How you support recovery after exercise is as important as what you do in the gym. Falling to allow for proper recovery can leave you tired and stressed, and it can even increase your chance of injury. All of that can seriously interfere with your fitness goals. On the other hand, supporting your body as it repairs damage helps give muscles and tissue the tools they need for optimal function. Finding the right combination of post-workout strategies will help you see gains quicker and more consistently. The result is better workouts that put you closer to your fitness goals.
1. Leave Time for a Cool Down
The time you take to cool down lets your heart rate and respiration gradually return to their normal states. A proper cool down is a roughly five-minute session of low-key versions of exercises done during your workout coupled with stretching movements. In addition to giving you a chance to slow down, some of the other benefits of cooling down are decreased injury risk and better relaxation.
2. Stay Hydrated
Most adults are fine drinking about eight full glasses of water a day. If you participate in intense exercise or are exposed to higher than normal temperatures that cause excessive perspiration, however, those needs go up. Water is necessary for pretty much every biological function that goes on in your body, so you want to be sure and meet those needs head-on. You should drink throughout the day, but adding a post-workout bottle of water will help replace the extra fluids you lost during exercise.
3. Remember to Stretch
Stretching is not the same as a cool down. Stretches help ease tightness in muscles and may help decrease soreness later on. Some forms, such as those that incorporate myofascial release, have been linked to faster recovery and better athletic performance. If you aren't familiar with proper stretching techniques, try out some foam roller stretches or a few recovery-focused yoga poses.
4. Eat for Your Recovery
An intense workout can deplete your energy stores. The best way to replace them is by giving our body the fuel it needs to keep powering on. Add a healthy dose of protein to ensure muscles are able to recover and rebuild. For a quick treat, pour some of your favorite type of milk in the blender and mix it with a green superfood powder, nut butter, oats and chia seeds.
5. Let Your Body Rest
Avoid training the same muscle groups on consecutive days if you can help it. This gives them a chance to heal from the damage done during training. Active recovery exercises are an excellent way to meet other fitness goals while still allowing for rest and recovery.
6. Take a Cool Shower
Some athletes have found that cold showers or ice baths can help speed up recovery. For others, contrast water therapy, or alternating hot and cold water, has shown to improve recovery times, ease soreness and boost performance. The idea behind this is that the alternating temperatures cause blood vessels to dilate and contract, flushing toxins and metabolic waste from muscle tissue.
7. Change Into Clean Clothes
This may seem superficial, but there are serious health implications for staying in sweating clothes after a workout session. The warmth and dampness can let bacteria and fungi multiply rapidly, leading to irritation and infection. Think of athletes foot and jock itch, both caused by fungi that get out of control. A quick shower to clean off sweat is ideal, but even if that isn't possible, use sport wipes to clean off and switch into clean and dry clothes.
8. Use Visualization
Sometimes you can make the most gains by giving your body a break and exercising your mind instead. Visualization techniques allow you to see actions and movements that are critical to your performance. You repeat them over and over in your mind until you can see yourself doing them flawlessly. It can boost both your physical performance and your confidence.
No matter what your fitness goals are, a purposeful recovery period can help you reach them. Mix and match techniques until you find what works for you, but always meet your body's basic nutritional and hydration needs.