While recovery is a big-ticket topic these days, it’s more holistic than it sounds. It’s not just what you eat in the hour after your workout or how you prime your muscles during the 15 minutes of foam rolling. Recovery happens throughout your training journey. What you do before, after and even during a workout matters.
Olivier Dupuy, PhD, associate professor of exercise physiology at The University of Poitiers in France believes recovery is as important to a training regimen as the workout itself, explaining, “It’s a period when your body adapts to training sessions; insufficient recovery may lead to overtraining … good recovery is probably the key to [athletic] success.”
Recovery is an active process and these five strategies ensure you’re making the most of every workout:
WEAR “SMART” GEAR
You might be used to wearing compression gear during a workout — the clothing has been shown to reduce perceived fatigue — but the form-fitting garments are also important for reducing muscle aches after a workout.
In 2017, Under Armour introduced “responsive textiles” that capture body heat and convert it into infrared energy that is directed back to the body to increase blood flow, according to senior director of brand marketing Stephen Perkins. During a workout, wear items from the UA RUSH line, which also provides compression and uses innovative fabrics infused with minerals to reflect energy and improve performance. It’s meant to increase endurance and strength. Then, between workouts or at night, wear athletic clothing and sleepwear from the Recover line to speed recovery.
Yoga, tai chi, walking and stretching are all forms of active recovery. Integrating low-intensity exercises can help expedite recovery and reduce muscle fatigue and soreness. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that engaging in 6–10 minutes of active recovery was linked with improved athletic performance.
You already know the amount of time you spend sleeping has an impact on your performance. Sleep is also essential for recovery.
Your body secretes hormones during sleep that help repair muscle, build bone, oxidize fat and reduce inflammation, according to researchers at the London Sports Institute. One study found that lack of sleep made it harder to repair damaged muscle and replenish glycogen, the fuel in your muscles. While the general recommendation for sleep is 7–9 hours per night for adults, athletes need additional sleep to recover from training. Recommendations for elite athletes are as much as 10 hours of sleep per night.
TAKE A FRIGID BATH
Sinking into a bathtub filled with cold water might make you clench every muscle in your body but it can also help reduce inflammation, feelings of fatigue and muscle aches.
“[Cold water immersion] reduces the overall time needed for recovery,” explains Lance Dalleck, PhD, associate professor of exercise and sport science at Western Colorado University. “Cold water helps decrease core and skin temperature, which … may aid in mitigating the inflammatory response in the tissue affected during training.”
Research found the greatest impact on recovery was associated with 3 minutes of immersion in water temperatures ranging from minus 140 to minus 195°C within 24 hours of exercise. A Cochrane Review found the effect lasted up to 96 hours after the cold plunge.
GET A MASSAGE
One of the most effective recovery strategies is also one of the most relaxing. Massage helps reduce tension in the fascia, bands of connective tissue that attach to the muscles, helping ease aches and pains. One study showed a 20–30-minute massage increased blood flow to the muscles, reducing muscle soreness for up to 96 hours after exercise; massage also decreased perceived fatigue among elite athletes. For the biggest benefit, Dupuy suggests making an appointment for a massage right after a race or event.