Whatever stage you’re at in a fitness journey, allowing time for rest is vital. Your body is likely to experience considerable stress during a challenging workout, so giving it the chance to repair will ensure you are ready for the next stage.
After a gruelling session in the gym, you may be focused on a long drink and an even longer lay down, but there are simple routines which can help relieve muscle strain and shorten the recovery phase.
What is right for you may not be right for another person, so once you have found a method that works, it’s worth sticking with it. We have a few different approaches for you to test out, at least one of which should work well.
Stretch it out
Stretching may be underestimated by many fitness fans, especially those who just want to lose weight or build muscle. It’s not the most exciting of exercises, but being flexible will allow you to go the extra mile during a workout, which is hugely beneficial.
Stretches lower the tension in muscles and in doing so may even contribute to a less painful recovery. Set aside around 20 minutes after a session to begin your stretches, as without a plan in mind you’re likely to forget this type of cool down altogether.
Here are just some of the best stretches for improving flexibility – but again, this is completely different for everyone and you will need to find what works best for you:
- Standing hamstring stretch – feet hip-width apart, bend forward at the hips, hold the backs of your legs
- Triceps stretch – lift your arm up and bend at the elbow behind your head, so you can just about touch between your shoulder blades
- Figure four stretch – lie on your back and cross your left leg over your right knee, hold the back of your knee and gently pull towards your chest
- Side bend stretch – feet shoulder width apart, raise your left arm and stretch from your hips to the right
- Neck release – bend your left ear to your left shoulder for 30 seconds before returning to the start position
Swap rest days for gentle exercise days
Active recovery includes moderate forms of movement like walking the dog, low impact yoga or a level bike ride. If you feel up to it, light cardio can minimise feelings of soreness by boosting the circulation and warming up sore muscle groups.
A foam roller is another good way of rehabilitating muscle tightness and in the short-term could even increase your range of motion. A study by the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy revealed that people felt more flexible after using the roller, suggesting their muscles were healing effectively.
Wear compression clothing
When our muscles are painful or weaker than usual, it’s a sign that tissue has been damaged. This is normal after a demanding workout, but you could accelerate the recovery process by slipping on a pair of compression tights. They are said to work by speeding the removal of metabolic waste which is produced by the body when muscle is overworked.
In a study commissioned by the European Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers discovered that compression sleeves which covered a person’s entire leg were effective in reducing weakness and damage after training. If you don’t feel like investing in new gear at the moment, placing your legs in a traditional cold bath will have a very similar effect.
Eat a carbohydrate and protein-rich meal
You might not feel like eating after you’ve just completed a demanding routine, but it can aid your recovery.
If you choose foods that contain carbohydrates, it is easier for your muscles to replace energy by storing those as glycogen. Aim to eat foods like a peanut butter sandwich, a smoothie or egg on wholegrain toast, no later than two hours after exercising.
You can find protein in foods through plant and animal based products, and protein is vital in ensuring that the maintenance of your cells and tissues are constantly being looked after and repaired when necessary.
These are three simple but essential steps you can take right away to shorten your recovery phase and make sure that your fitness plan is as effective as possible.
Stretching out releases muscular tension, gentler exercises on rest days will boost your circulation, compression clothing removes metabolic waste, and feeding your body correctly speeds along any rehabilitation. Easier than you thought? Read more about effective ways of boosting your recovery today.
Make sure you cool down, stretch out and rest after a period of exercise
Use active recovery, targeted rehabilitation methods and compression clothing
Find the method that best suits you and shorten your recovery phase