Whether you’ve been working hard on your fitness, starting a new routine or hitting the gym for the first time, recovery and rest are essential parts of any strength and conditioning program. Sometimes it can even be more important than the workout itself. Muscles can’t repair themselves or grow without proper rest. Overdoing it doesn’t just lead to injuries, but it can leave you lethargic and irritable hindering your physical goals.
Why is R&R so important?
It’s important to remember that when we workout effectively we are breaking down our bodies. When we lift weights for example, our muscles incur microscopic damage in their fibers making them fatigued and sore. This is where rest and recovery is key. It allows our bodies to begin the healing process. Specialized cells attach to the damaged tissue and promote fusing. From there, new protein strands are formed. These new protein strands result in an increased amount of muscle mass and size.
Not only is rest and recovery key for building muscle but it also helps to prevent burnout. We’ve all had those days where we don’t feeling like exercising. Ensuring you have enough days off from working out allows for more productive sessions. Rest days are dependant on the person. For most people of average physical fitness—two or three days off is recommended but the main rule is to listen to your body. If you are feeling sluggish and tired likely your workout will suffer. Get some rest instead of exercising and start fresh the next day.
Ways to Rest & Recover
So we’ve determined why rest and recovery is important, but how exactly do we execute it? With the vast amount of knowledge available to us it can be confusing to know what exactly to do. There are two different types of recovery—active and passive. Active recovery occurs when we are physically doing something to assist our bodies in recovery. Examples include stretching, cooling down on the treadmill or using a foam roller. Passive recovery occurs when a therapy or treatment is done to us that doesn’t require our energy or efforts. Examples include massage, heat, ice, Epsom salt bath etc.
Lets start from the beginning. You’ve just smashed out a great sweat session at the gym.--now what?
Don’t forget to stretch and cool down:
Often we race out of the gym after our workouts because we are strapped for time or because we do not think stretching is important. This is the first most common mistake. Gradually returning our bodies to their natural resting state is the best way to prevent cardiovascular and muscular mishaps. Try yoga as the cherry on top of your boxing, indoor cycling or boot camp sessions. Research shows that a single bout of yoga can reduce post-workout muscle soreness thanks to improved flexibility. Perhaps yoga just isn’t your thing? Try a post-workout light walk instead.
Self myofascial release (SMR) is all the rage right now. It involves using tools to massage tight muscles and it helps to improve circulation and reduce stiffness. Luckily, there are several gadgets on the market to help with this. From foam rollers to lacrosse balls to massage sticks all can be used to promote blood flow to tight areas as well as to decrease adhesions/tightness. The process is similar no matter what tool you choose. Locate the area of tightness and apply light pressure to those spots. If you use a tennis ball for example, you can easily place a ball on the wall and roll up and down on an area of tightness to release it. Alternatively you can hold the ball on the tight spot until the pain dissipates.
The lacrosse ball is the most preferred tool in my rehabilitation closet because it is not too hard nor too soft. It can be used to release several muscles although the hip and gluteal musculature seems to be the area where I find the greatest benefits. This is because we are often in sedentary postures for most of the day. We then expect our bodies to perform like professional athletes during our fitness routines. As a result of this, our gluteal muscles can become tight and sore. To release these muscles, gentle roll on a lacrosse ball in a figure 4 position.
To promote proper muscle recovery we must also look at our nutrition. I’ll state the obvious first. Protein. Consuming a protein rich meal after a workout helps to build muscle. Try a hard-boiled egg or adding a scoop of protein to smoothies. But lets talk also about the not-so-obvious. Anti-inflammatory foods. When we exercise we actually stimulate micro-damage in our muscles and inflammation occurs. It’s all part of the process. Foods like tumeric though, which contain the active ingredient curcumin, will help to decrease inflammation rapidly. A recent study evaluated several anti-inflammatory compounds and found that aspirin & ibuprofin are least effective while curcumin is among the most effective anti-inflammatories in the world. Other anti-inflammatory foods to incorporate into your diet include pineapple, chia seeds, and salmon (for the omega 3’s).
Hydrotherapy is a fancy word that translates to “water therapy.” AKA a warm bath. The physiological effects of heat are to increase circulation, expedite the healing of injured tissues, decrease muscle tightness & decrease joint stiffness. The evidence is limited, but there is also some support for adding Epsom salts to your warm bath. Try adding about one cup into your bath water and soak for 10-15 minutes. Whatever the case, take a few minutes to unwind before bed in your bathtub.
You don’t have to do it alone
In Edmonton especially, there are many well-trained practitioners that can help you reach your fitness goals. From chiropractors to massage therapists to acupuncturists to physical therapists, you might want to enlist professional help to aid your body in the recovery process. Your conservative care health practitioner can help to reduce muscle soreness, make sure your body is functioning properly and even help to identify imbalances that may be hindering your workouts. As an example, all too often I treat individuals who have started new fitness routines but experience a great deal of soreness due to past injuries. In these situations, often extensive scar tissue has formed and this prevents patients from performing their exercises properly. Their range of motion is typically affected and they often cannot do more than a few repetitions of an exercise without pain. In these circumstances, as treatment, areas of scar tissue are broken down, muscles are released and adjustments are performed to joints that are restricted or stuck. In most circumstances it makes the world of a difference and patients report more intense exercise sessions and even finding range of motion they didn’t know they had.
Dr. Mecca Fayad DC