During exercise, the body undergoes a controlled amount of stress. Tissues in our bodies need this stress in order to improve their function and your performance. In fact, when you exercise, your muscles actually undergo “micro-trauma” due to the imposed demand of your activity. Recovery is your chance to build yourself back up stronger than before; it is the link between short-term, immediate benefit and long-term, lasting outcome.
The following tips can help you attain maximum benefit from your workout and reduce the risk of developing an injury.
Stretching is an important part of recovery, but it rarely receives the time or attention it deserves. The purpose of stretching is to maintain the flexibility of tissues that are tight or stiff from an activity or prolonged position.
There are a variety of methods of stretching (using the hamstring muscle as an example):
- Static/Isolated Stretching: Static, or isolated stretching is holding a stretch position for a long period. (Example: A static hamstring stretch would be when you sit on the ground with one leg pointing outward and you simply reach for your toes and hold for at least 30 seconds.)
- Dynamic stretching: Dynamic stretching is using movement to combine muscle groups. (Example: A dynamic stretch for the hamstring would be walking toe touches, as you bend down and grab your toe with every step for 2 to 3 seconds.)
- Foam Rolling: Foam rolling is a type of self-mobilization and massage. (Example: To foam-roll the hamstring muscle, you will simply put a foam roller under your legs and let your weight rest on top so the foam roller will push out any knots in your hamstring.)
A very general rule for stretching is dynamic stretching before exercise, static stretching after exercise, and foam rolling throughout. Utilizing various stretching strategies will allow you to maintain and improve your mobility.
Refueling (Hydration and Nutrition)
Proper fueling before exercise is important to optimize performance, but nutrition for recovery from exercise is often overlooked. Our bodies rely upon a well-balanced array of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to aid in rebuilding the parts of our body that have been stressed during exercise. Refueling after a workout with a well-rounded set of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats will help your body reap the most benefit from your hard effort.
Water is also absolutely essential to overall health. In particular, following exercise, proper hydration is key to replace the fluids that you have lost during your activity. Water also helps regulate your temperature, maintain healthy joints, and eliminate wastes that build up in your system during activity. Pay special attention to your total water intake if you are exercising in extreme hot or cold climates or if you feel as though you may be getting sick.
Listen to Your Body
The only person who knows how your body feels after a workout is you. Allow yourself to listen to your body, and appropriately. This includes recognizing the signs of fatigue, pain or soreness and increasing recovery time between exercise bouts. This may also mean pushing yourself to work harder when you feel well.
Even if you love to run, your body may not like you running seven days a week. No matter what your exercise of choice may be (walking, running, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, yoga, recreational sports, etc.), you can benefit from finding another form of exercise.
Remember to do the exercises your body needs, not just the exercises you want to do. A physical therapist can help you determine where you have deficiencies or might be at risk for overuse injuries based on your workout regimen.
When life is busy, it's hard to schedule enough time in your day to workout at all, let alone take care of yourself afterward. Try to plan your day or week so you have adequate time following each workout to implement the strategies above. This way you won't feel as rushed and cut out important recovery activities.
Often taken for granted, sleep is your body’s prime opportunity to recover.
When the body is at rest, the repair of our muscular, cardiovascular, skeletal, and immune systems can go to work. The CDC recommends that, in general, teens have 9-10 hours and adults 7-8 hours of sleep each day. These guidelines are especially important if you are demanding more of your body through regular exercise or stressful daily activities.
To get the most out of your sleep, strive for consistent bedtimes, avoid stimulating activities in bed (like TV and electronic devices), and a comfortable environment. You may find that you sleep better on days that you exercise, and will definitely notice a more effective, pleasant exercise experience if you are giving your body the rest it needs and deserves.