Whether you're a seasoned vet, or looking to invest in your first gym membership, the following practices can (and probably should) be applied to anyone following a consistent workout regime. Given the extensive research surrounding physical activity and recovery, we are constantly flooded with new information regarding that of which we should and shouldn't do in order to maximize performance. Throughout my years as an athlete experimenting with a wide range of sports and training practices, I've had the opportunity to try various recovery techniques, ranging from muscle manipulation to nutrient supplementation to temperature therapy and more. What I've learned, at the ripe old age of 24, is that best practices for recovery can vary based on a multitude of factors. But when it comes down to it, your body is YOUR body. Recovery is highly individualized, and should be treated as such. The following are a few practices that have worked for myself, and I encourage you to try them on for yourself!
Stretching should be a part of your pre and post workout routine if you're looking to optimize performance and recovery, as well as minimize chance of injury. Even though stretching is performed before and after physical activity, these two methods are distinctively different. Dynamic (with movement) stretching is optimal before exercise, and static (stagnant) stretching is more beneficial following exercise. Read more here! Personally, I like to incorporate hot yoga into my fitness routine to allow for deeper stretches and more flexible and fluid movements.
Foam Rolling & Massage
Muscle & tissue manipulation following physical exertion can help to loosen connective tissue, increase flexibility, increase blood flow to muscle groups in need, and allow muscles to relax. This can all be accomplished post workout by "rolling out" the body with a hard cylinder or lacrosse ball. Click here for a step by step full body foam rolling guide. I aim to use a foam roller following each training session.
Similarly to rolling, deep tissue massage has proven to act as a healing agent for muscle and joint pain. By applying a deeper more concentrated pressure to trouble areas, massage therapy aims to loosen connective tissue in order to again - reap the benefits of muscle and tissue manipulation. Given that massage therapy is a more costly option, try applying this strategy to your routine as a once-a-month maintenance tool. I'm a fan of Massage Addict, which has multiple locations, and offers a first time discounted rate, as well a membership rate!
Navigating nutrient supplement options can be intimidating to say the least. I've found that attempting to decipher false claims from products that really work comes down to doing your research, and experimenting. Personally, the only supplement I consume consistently in an effort to improve recovery, is a BCAA formula. BCAA's are Branch Chain Amino Acids, which aid specifically in muscle recovery. I use AMRAP BCAA Endurance Formula from GT Supplements . This specific product not only decreases muscle soreness and promotes lean muscle growth, but it also increases fat loss and muscle energy. I choose to consume this post workout, but given the energetic properties, consuming during a workout can be highly beneficial as well. And a bonus for you; this product is verified as vegan, has no added sugar, AND it tastes great. So why the heck not!
This may sound obvious but if you're the type to be GO GO GO, then this one's for you (and me)! There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to not only rest, but proper rest. After any workout, you'll want to give your muscles adequate rest in order to allow the muscles to repair themselves. Whether that means taking an entire rest day, an active rest day, or exercising different muscle groups, you'll want to ensure that the muscles you've just exhausted aren't being overworked to the point of injury. Another major key to muscle recovery is sleep! A proper nights sleep allows for the balance of hormones, improved mental health, and of course, muscle recovery. Click here for insight on improved sleep techniques.
When it comes to diet and nutrition, there are an overwhelming number of fad diets circling the media. My best advice is to get intimate with your body's needs. You have the option to calculate your daily recommended caloric intake to ensure that your body is getting enough calories for recovery. You can even choose to eat intuitively, by listening to your body, and eating when your body craves nutrients. It's easy to get caught up in restrictive diets, as they offer a challenge as well as structure. Personally, I choose moderation within a vegan diet, allowing treats here and there. More specifically regarding recovery, protein intake is crucial post workout. So if you are someone who follows a structured diet, be sure that this is something you're able to incorporate.
Essential Oil Treatment
As natural remedies become fashionable in the health and wellness community, more and more athletes are choosing to explore the healing properties of essential oils. My favourite method for soothing stressed muscles, is applying a mixture of peppermint oil (cooling & anti-inflammatory agent), magnesium (I use a mineral spray), and castor oil (to mix and absorb into the skin).
Listen to your body
I can give you recovery methods until I'm blue in the face (or in this case, until my fingers type a hole through my laptop) but when it comes down to it, you have to listen to what your body needs. Research may tell us that optimal time for muscle recovery is 48 hours, but if your body is still aching on day 3, maybe you need to look at some additional recovery practices. The key is to understand how to best allow your body to thrive. So be mindful, and focus on your needs as an athlete!
Commitment to Recovery
As much as fostering a consistent workout routine takes commitment and focus, following through on a recovery routine is equally as important! Physical activity is a stressor that gets placed on the body, and must be counteracted with recovery practices in order to become beneficial. If you're considering picking up a new workout regime, or you intend on increasing your training intensity, I strongly encourage you to first create a recovery plan that works specifically for your body. Injuries caused by lack of recovery can bring your fitness goals to a stand still, which can ultimately become frustrating and defeating. See the bigger picture and treat your body right by making a commitment to recovery.