How to speed up recovery

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Do you know what to do after exercise to speed your recovery from a workout? Your post exercise routine can have a big impact on your fitness gains and sports performance but most people don’t have an after exercise recovery plan.

Most people exercise for the benefits they get from their workout: improved sports performance, better endurance, less body fat, added and even just feeling better. In order to maintain an exercise routine it’s important to recover fully after exercise. Recovery is an essential part of any workout routine. It allows you to train more often and train harder so you get more out of your training.

The biggest challenge or running long distances every day is not the running itself. I would even say that running is the easy part! The challenge is to recover enough in just 14-18 hours between one run and the next so to not cause damage and injury.

Recovery after exercise is essential to muscle and tissue repair and strength building. This is even more critical after an intense running practice. Normally a muscle needs anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild, and working it again too soon simply leads to tissue breakdown instead of building up.

These are the ways I found most effective, for me, to speed up recovery:

Recovery time

Sounds obvious but isn’t. If you spend 8-10 hours on your feet, running and walking, you must spend the next 14-16 hours of the day doing other things like relaxing laying down, lightly stretching, massaging, and of course sleeping. What I don’t recommend is sitting down. Interestingly if I sit down for more than a few minutes I feel my legs stiffening and my feet hurt more. Anything else is fine, just not sitting down.

Massage

Massage feels good and improves circulation while allowing you to fully relax. You can also try self-massage and Foam Roller Exercises for easing tight muscles and avoid the heavy sports massage price tag.

When I had some muscle and tendon pain on my left leg, right in the 3rd week of training, I had that taken care of with some deep tissue massage and one additional day of rest. Amazing results for something that would slow down my training for quite a while!

Cool Down

Cooling down simply means slowing down (not stopping completely) after exercise. Continuing to move around at a very low intensity for 5 to 10 minutes after a workout helps remove lactic acid from your muscles and may reduce muscles stiffness. So I try to just walk and more about a few mintes before getting into a car or stopping for a meal.

Taking a brief cold bath after a run may limit the tissue swelling that follows muscle damage. Most runners also swear by ice baths for the same reason.

Keep your body warm after your run. If your clothes are cold and wet from sweat or precipitation, change into warm clothes as soon as possible.

Stretch

If you only do one thing after a tough workout, consider gentle stretching. This is a simple and fast way to help your muscles recover. I also stretch a bit every 8 miles or so, and during the last ¼ of the run I stretch every 2 miles or so. I feel that it makes it a lot easier overall. Notice that I wrote “gentle” stretching. A lot of people try to push their stretching to a point that they get injured by stretching rather than the exercise!

Stretch the rest of your body, especially your calves, quadriceps and hamstrings, for 10 to 20 minutes at the trailhead while you’re still warm. Stretch the rest of your body, especially your calves, quadriceps and hamstrings, for 10 to 20 minutes at the end of the run while you’re still warm.

Eat Properly

After depleting your energy stores with exercise, you need to refuel if you expect your body to recover, repair tissues, get stronger and be ready for the next challenge. This is even more important if you are performing endurance exercise day after day or trying to build muscle. Ideally, you should try to eat within 60 minutes of the end of your workout and make sure you include some high-quality protein and complex carbohydrate.

There is also some recent evidence suggesting that consuming modest amounts of protein during long runs may lessen muscle damage and improve recovery.

Eating properly has a major impact. When you finish a run you have plenty of damaged muscle fibers in your legs, low glycogen level, and you may be dehydrated. Good nutrition is what will correct those physiological imbalances. You must take protein to repair and build muscles, liquids to rehydrate, and slow processing fibers as well.

Replace Fluids

You lose a lot of fluid during exercise and ideally, you should be replacing it during exercise, but filling up after exercise is an easy way to boost your recovery. Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and having plenty of water will improve every bodily function. Adequate fluid replacement is even more important for endurance athletes who lose large amounts of water during hours of sweating.

I like to drink beer and if you do drink any alcoholic beverage make sure that you drink some water first, and keep the amount of alcohol reasonable. Some cold beers after a long run feel great and have a “pain killer” effect, but make you feel lousy the next morning, so exercise some discretion.

Active Recovery

Easy, gentle movement improves circulation which helps promote nutrient and waste product transport throughout the body. In theory, this helps the muscles repair and refuel faster.

Ice Bath

Some athletes swear by ice baths, ice massage or contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold showers) to recover faster, reduce muscle soreness and prevent injury. The theory behind this method is that by repeatedly constricting and dilating blood vessels helps remove (or flush out) waste products in the tissues. Limited research has found some benefits of contrast water therapy at reducing delayed onset muscle soreness.

How to use contrast water therapy: While taking your post-exercise shower, alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat four times with a minute of moderate temperatures between each hot-cold spray. If you happen to have a spa with hot and cold tubs available, you can take a plunge in each for the same time.

Sleep

Get Lots of Sleep. Optimal sleep is essential for anyone who exercises regularly. During sleep, your body produces Growth Hormone (GH) which is largely responsible for tissue growth and repair. I used to sleep an average of 6-7 hours per night, and since I began training I have been sleeping 9-11 hours, sometimes more. That is one of the “side effect” of growth hormone release.

Elevate

It helps relax your legs if you can keep them elevated for a while. Usually I do it for 30 minutes or more. A couch, the bed and some pillows, a lounge chair, those and many other places are appropriate to invert your body or at least keep your legs up for a while.