The Most Important Part of Your Workout That You Are Probably Neglecting!
People often concern themselves entirely with what they do during a workout. What is the best exercise to do? Exactly how many repetitions are ideal? There is plenty of discussion on the 30-60 minute workout one partakes in, and very little talk about the other 23 hours of the day!
An effective recovery will make all the difference in achieving your fitness goals whether they are about weight loss, muscle building, cardio improvement, or something entirely different. The better you recover, the better you will feel and the more effective you can make your next workout! Additionally, a productive recovery will reduce the risk of injury which can set people back for weeks, months, or even years.
Let me make this extremely clear, a recovery day is not just a “non-workout” day. I call that a rest day -- i.e. one in which you have no activity or workout planned. A proper recovery day is purposeful, and has three important components: it is active; it is timed well; and it is appropriate.
Recovery is active. Sitting on the couch all day is not recovering. In fact, if you’ve done an intense workout and then sit at a desk for 8+ hours, your post-workout stiffness will increase and put you at risk for injury. In extreme cases, someone who has sat for hours after an intense workout, can actually strain their lower back by improperly getting up from their chair.
There is a timing to recovery. A cool-down immediately post workout is a great way to safely bring the heart rate down. There is a window of time post workout when the body can benefit from stretching (I advise a dynamic movement cool-down) and eating a post-workout meal or snack.
Timing is also an important consideration when structuring your workout. Most of us do not have the desire or luxury to workout on a daily basis. Workouts can be optimized by having a structured routine of muscle-building, cardio, cross training, and active recovery. I build recovery days into a workout regimen.
Finally, it is important to have an appropriate recovery for the workouts you do. As your type of workout changes, your type of recovery will change, as well. For example, if I am biking as my cardio during the week, I will not get on a bike during my recovery day.
Below are a variety of recovery options that I recommend:
Awareness Through Movement (ATM) gives you muscle recovery, stress relief, mobility and postural improvements. It is my go-to mode of recovery because it serves two purposes at one time -- I gain mobility and posture improvements while I am recovering.
I also recommend ATM when injured. It is a great way to re-train your body to move without pain, increase your range of motion, and can give one a purpose during a difficult injury.
Walking is a fantastic mode of recovery because it gets blood flowing throughout the body which will reduce your risk of lactic acid buildup and inflammation post-workout. I often recommend walking immediately after a workout or training session, as well as on off days.
Massage or Foam Rolling are great ways to reduce muscle soreness and relieve general stiffness. If you do not have access to a masseuse, foam rolling is a form of self-massage. People report reduced post-workout soreness after doing foam rolling. It is VERY important to note, though, that foam rolling or massage should not be the sole recovery method you use. This is because these methods treat the symptoms (knots or tender areas) and do not address the underlying problems. For example, think about a common issue -- tight hamstrings. When people stretch or foam roll tight hamstrings before and after each workout, they find they need to do this all the time! This is probably because there is a way they are moving or something they are doing outside of the workout that is causing the hamstrings to be tight. The best advice I have to address the underlying problems, is to do ATM.
Cycling or other forms of light cardio will aid in muscle recovery by promoting blood flow to muscles and joints, similar to walking. However, if you sit a lot at work or during your non-workout times, I would recommend walking rather than cycling. Cycling, while active, keeps you in a forward bent position which shortens the hip flexors and can put strain on the lower back.
Building a proper workout schedule is more than just doing exercises. It also includes incorporating appropriate and timely recovery strategies into your plan. When done well, these strategies will increase your energy and motivation to be faithful to your workouts. Give them a try!
For questions or to talk “recovery-strategy”, contact me: