For most of my life, I have been someone who has neglected any focus to recover after a workout. Usually, it would involve what I think I need. Electrolytes after a sweaty run, protein shakes after a heavy lift, or wolf down as much food as possible after a marathon.
One of the hardest things that most people have when they are trying to start a new workout routine or get back into shape is that they end up doing a combination of a few things. They might put more than their body weight on a squat rack and crank out as many reps as possible, even though they haven’t squatted in years. They also might go to a CrossFit class and burn themselves out and have that mentality that if they can walk the next day, then the workout wasn’t hard enough. Eventually, they give up on the fitness journey altogether because they get frustrated they aren’t making enough progress despite going through pain every week.
Most of us want to keep our foot on the gas pedal at all times. It’s usually not sustainable. For all those hours you may focus on breaking yourself down, you need to spend as much time building yourself back up. This is where methods of recovery come into play.
What Happens To Your Body After A Workout
This may come as a surprise, but many studies indicate that muscle soreness (or lack of muscle soreness) is not a good indicator that your body is recovered. To my surprise in researching this, it actually turns out that muscle soreness is more neurological than it is a sensation of those microscopic tears we are looking for to make those gains.
Some research indicates that it can take up to 2 weeks for those microscopic tears in your muscles to recover after running a marathon. I know from experience that my soreness is usually gone within 2–3 days after a marathon. This doesn’t mean that you should take 2 weeks off completely after running a marathon. This means that you should take it easier on the body post-marathon to allow it to recover faster.
What Can You Do To Recover Faster?
When going through some techniques to recover faster, it’s not a magic pill to make you heal like Wolverine. I look at it as I’m getting out of my own way to let my body heal as fast as possible.
Cryotherapy was all the raves just a few years ago, and for some reason, you don’t hear as much about it anymore. I assume part of it is the cost. The average cryotherapy session is about $60-100. That’s obviously not sustainable for 99% of the population to do on a consistent basis. The good news is there are alternatives to getting exposed to the cold without spending $60-$100 each time. That is either taking an ice bath or taking a cold shower.
Tons of ads are today trying to convince you that you need to buy a special cold plunge or a special ice bath to properly get exposed to the cold. Some of these baths I’ve seen range from $800-$4000! Don’t fall for that. If you have a bathtub in your house, all you need to do is go out and buy a few bags of ice or invest in a good-sized ice maker and use your personal bathtub. I’ve done this in the past and I will tell you, it feels great! The cold sucks so much in the beginning, your feet feel petrified stepping into the water. I would basically just fill my bathtub up with two 20 lb ice bags, set a timer for 10 minutes, and wait it out. If you want to know the temperature of your water, I suggest just using a regular meat thermometer to get an idea.
Fast-forward to today, I no longer have a bathtub in my apartment. The alternative now is to take a cold shower. The only downside about a cold shower is the water temperature is largely out of your control. I live in Chicago, and the water temperature in the winter is far colder than in the summer.
If you live in a warmer climate, the water temperature might now be that cold at all. If that’s the case, you can go out and buy a cheap blow-up swimming pool or something like that to make sure you get your exposure to the cold. There are also some insulated collapsible cold plunge tubs now for about $120 now, which isn’t terrible. The benefit of those are that some of them can hold ice for a few days, so you don’t have to keep refilling it with ice. Whenever I take a cold shower, I feel better.
Cold exposure helps generate brown adipose tissue which is essential for heat production in the body.
Foam rolling works, but not for the reason most people think. While foam rolling does help fascia release and smooth out the muscles, the main thing that it does is it helps increase blood flow to the affected areas that you are treating.
In my experience with foam rolling, every night that I have foam rolled before bed, I have had an increase in my recovery score on my Oura ring. Is it just a correlation? I’m not 100% sure, but this is something that I’m intending to keep doing. Foam rolling even for 20 minutes helps. If anything, it helped me relax before going to bed, which certainly has an impact on sleep, and we know sleep is essential for recovery.
If you don’t have your diet cleaned up, you will inhibit your body’s ability to recover greatly. Eating foods that help reduce and mitigate inflammation is essential. While inflammation is a part of the process of post-exercise, eating inflammatory foods is adding gas to the fire and can make it uncontrollable.
I’ve had days in the past where I’ll have a night out drinking with friends, I’ll eat junk food, and stay out late. Two or three days later, I would be doing a 24-hour fitness event. Looking back at this, I was doing my body such a horrible disservice. I thought that as long as I didn’t do it the night before, I would be okay.
Inflammation from alcohol can take 24–48 hours to completely clear through your body. That’s also not mentioning the junk food and lack of sleep that I had as well. If my body is inflamed from alcohol, it’s not fully allocating its resources to recover from anything else.
EAAs or essential amino acids have become key for me not feeling those dreaded DOMS. Research shows that taking 10-20g is the most optimal to help reduce soreness and aid recovery post-workout.
Personally, I take EAAs before and after a workout. I often work out in the morning and don’t like to eat a lot of food before working out. EAAs work well since they don’t upset my stomach and help get something in my stomach as well.
Meditation/ Breath work
Meditation and breath work may seem like an odd thing to put into an article about helping the body recover from exercise. While meditation in itself does not appear to directly help the body to recover, the main thing that it does help is reduced stress.
The higher your cortisol levels are, the less your body will be able to recover. If you are constantly in a fight or flight mode, how is your body supposed to relax and allow itself to recover well?
Meditation also helps increase body awareness. They’re maybe an area that is bothering you that you are ignoring. Meditation can help you understand if it’s just soreness or the start of an injury.
More studies are coming out on the benefits of meditation, but it is a tool that is being used by many elite athletes to help them recover and increase body awareness.
I’ve learned that I should take recovery as seriously as my training. In fact, I would even say that you should look at recovery as a part of your training. We continually try to go all the time, but forget to take a moment to relax and let the body do something it was designed to do.
I used to always look at recovery as a waste of time for myself. Use it as an opportunity to be present. We do not allow ourselves a lot of time for body awareness in a rested state. I forgot how tight my back was until I massaged it with a LaCrosse ball. It built in a reminder for me that I need to have better posture and continue to work towards balancing my body.
The more you take recovery seriously, the more you’ll be able to train efficiently and effectively.