You know you’re hooked when a rest day takes more discipline than working out...
Even when you’re doing your best to develop a really solid workout routine, it can be easy to lose motivation if your recovery time keeps holding you back. Whether you’re limping for a week after a social 5k jog, or if getting on and off the toilet isn’t getting any easier between leg days, then it’s probably time to start thinking about recovery as an essential part of your healthy lifestyle.
One of the most important lessons to learn along your fitness journey, is that mastering the art of recovery is the key to maintaining a long-term fitness lifestyle.
This is because the body adapts to the stress of exercise during rest periods, meaning that recovery time is when the desired physical effects of working out actually happen.
Here are 11 ways to make sure your post-workout recovery is as quick and painless as possible!
1. Get more sleep
Not only does sleep deprivation have a negative impact on your exercise performance, it also makes it more difficult for your body to efficiently repair and recover after a workout.
The amount of sleep a person needs can vary depending on many factors, but generally speaking, anything less than a consistent 8 hours each night is likely to hinder your recovery speed, along with many other aspects of your life.
In addition to getting good quality sleep overnight, consider taking short power-naps after particularly challenging workouts to kickstart the recovery process.
2. Always warm up
You don’t need to spend a lot of time doing extensive warm ups, but you do need to make sure you ease into your workout with some dynamic stretches and bodyweight-only movements to loosen up your joints and warm up your muscles.
Not only does this help to prevent injuries, but it also enables you to perform with better technique during your workouts, resulting in much less discomfort in the following days.
Focus on warm up movements which use the same muscle groups that you’ll be targeting in your workout.
3. Always stretch
Just as warming up prior to exercise reduces recovery time, so does committing to a good stretching session after your workouts.
It’s helpful to think of stretching as part of your workout, rather than a post-workout chore which can be left out when you’re in a hurry or just don’t feel like it.
Stretching is a great way to improve your flexibility and range of motion, and prepares you to perform a little better next time you workout.
It’s just as important as the rest of the workout, and it should only be left out if you’re willing to spend the next five days with stiff limbs while hobbling around in pain.
Learn to love stretching, and relish in that special time for breathing deeply, re-centring and reflecting on the great workout you just did.
4. Complimentary exercise
Recovery doesn’t always mean you need to be flat on your back all day. A speedy recovery can also be achieved though gently moving your body in ways that compliment, or counteract your main fitness activity.
Complimentary exercise not only helps to improve your performance in your main activity, but it’s a great way to add variety to your lifestyle and is an excellent form of active recovery.
Yoga is a great complimentary exercise to many activities, as it increases overall strength and flexibility, while swimming helps to loosen up tight muscles after weight training, and cycling offers a gentle cool down and stretch after running.
5. Epsom salt bath
An intense workout can leave your body depleted of magnesium, leaving you more likely to suffer with cramps, muscle soreness and bad moods during your recovery.
Epsom salt is magnesium sulphate, and when combined with warm water, it can provide an almost immediate relief as the minerals are absorbed through the skin.
Soaking in an epsom salt bath after your workouts can prevent inflammation, making your recovery time much faster. Recovery should be a time of self-care and nourishment for your body and soul, so run a bath, light some candles and replace those minerals.
Having a healthy diet full of nourishing and wholesome foods is going to put you miles ahead in your recovery time.
While calories are an important consideration if your goal is to alter your weight in any way, it’s also important to make sure you’re eating a good balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), to ensure you recover as fast as possible and get the most out of your workouts.
While carbs and fats are also essential to a healthy diet, protein is the most important macronutrient for promoting a fast recovery. This is because it contains amino acids, which are essential for rebuilding our muscles after they are damaged during workouts.
Having breakfasts high in plant-based protein ensures our body is fed correctly for muscle recovery. Having protein before exercise can trigger our bodies to start muscle synthesis during our workouts, and consuming a light, protein-rich snack before bed helps our bodies to repair, rebuild and recover while we sleep.
7. Stay hydrated
Achieving faster recovery times could be as easy as consuming more water each day. It’s especially important though, to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
Working out when you’re dehydrated can result in greater damage to your muscles, and failing to stay hydrated after exercise can inhibit muscle repair. The end result is a long and unpleasant recovery time, holding you back from reaching your fitness goals.
If you’re doing really long, intense workouts and feel that plain water might not be enough - opt for a natural source of electrolytes like coconut water, rather than one of the many artificial ‘sports drinks’ out there.
Getting a professional sports massage after every workout is the dream, but a massage at home from a family member or friend can still help to break up scar tissue and reduce the stiffness that we often experience whilst our muscles are repairing after a workout.
9. Foam rolling
Don’t have access to a masseuse after every workout? Join the club… Fortunately, there is another solution for easing the soreness in our muscles and connective tissue. Foam rolling isn’t exactly famous for being enjoyable or even remotely comfortable… but the benefits make it all worthwhile.
This is a kind of self-myofascial release, which can help remove knots, eliminate toxic buildup and prevent the development of muscle imbalances.
10. Compression garments
Many athletes wear compression garments during their training because they need to be able to recover as quickly as possible. Current research suggests that wearing compression garments may potentially help decrease the time it takes for muscles to recover between workouts by reducing the buildup of lactic acid.
11. Don’t forget salt
Salts are what your body sweats when you perspire, so it’s imperative that you consume a whole salt, ideally before and after exercise.
A whole salt like Pink Himalayan Salt or Celtic Sea Salt are rich in minerals that will replenish the lost stores in your body and aid in full body recovery.
Avoid toxic table salt and embrace a healthy whole salt on your meals throughout the day!
If you’re not getting the results you want, or your performance is not where it needs to be, it might be time to schedule in a few extra rest days and implement some of these recovery tips.
As your fitness level increases, your recovery time will naturally become faster. However, it will take longer to reach a higher level of fitness if care isn’t taken during the recovery process - so avoid overtraining and never feel guilty on your rest days.
Remember: Muscles are torn in the gym, fed in the kitchen and built in bed.