Thursday, November 10, 2011

Recovery Methods: When Working Out Turns Into Pain

CU Buffs - Fall 2002.

  We've all woken up with sore muscles at some point in our lives.

  Maybe we got a little carried away at the gym, pulled a few too many weeds in the yard, played in an intense basketball game, or maybe we just took too long of a break from doing much of anything!

  Regardless of how they happen, sore muscles are a part of the 'game'. But when it does happen, how can we speed up the recovery process?

  For me, rolling out of bed is something like a roll call: How's the back? How are the feet? How's the ankle? And so on. Aches and pains are a given in my world. But it's learning how to manage the sore muscles, and recover more-quickly, that enables me to get back out there, and go just as hard the next day.

  Train hard, recover hard.

Recovering vs. Resting
  Some might think 'recovering' is just doing nothing. No, that's called resting, and I'll talk about that later.

  Why is it necessary to recover? Think of 'exercise as the architect, and recovery as the builder.' You do damage to your muscles, and break them down when you exercise, and recovery is where the progress is made.

  After a workout, your body needs to repair itself. Whether you're preparing for your next training session, or just trying to feel better, recovery is an essential part of training.

  Your body repairs itself when blood vessels bring oxygen to your muscle tissue, all the while removing built-up lactic acid. Too much lactic acid can cause your muscles to function poorly and will often lead to fatigue.

Stretching is crucial!
  A little soreness is always a good feeling, I think, at least (but I might be crazy). It lets me know that my body is really working, and I'm working hard.

  But too much soreness? Now, that's just uncomfortable. So here are some things we can do to make those sore muscles feel better a little bit quicker!

Recovery Methods
  First and foremost, stretching is key! In my younger days, I'd always laugh at the older (ahem, more experienced) players stretching after practice. Now, I can't imagine not stretching. I always try to stretch after a workout or practice, even if it's just for five minutes.

  Everyone can stretch. You don't need anything special, just a little commitment to your body!

  Secondly, you need to eat! They call it the 'Golden Hour' after exercising: eating within an hour after your training session. It's important to have a little carbohydrate, and a little protein. You also need to replenish amino acids and electrolytes (potassium and magnesium) after training as you lose electrolytes when you sweat.

  This may all sound a bit confusing, so let's make it easy: I like to have a whey (not soy!!) protein shake after a tough workout, and mix it with fresh fruit like strawberries, blueberries, and a banana. But if you want to make it even easier, stick with a banana, a TBSP of peanut butter, and a little Gatorade.

  The first two methods, everyone can do. You just a little discipline and diligence. It will help you get the most out of your workout, and help your body feel better in the long run!

  The following methods require a little extra effort, and sometimes, a few extra dollars:
  Who doesn't love a massage every so often? Sure, they can be a little painful at times, but afterwards you feel like a million bucks! There are countless types of massage practices, but they all have the same effects.

  Massage increases blood flow, which helps repair muscle damage, releases lactic acid, and also increases flexibility and range of motion in joints. Massage obviously also loosens tight muscles and helps to dissipate soreness more quickly. Massage has also been shown to make the body less susceptible to injury (tight, rigid and fatigued muscles can make injury a more common occurrence).

  Massage, however, can get expensive. That's the one drawback. There is a method of self-massage using a foam roller. You may have seen people using these at the gym, and wondered what they were doing. I know I've had a few odd looks shot my way!

  All in all, using a foam roller has the same benefits as massage, without the price tag that comes along with it. Just as with massage, using a foam roller will hurt at times, but the benefits pay off! If you don't know what a foam roller is, or don't know how to use one, here's an example video:

  As I've spent more time in Europe, I've gotten more and more used to using sauna/steam room as a recovery method. For some reason, I don't find it as popular in the US. The benefits of sauna are similar to massage, and go far beyond just relaxation.

  Sauna sessions will increase circulation, deeply relax the muscles, can shorten recovery times from workouts (by repairing muscles aches and strains more quickly, and clearing out built up lactic acid in muscles). Again, sometimes it's difficult to gain access to a sauna or steam room, but check and see if your gym has one. If they do, don't be afraid to try it out! Just don't forget to drink lots of water!

The lovely ice bath.
  The last method of recovery, is actually the FIRST method I grew accustomed to using. In college after long, difficult practices, or runs on the track, I would bite the bullet and get in the ice bath.

  Yes, it's pure torture for 10 or 15 minutes, but I promise you'll feel the benefits right away! It immediately reduces swelling and inflammation, flushes out lactic acid out of fatigued muscles, and helps prevent injury. You won't regret it, at least once you get out of the tub!

  Obviously, nothing can compare to rest and relaxation. You have to get your rest (SLEEP) in order for your body to repair itself. Listen to your body! If it's sore, it's telling you it needs a little extra attention, and a little more rest.

  The more rigorous your workouts, the more you'll need to actively engage in these recovery methods. They'll help you bounce back more quickly, and they'll help you get more out of your training.

  I have used all of these methods at various times, and have found them to be very beneficial. Some of the methods are clearly more enjoyable than others. But you know what they say: 'No pain, no gain'.

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  1. This is a great article! Thanks! :)

  2. @SnBEternally

    Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment!