When training to reach that coveted fitness goal, it’s easy to get focused on the end result and do what you can to get there as quickly as possible.
You add in longer runs, extra strength training and push yourself to reach your ultimate target. With this benchmark in mind, it can be easy to forget about one vital stage of your journey: recovery.
Yes, it’s very easy to underestimate the importance of recovery and the role it can play in improving your performance when just training harder seems like the easiest way.
But when recovery is taken seriously and your body is given time to rest, recuperate and come back stronger, it’s clear just how powerful recovery can be in help you reach your goals.
Recovery can take many different forms for all types of activity, but here we break down the key aspects of body recovery:
It goes without saying that after an intense workout, your body’s hydration and electrolytes need replenishing. When you are dehydrated, the body isn’t able to send vital nutrients to your muscles – hindering your recovery and leaving you feeling stiff and sore.
Drinking enough water straight after your workout not only hydrates you, but helps refuel your body with lost electrolytes to help it recover. Ideal drinks include coconut water, electrolyte-infused water or tablets, or even chocolate milk.
Baths & Salts
Epsom salts have long been hailed for their muscle-soothing properties, despite a lack of scientific evidence to back it up.
They contain magnesium sulfate, which is said to help muscle pain since it reduces inflammation. It’s said that an Epsom salt bath can help you recover because the magnesium soaks through your skin into your body, helping to reduce your pain.
This hasn’t strictly been proven, but there’s no denying that it feels good and that soaking in a hot bath can do wonders for your sore joints alone, regardless of whether the salts work or not. At the very least, the heat from a warm bath gets your blood moving to your muscles, allowing any tightness or pain to relax.
Sitting back and enjoying the warm water also allows you to switch off, unwind and mentally recover from an intense session.
Stretching is one of the most important parts of your recovery – and probably one of the most skipped.
The practise allows for good blood flow through your muscles, which helps shorten the time you spend feeling stiff after your workout and, in turn, quickens your recovery process.
Stretching also helps to increase your flexibility. That pain you experience when exercising a certain muscle? That will be gone in a few weeks as you have increased your flexibility and your strength.
Post-workout is the best time for stretching as your muscles are already warm and loose and you have less chance of tearing one. Post-workout stretches should be ‘static’ – meaning you hold a single stationary position for a period of time. This releases all the stress and tension in your muscles after your workout.
When stretching before a workout, it’s important to practise ‘dynamic’ stretches. Dynamic stretches are movement-based, allowing your joints and muscles to go through their full range of motion and to warm up adequately.
Anyone who has ‘foam rolled’ before will know of its unique but painful welcome. Bringing both pain and pleasure, foam rolling is excellent for getting rid of tightness and knots in your muscles that stretching alone won’t seem to fix.
Definitely not a wholly enjoyable experience, the sharp pain when rolling out sore muscles will bring long term relief as it eases out the knots and strains on your muscles.
Foam rolling can be performed both before and after workouts. Before, it will give you more movement in your muscles and increase blood flow – helping you move that much easier. And, of course, after your workout, rolling will help quicken your recovery and shorten the time you spend feeling sore.
After a long, intense workout, sometimes nothing in the world seems better than spending the following day flat on the couch. And while complete rest should be penciled in, studies show that active recovery can be more beneficial to your body in the long run (barring injury or significant pain) as opposed to resting completely.
Active recovery workouts are low-intensity workouts to keep blood flowing and help muscles recover and rebuild themselves. This stops lactic acid build-up in the muscles, which can cause a lot of pain.
Low-intensity active recovery workouts can include anything, from yoga to swimming or even walking to a light jog – anything that’s different to your normal workout activity.
But it’s important to keep your active recovery at low intensity and to not push yourself, it is a rest day after all.
As a whole, recovery allows your body time to strengthen, rest and heal. It gives your body the support it needs to take on the next stage of your challenge – and the groundwork to become healthier and stronger. Without giving yourself time to recover, reaching your goals could come hand in hand with injury and burn out.
So, next time you’re feeling sore, tired or burnt out, remember to take care of your body and not to skip your recovery!