Most of us know that exercising hard every day is not the best way to achieve our health goals; even though sometimes it seems like it’s the only way. We all need time after exercise to allow our bodies to rest and heal and it is during this time off where we can make some significant health gains by making sure we are maximizing our recovery efforts.
Sleep – Are you getting enough?
Sleep is an important and often overlooked aspect of recovery. It is also the easiest thing you can do for yourself. Sleep is when most tissue repair takes place, meaning that healing is dependent somewhat on sleep. Aim to have a minimum of 7 – 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. A lack of sleep can also increase the release of stress hormones like Cortisol that can slow down your body’s production of Human Growth Hormone, needed for tissue repair.
Compression garments – Not just for old ladies with bad circulation.
Compression clothing has a great ability to keep your muscles closer together and can give you an extra edge when it comes to performance but perhaps an even better use is for recovery. People with circulatory troubles have been using compression socks and sleeves to help with the flow of blood for many years. You too can take advantage of the circulation boosting effects and wear them as part of our recovery regiment. Try wearing full length compression tops or bottoms while relaxing at home or when you sleep. Be careful your compression garments aren’t too tight; they should feel like a gentle hug not a Victorian era corset!
Nutrition – A balanced diet is all most of us need.
Nutrient timing, eating certain foods at specific times like before and after workouts, is mostly ineffective until your nutrition is adequate. However, increasing your protein intake can assist in tissue repair, especially after injury or intense bouts of exercise; while simple carbohydrates, sugars, and even caffeine before exercise can give you a little extra energy. Additionally, healthy fats help your body manufacture hormones that are important for tissue repair.
Active recovery – Rest doesn’t = your couch!
Light physical activity on days between higher intensity exercise sessions is something we can all do. Too many people get caught up in exercise math, making sure you get enough exercise during the week or day, and don’t take rest seriously. Moving on off days will help you counter the stiff and sore muscles you get from intense exercise. Lighter cardio activities like walking, cycling, and paddling are great ways to keep the body moving. Swimming has an added benefit of adding a compressive force, further enhancing recovery.
Stretching – Help your muscles heal and move properly.
The benefits of stretching are rarely talked about enough or taken seriously. It is a great way to calm the nervous system after a workout; fatigue can be as much mental as physical and stretching is a great way to help mentally recover after exercise. Stretching helps keep the body moving after exercise allowing your blood to continue to cycle, removing waste products as well as providing replenishing nutrients. Active stretching, commonly known as mobility, can improve range of motion in your joints and muscles and also encourages the body to form tissue in a linear pattern instead of in a web pattern meaning you will have less restriction.
Hot/cold contrast – the pros do it, so can you!
You don’t have to fully submerge yourself in ice then run to a hot tub to reap the benefits of hot/cold contrast therapy, although it is a great technique! Alternating between hot and cold showers, dipping your legs in an ice bath, using heating pads and ice packs are all easy ways to perform contrast therapy. Try sitting in a tub of cold or ice water after a leg workout and your legs will feel fresher the next day. Finish your shower off with cold water for an instant energy boost. Soaking your feet in a tub of hot water with some Epsom salts and finish with a cold foot soak will ease swollen achy feet from standing all day. Of course, if it is available, try whole body cryotherapy for the ultimate contrast therapy! (Hint… We have one at Sparkling Hill!)
Peaks and valleys – how does a “rest” workout sound?
Programming hard work outs all the time will lead to burn out. An effective program often has “peaks and valleys” where you not only have rest days but also have sessions that are less intense than others. Try taking it slower and easier one day a week or drop the weight and work on technique. An easy workout can have a nice mental payoff as well, especially if you’re the type of person that dreads your workout. Having an easy day just might get you more excited for exercise.
Get some help – Stop being selfish and let others help you!
Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, Massage Therapy, Kinesiology, and other health professions are trained to not only help you when you become injured but also to help you manage your training and recovery so you can avoid injury in the first place. If you can’t make it to see a professional or only see them sporadically, then try learning some self-myofascial release techniques, like foam rolling, to help you with your small aches and pains between treatments.
Paul Bradshaw l Kinesiologist