If you’re like me, then you will probably want to recover from training as quickly as possible. Proper recovery not only lets you train harder, but reduces the impact training has on the rest of your life. While a certain degree of stress is to be expected—and is unavoidable—you don’t want to be suffering when you should be enjoying time with family and friends. It’s for this reason I’ve focused this week’s blog on recovery. The fitness industry is FULL of advice on the subject, and each week it seems technology brings us a new gadget which is supposed to help. With so much out there, I thought it would be good to cut through the ‘waffle’ and bring you the essential information.
Why is recovery important?
A common misconception is that it is the training you do that helps you improve. In fact, that’s not the whole story. You actually progress when you rest. That’s right, when you’re watching TV following your training session, your body is making the physiological adaptations to improve performance. To briefly touch upon how training works, when you lift weights, perform cardio or undertake any other form of exercise, you place the body under stress. As a response, the body adapts by laying down new muscle fibres, increasing capillarization around muscles, increasing the size of your heart and much more. This sequence of overload and recovery is what leads to improved performance, and recovery is essential to enable this process. Without it, you will see diminished returns and a greater risk of injury.
How sore should I feel after exercise?
It’s hard for me to prescribe a specific level of soreness after a training session because there are so many factors involved. It’s incredibly subjective so what I may deem as light pain may be significant to someone else. However, what I can say with confidence, is that a small amount of muscle soreness within a 48-hour window of a training session is completely normal. The common term for post exercises soreness is ‘DOMS’ which is short for ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ which is muscle soreness about 24-48 hours post-workout. DOMS that manifests in light muscle tenderness and stiff joints is completely normal, but DOMS that results in muscles that are very painful to the touch or sharp pains in the joints is not normal.
What are the benefits of recovery?
Proper recovery has significant benefits to your performance and future training. Rest is vital for the muscles to repair, rebuild, and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work, and fitness goals.
What factors impact recovery?
The following factors impact recovery:
- Muscle size: Larger muscles require a longer recovery time because more fibres are damaged during training.
- Muscle number: Exercises that utilise more muscle groups (compound exercises) will increase recovery time.
- Muscle fibre: Interestingly, slow twitch muscle fibres (those used in endurance sports) recover more quickly than fast twitch muscle fibres (those used for explosive exercises).
- Type exercise: Exercises with a large eccentric component will result in additional damage to muscles and additional recovery needs.
- Age: As you age, the body’s capacity to heal diminishes, meaning older athletes will need longer recovery periods than younger athletes.
- Stress: Increased stress reduces energy and slows recovery time.
How do I improve recovery?
Ten great ways to improve your recovery:
- Get adequate sleep: Sleep is the time when the body does most of the repair work. Neglecting the recommended eight hours of sleep a night is risking poor recovery, and subsequent training sessions may use muscles that are still damaged. One of the most important things you can do to improve the quality of your recovery is improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
- Hydrate properly: When you drink water after a workout, you’re helping your body flush toxins out of your system. How much water you need will depend on how much you lose during exercise, but I would recommend at least a litre within a 90-minute window of finishing a workout.
- Protein/recovery shakes: Protein shakes work well because they contain protein that has been broken down into its basic components, making it easy for the body to digest. This means that amino acids and protein reaches the muscles quicker and start the process of recovery quicker.
- Stretch: Stretching is one of the best things you can do to aid muscle recovery and help you prevent future injuries. Stretching is particularly useful on your off days. If you’re short of time, aim for full body stretches and light exercises like squats, lunges, and planks.
- Foam rolling: Foam rollers are cheap and effective tools for breaking up knots and sore spots in your muscles. Research shows that foam rolling breaks up scar tissue and knotting in your fascia, which is important because these knots are often the root cause of sore muscles and joints.
- Reduce your stress: Chronic stress has a negative impact on recovery and can seriously impede it. Take steps to reduce your stress levels to ensure you can bounce back faster. Do something you really enjoy, make yourself laugh, and surround yourself with people you love.
- Perform active recovery: Rest days give your muscles a well earned break from a self-induced beating at the gym. If you feel up to it, some light movement like walking to the store, an easy bike ride, throwing a Frisbee around, or even doing mobility drills could confer recovery-promoting effects as well. This is known as ‘active’ recovery.
- Drink chocolate milk: Looking for a convenient post-workout snack on the go? Chug some chocolate milk. The protein it contains will kickstart muscle recovery, and those chocolatey carbs have been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes for the body to get ready for its next challenge.
- Have an ice bath: The general theory behind this cold therapy is that the exposure to cold helps to combat the microtrauma (small tears) in muscle fibres and the resultant soreness caused by intense or repetitive exercise.
- Bath in Epsom salts: After a gruelling workout session, all we want to do is run a hot bath and chuck in a load of these magical salts. Created to relax stiff and aching muscles, Epsom salts flushes out toxins and leaves you feeling refreshed. Additionally, its uses don’t stop at the bath; these salts can also be used for foot baths, facials, exfoliating and pedicures.
Recovery is a vital part of your training regime and shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s common for people to neglect a cool-down or to not stretch, but by doing this you are placing yourself at risk of injury and diminished performance. I would suggest stretching daily, foam rolling 2–3 times per week (or daily if you have time) and having an Epsom salt bath per week. Combine this with eight hours’ sleep per night, proper hydration and good nutrition, and you will be doing all you can to aid your recovery and future performance.