and Avoid Injuries
Fortunately, there are easy ways to reduce the risk of injury and increase your recovery time. There may not be a “one size fits all” approach for every type of workout. However, using a combination of several of the suggestions listed below can improve your performance as well as recover quicker for that next workout.
The Right Nutrition and Supplementation
Recovery actually begins before a workout even starts. By the time your workout is over, your body is already craving fuel to recover from its efforts. By eating a healthy, proper-sized snack prior to working out, you have given yourself a head start in the recovery process. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t refuel your body post-workout though. Protein is a primary tool to recover and rebuilt muscles to a stronger state. Complex carbohydrates, often found in whole wheat and whole grain foods, are important to recover your glycogen stores, which are used to fuel long periods of high-level effort.
Also important, is replacing the lost fluids from your workout. Drinking water or sports drinks immediately after a workout will increase the pace at which your muscles are rehydrated and electrolytes are restored. Many of these nutrients can be found in sports supplements as well such as whey protein, creatine, and glutamine. Be sure to compare products to see what fits best for your exercise routine.
A Post-workout Recovery Supplement Stack can include:
- Glutamine & BCAAs help Improve protein synthesis and muscle gain as well as aid in recovery.
- Whey & Soy Protien Blend will deliver a fast liquid source of protein to the muscles. This is Important to take during post-workout recovery, where the body is extremely anabolic.
- Fast Carbs help replenish glycogen stores in the muscles so that they’ll be refueled for your next workout.
- Creatine helps replenish natural creatine levels depleted during training. This supports muscle recovery and improves strength overtime.
Do Some Stretching
Another great tool to reduce recovery time and prevent injury is stretching on a regular basis. By stretching major muscle groups that are taxed during workouts, several benefits can be achieved. The first benefit is better flexibility. Over time, your muscles will become more flexible through regular stretching sessions. This will allow for longer ranges of motion and greater output by those muscle groups. Also, flexibility provides a resistance to potential injury as the muscles can bend and stretch easier without tearing. The second major benefit from stretching is that muscles can recover quicker from a workout. Stretching after exercising will prevent stiff joints and muscle groups and allow both blood flow and nutrients to flow quicker into and out of the muscles.
Take an Ice Bath
After a workout is done, an ice bath can be beneficial to shorten recovery time. A 2007 study by the International Journal of Sports Medicine found cold-water immersion therapy improved recovery from short maximal efforts. By spending several minutes soaking muscles in an ice bath, you can reduce the tissue swelling due to muscle breakdown as well as help to decrease inflammation. This will all benefit the body to flush out the muscles and increase the recovery process.
A few recovery methods include:
1. 10 – 15 minutes immersed in a 15 degree C (59 degree F) pool
2. 15 minutes in 38 degree C (100.4 degree F) water
3. Alternating for 10 – 15 minutes between cool and hot water
Use a Foam Roller and Massage Stick
Another helpful idea post workout is to employ the use of a foam roller or massage stick. These products allow you to essentially perform a “self-massage” by applying pressure to specific points and muscle groups. This in turn will allow your muscles to return quicker to their natural elastic, healthy state and avoid prolonged stiffness.
A Foam Roller vs The Massage Stick
The Foam Roller
- Uses your body weight for pressure to provide maximum massage effects
- Good for holding over trigger points
- Can be used at home or gym
- Comes in different firmnesses and shapes to massage different parts of the body
- Uses hands to push stick into muscle to provide massage effects
- Your strength will depend on the effectiveness
- Good for rolling across muscle
- Comes in different lengths to reach different points on the body
- Compact so it’s great for travel and portable use
Adding electrical muscle stimulation
Electrical muscle stimulation is the process where low-level electrical currents are used to contract muscles through a small medical device to stimulate muscle recovery and repair. A 2014 study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that there is a scientific consensus that electrical muscle stimulation will aid in recovery.
Electrical muscle stimulation is often used in physical rehab sessions to stimulate muscle recovery by shocking muscles (at very low levels) into a state of stress and then recovery. But, this process can also be used to benefit in recovery after a workout. Basic electrical muscle stimulation machines are affordable for any athlete.
Electrico muscle stimulation benefits include:
- Promotes rapid contractions which forces blood out of the capillary beds to get rid of unwanted waste from intense workouts.
- Getting rid of waste it helps you heal faster and recover easily.
- Creates more room for fresh blood to get to the muscle that brings the oxygen the body needs to recover.
- Recovering faster allows for shortened rest periods between workouts, which promote strength, mass and endurance.
The Right Amount of Rest
Most important of all recovery techniques is physical rest between workout periods. The body naturally heals and repairs itself quicker while we sleep. While each of us may not feel the need to have eight hours of sleep each night to function just fine, our muscles need the time to properly recover. During a period of sleep, blood flow increases to our muscles and increases the rate at which they are repaired. This is exaggerated more so during the REM portion of sleeping which typically does not occur until after 4 hours of being asleep. If you cut your sleep short, you are depriving your muscles the chance for quicker recovery during this period of rapid muscle repair.
Go the Extra Step
At the end of the day, a workout is only as good as the recovery period. If you do not give yourself a chance to repair and rebuild your muscles after each workout, you are missing out on the full benefits of our training. Imagine the impact you can have by taking the recovery period as seriously as the workout itself. Less injuries and stronger muscles are a win-win for everyone. Thanks for reading!