A Guide to Post Workout Recovery
Every person has their own reasons for putting time and energy into a workout, but without proper preparation, workouts may not yield the desired result. No matter what your experience level is, poor preparation may also add the risk of injury to any workout, making what should be a beneficial experience into one that’s a detriment to your health.
The same sort of thoughtful, deliberate decision-making you employ during your pre-workout prep should also be applied when considering what you’ll do post-workout. Adding the right habits could prove beneficial to your continued improvement while knowing what to avoid can help keep you ready for your next workout session.
Why Post Workout Recovery is Important
That next session will benefit significantly from the stamina boost that a little rest can provide, but that’s not the only reason to provide yourself a respite between reps.
Getting into a workout routine without factoring in proper recovery time can put an unhealthy amount of strain on the body. Consistent overtraining causes overuse, which can lead to unwanted medical conditions like runner’s knee, muscle strains and stress fractures.
Conversely, rest and post-workout nutrition will reduce inflammation, lower risk of injury and help build muscle. So, post-workout recovery doesn’t just keep you from unfortunate outcomes—it helps you achieve the outcomes you’re working for.
Why Working Out Makes You Sore
Any sort of work you put your body through will put stress on the parts that work together to let you complete those tasks, and a workout is no different. Regardless of length or intensity, workouts inflict microscopic injuries on muscles and cause inflammation.
The immune system gets to work repairing all those tiny rips and tears to counter the damage, making each muscle, organ and body part a bit more resilient. That inflammation and soreness comes from this routine muscle recovery—it’s a sign that what you’re doing is working and your body is reacting accordingly.
Tips for Post Workout Recovery
Active and Passive Recovery
While your muscles are in that recovery period, there are two major methodologies meant to help you act accordingly.
Active recovery is meant to get the blood flowing and lend an assist to the body as it undergoes repair. After a tough workout, try doing anything that raises your heart rate but doesn’t leave you winded or cause further stress on your recovering muscles. This could mean anything from riding a bike to doing yoga, both at low intensity. Getting the blood moving will help your body circulate waste from that intense strength and conditioning session the day before.
Passive recovery is a break without any out-of-the-ordinary, everyday activity. The rate at which you should utilize this kind of approach depends on the intensity of your workouts and your fitness level. No matter which approach you choose, it’s generally accepted that working out the same muscle group on back-to-back days is a bad idea.
Muscles take approximately 24-to-48 hours to recover from the level of stress experienced during a typical workout session, and exposing your body to that kind of weight training or cardio regimen without allowing for proper recovery can break it instead of building it. Plan your recovery time accordingly.
Warming Up and Winding Down
Sometimes, the best defense is a good defense.
Post-workout recovery can be easier on you if your pre-workout is geared towards preventing injury. For example, work dynamic stretching—stretching without holding the stretch for a set period of time—into your pre-workout routine. This should help lessen the chance that any workout requiring quick lengthening and muscle contraction will result in injury.
After the workout is completed, allot 5-to-10 minutes for working your body back to its base heart rate and temperature. Cooling down usually looks like a walk or a slow jog. After that, participate in some static stretching, which means holding onto each stretch. This may help improve range of motion.
Take A Polar Plunge
Ice baths are a common recovery method for people who put their bodies through a lot on a frequent basis, like athletes or laborers. The cold water provides relief by hindering blood flow, thus stifling pain and inflammation. After the body has time to warm up, the rush of blood back to those areas washes away waste and brings with it fresh blood cells.
Like stretching, do foam rolling before and after a workout to achieve maximum effect from the practice. Doing it before a workout can help prevent injury and improve performance by preparing muscles for the experience ahead. Rolling after a workout can release lactic acid and toxins from a muscle. Rolling can also break up the muscle adhesions that cause muscle imbalances and improve joint function.
Getting a good night’s sleep is important for so many reasons, and if you’re trying to build muscle or raise your endurance, it should be part of your post-workout recovery.
While you sleep, your body produces its main tool for muscle repair and growth, aptly titled growth hormone. If you plan to improve your current fitness level, this is an essential building block for your body. In addition to proper rest, add stretches to your pre-bedtime routine to further increase your chance of avoiding workout injuries.
Nutrition and Hydration for Workout Recovery
Plan the Post Workout Meal
After leaving the gym, it’s normal to crave something hearty to help quell your post-workout hunger. Be careful, though—giving your body the wrong nutritional tools it needs after a workout can make for a less effective recovery or entirely undo all that great work you just did.
Plan your post-workout nutrition intake by preparing a meal at home or by making a list of acceptable options to choose from restaurants near your home, gym or workplace.
Post-workout meals should make up between 20 and 30% of your daily carbohydrate intake since workouts prep the body to process carbohydrates better than it does at rest. This meal should also include between 25 and 50 grams of protein while limiting fat to under 10 grams.
Hydration is Key
Without proper hydration, workouts suffer. Pre-workout stretches won’t go well because joints aren’t lubricated and muscles aren’t properly oxidized. Physical activities suffer for similar reasons and risk of injury increases due to possible side effects like brain fog, dizziness and fatigue. Post workout meals may not be properly digested, meaning the nutritional benefit won’t be as severe. Aches and cramps could compound because of dehydrated body parts and bad circulation.
Greatly reduce your chance for all of the above by drinking enough water. That’s it. That’s the trick.
Maintain normal hydration habits before working out. Keep a water bottle on you while you work out and drink when thirsty. Keep that bottle on you after your workout concludes, hydrating when you feel the urge to drink to avoid symptoms of dehydration.
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