It’s normal to feel some soreness after beginning a new workout regiment, however if it is taking more than few days for you to get back in the gym after a tough session, you might want to take a closer look at recovery. When you lift weights or perform intense cardio, you create micro tears in the soft tissue of your muscles. It is when the body is able to repair these broken down muscles that new muscle tissue is built and strength is gained. Recovery time after a strenuous workout is necessary to restore depleted energy and regenerate damaged soft tissue. Here are a few ways to decrease your recovery time and promote movement performance.
Stretch post workout
In the gym, you are constantly shortening your muscles as you use them to weight train or for cardio. Stretching after your workout lengthens the muscle fibers back out, preventing the formation of trigger points and potentially downplaying the soreness you experience later. If muscles stay in a shortened position it could lead to joint stress and chronic tension overtime. Also, if you don’t have the necessary flexibility and muscle elasticity to perform complex movements, you might short yourself on muscular gains, or worse put yourself at risk for injury. For example, if your ankles and calves are too tight you can’t go deep enough in a squat to reap maximum benefits.
Epsom Salt bath
Acute stress created by intense exercise depletes the body of magnesium which can leave you vulnerable to muscle cramps, body aches and grouchy moods after a long workout. Soaking in Epsom salt baths after running or extensive training can help prevent inflammation and irritation in your joints and muscles. You can also use the bath to aid in rehabilitation of sprains, strains or sore muscles. Just one Epsom salt bath a week can have an incredible impact on your health and emotional wellness.
*How to do it*: Fill your bathtub with hot or warm water. Add between two and four cups of Epsom salt to the water and mix, allowing to dissolve. If you’d like, you can add five to ten drops of your favorite essential oil to the water to maximize stress reduction. Some common choices are lavender, rose or chamomile essential oils. (Or you can try Dr. Teal’s scented Epsom Salt Soaking Solution). Soak in the bath for about 15 minutes then shower to rinse the salts from your skin, which can be drying.
If your sleep habits are off, there will be a negative effect on your recovery time. When you are in deep sleep mode your muscles can relax, allowing more blood circulation. In addition, hormones are released during sleep that contribute to the repair and restoration of tissues which is crucial to new muscle tissue formation. Cortisol levels can elevate, and testosterone and HGH levels can drop. These hormones need to be in the right balance in order for you to get the most from your workouts. This is the necessary downtime that your body needs to resort itself. At least 7 hours is the ideal target.
Rest days give your muscles a hard earned break from their self induced beating at the gym. If you feel up to it, light movement like an easy walk, low intensity bike ride, or yoga could have recovery promoting effects as well. The aerobic movement sends oxygenated blood to muscles and improves circulation as well as flushing lactic acid away from the to muscles.
Myofascial release is a hands-on technique that massage therapists have been using for years. To achieve this release, a therapist would apply a low compressive load for a long duration, exerting force across layers of soft-tissue in the body. This deep compression helps to break up or relax tight muscles and adhesions formed between muscle layers and their surroundings, returning the muscles to a state of normal function. Releasing these trigger points is vital to reestablishing proper movement patterns so you can be pain free during athletic performance.
If you’d like to take matters into your own hands, a foam roller can be used. While the foam roller will never completely replace a trained massage therapist, it serves as a great alternative. Self-Myofascial release, aka foam rolling, provides the user the ability to control the healing and recovery process by applying just the right amount of pressure in precise locations, because only you can feel exactly what is happening.
To foam roll properly, apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle or muscle group using the roller and your bodyweight. You should roll slowly, no more than one inch per second. When you find areas that are tight or painful, pause for several seconds and relax as much as possible. You should slowly start to feel the muscle releasing, and after 5-30 seconds the discomfort or pain should lessen. If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, shift the roller and apply pressure on the surrounding area and gradually work to loosen the entire area. The goal is to restore healthy muscles – it is not a pain tolerance test. You may also use other objects to work on smaller muscles such as a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, Theracane, or Trigger Point Therapy Kit.
The most common group of muscles that need to be foam rolled is the quadriceps. The way in which most people use their bodies- sitting all day, squatting, running- this area can become chronically shortened and affect the function of the hips and put additional stress on the low back. Begin by lying down in a plank position and place the foam roller just above the kneecap. Slowly roll down (about an inch per second) towards the hip. If you find a tender spot, stop and hold for about 20 seconds. Then resume the rolling. After four rolls, bend the knee 4 times. Make sure to breathe through all of the rolling.
A second area in which foam rolling can dramatically help is the calves. From the shoes we wear to the way we sit in a chair, our calves are in a shortened position most of the time. This limits the range of motion of the ankle and reduces function up the rest of the body. To address this, begin by placing one leg on the roller, then place the other leg on top of it. Raise the hips and slowly begin to roll to the knee. If you find an extra tender spot, stop and hold. After about 20 seconds continue to roll through the area four times. Then set the hips on the ground and rotate the leg four times side to side.