Recovery is inherent to improving as an athlete. The process that builds muscle is actually your body repairing itself, replacing and fusing muscle fibers to create growth and increased strength. It's the recovery, not the actual act of exercise, that does the growing. However, that doesn't mean you can just sit around and wait for your muscles to grow.
You need to get to the gym in order to start the process of recovery that will lead to muscle growth but, if you spend too much time recovering, that's time taken away from working toward your goal. The trick is to find a happy medium between exercise and recovery, doing everything you can to speed the process along and get you back to work.
With a little forethought and commitment, you can turn recovery from a passive process to something you actively control. While there's nearly no way around allowing time for your body to heal, you can pick-up the pace of recovery by taking a few precautions and treating yourself right.
You've been told this by everyone within spitting distance of a gym for your entire life, but you really do need to stretch. Stretching is not only an aid to recovery, it's a way to not feel so beat up in the first place.
Workouts might vary from day to day and chances are you'll have to take off days from the gym at some point. That doesn't apply to limbering yourself up. Taking the time to stretch out your muscles -- whether or not they're aching -- needs to become a part of your daily routine.
Apply the same level of focus and commitment to your stretching regimen as you do your workouts. To speed recovery, you should focus your stretches on the areas you're treating and really get after it. As in the gym, so in the home. Don't expect great recovery results with a haphazard, nonchalant attempts at stretching. Carve an hour or so out of your schedule and hold each stretch for no shorter than a minute and a half.
Myofascial release is a complex-sounding name for a simple solution. Put plainly, it's rolling an object against your tight muscles so that they release some of their tension.
Placing a lacrosse ball or a roller (like the roller used to apply CopperGel) against an overactive muscle tells your proprioceptive receptors to relax. Sending this signal helps your muscles unclench and reduces swelling, which speeds recovery time.
We live in a time of questionable gadgets promising miracle cures. The fitness space is rife with silver bullets that cost the same as an ounce of gold. But the simple, low-tech solutions have stuck around for a reason - they simply work. There's nothing particularly futuristic about picking up a weight over and over again and much of the recovery process is similarly old-school.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that you should stick with the classics: mentholated rubs containing pure hemp oil (hint… CopperGel Ice) that will release tension, the aforementioned rollers, and plain old ice. Ice is your friend. Holding ice against protesting muscles will help reduce swelling, limit pain and expedite recovery time.
Don't take it from me; just flip on SportsCenter. Pro teams have many, many millions of dollars at their disposal to spend on ensuring their star players are ready for their next game. And you still find them giving post-game interviews sitting inside an ice bath. If it's good enough for the best athletes in the world, it's probably going to work for you.
A big part of what coaches like me do, is push people just past their natural inclinations. Without overdoing it or overworking a client, coaches make sure that their clients move beyond their own inner inertia to get a few more reps in before calling it a day.
Unfortunately, we aren't there once you get home and we can't keep your body moving. Every bit of you is going to want to sit on the couch and relax. You're tired, after all. But this impulse will absolutely slow your recovery time if you let it.
While you shouldn't get back at it and destroy yourself the exact same way you did the day before, you need to move. There's a happy medium between vegging out in front of the television and diving headlong into another intense workout. Increased blood flow leads to faster recovery and there's really only one way to make sure that the blood is pumping to those aching muscles.
Allow your body to move through your normal range of motion. This will help prevent tightness and reduce the number of days that you need to recover from a given workout.
The best way to speed up your recovery is to start working on it before you ever hit the gym. It's a process I like to call, "prehab." You've clearly identified the areas of your body you want to improve. Go a step beyond that and figure out why you're having issues with that part of your body and prepare to work them accordingly. It will save you plenty of recovery time and allow you to spend more time working toward your goal.
Take, for example, your average office worker. They're suffering pain in their back from the way that they sit every day. Their shoulders are rounded forward, their back is hunched over and this is causing tightness in their chest and lat muscles.
The common response to this is to rub out the soreness and relax the muscles, but it's actually a lack of tightness that is causing the issue. Those little muscles in his back are so stretched and lengthened that they can't continue to do their job. They can't seem to find a way to hold that bone or joint in place.
What they actually need to do is figure out how to work their back musculature a little harder. Their routine should absolutely include small warm-ups to activate the groups that are currently out-of-whack. Performed before the actual training session, activating these muscles first will give them a head start of sorts, allowing them to fire first and catch up to their agonist or antagonist muscle group. They didn't become unbalanced overnight. It actually took some time for their body to transform itself into what it is today. And it's going to take time to set it right. The further behind your problem muscle groups are from the rest of your body, the more warm-up they'll need to get everything on the same page.
In short, the best way to speed your recovery is to put the same amount of thought into it, that you do your workout routine. With proper planning, attention to detail and bringing the same level commitment to stretching and cool-downs that you do to the squat rack or treadmill, you can kick-start your downtime to make sure you get back at it sooner.
About the Author:
Dylan Clagg is a coach for Jack City Fitness, a results-driven facility that provides personal guidance toward fitness outcomes.