Right before New Year’s Day, I had a brilliant* idea.
I said to myself, “Self, since I’m getting a couple of days off in the gym, let me go extra hard today so that I can put this rest time to good use.”
And oh, I definitely went hard. Heavy deadlifts, overhead squats, front squats, good mornings, shoulder presses….all of it. And then, I limped home. To my 4th floor apartment with no elevator.
Of course, since this was holiday prep we were talking about, resting didn’t actually happen. Grocery shopping had to happen. Cooking had to happen. Family togetherness time had to happen. All while I was so sore that almost any use of my muscle made me wanna holla.
And then, just like I mentioned in the BGG2WL Weekly Newsletter, I realized that I don’t talk much about post-exercise recovery methods nearly enough. It’s time to rectify that.
Post-workout recovery is important not only because it ensures that you’re able to function properly after your workout, but it ensures that you’re able to go into your next workout without injury. Improper post-workout recovery means that your muscles get tight, are overworked, and are probably unable to support you through the rest of your day. This ultimately results in injury, improperly developed muscles… and an overall case of the sads. Let’s see if we can avoid that, shall we?
1) Optimal post-workout recovery begins with your pre-workout routine. Doing some exercises to help you warm up – jumping jacks, burpees, skipping rope – will get the blood flowing, will help you get your full range of motion out of your joints, and help you stretch properly.
Stretching helps extend your range of motion in your joints, and loosens up the muscles so that they can better support your chosen activity. Adding weights and speed to a chosen exercise without having that range of motion and those muscles ready to support the movement? Means that you not only cheat yourself out of the full benefit of the exercise because your body wasn’t ready to receive it, but you’re courting injury.
Start off with jumping rope, then a few stretches to loosen up the muscles, then – if needed – foam roll the tightest muscle groups.
2) Optimal post-workout recovery also includes your pre-workout and post-workout nutrition. We’re talking macronutrients – protein and simple carbs, really, and making sure you get enough of them to power you through the dedicated time period you’ve set aside exclusively for training. You need protein in your system because the amino acids that break down from digesting it will help rebuild the muscle fibers you tear in training, and you need the simple carbohydrates to provide a quick-acting supply of energy during your workout. Something high in fiber would, unfortunately, leave you feeling a bit regular in the middle of your training, so be careful with that before training.
Post-training nutrition, however, can be a different beast. Without proper nutrition after a heavy training session, most people are absolutely bound to overeat in response. Training burns up the sugar in your blood, as a source of energy. A depletion of energy in your body is a top 3 contributor to hunger. (Dehydration and illness being two of the others.) People who report “OMG IM STARRRRVING” senses of hunger are often suffering from “I didn’t eat properly after my workout” syndrome. Complex carbohydrates, fiber, a good amount of protein, healthy fats, and salt – yes, I said salt – need to be included in a post-high octane-workout meal. Brown rice with cilantro, salt, and avocado, a cup of collard greens, and a piece or two of chicken make a huge difference, here.
It’s also worth noting that cutting out things that might impede your ability to heal post-workout – soda pop, hyperprocessed foods – will ensure that your body is in optimal condition for performance, as opposed to you eating healthy vegetables just to counter the effects of the junk food you enjoy on occasion.
3) #foamrollin’ — I’m a major advocate for foam rolling. I own three of them.
Yes, it’s like that.
Foam rolling – officially referred to as “self-myofascial release” – is what many of us refer to as “the poor man’s deep tissue massage.” It’s basically you vs. a big styrofoam cylinder, trying to win and failing miserably…except, you want to lose. For you, the winning is in the losing. Here’s a video that’ll help guide you through the process.
Foam rolling, much like stretching, is going to help with your work-out warm up, sure, but it also ensures that your body can perform properly – no tight muscles, everything properly warmed-up – during your activity, which makes for a more gentle recovery as well as a decreased likelihood of injury. Foam rolling serves similar-yet-different purposes from stretching however, mainly because foam rolling can help you get out the knots and kinks that we often feel.
4) Tumeric, ginger, cayenne, ginger, aloe vera juice, and the nutritional powerhouses that are dark-n-leafies contain anxioxidants and nutrients that will preemptively aid your body in handling inflammation, swelling, or any other form of post-exercise unpleasantness. You can easily make milk out of Tumeric, coconut milk and maple syrup (yes, recipe coming soon!) Ginger, by itself, makes for an amazing spicy tea. Cayenne can easily be snuck in your dark-n-leafy veggies – my collard greens aren’t greens without a little cayenne! You’re going to set yourself up with natural pain relievers that are ready to act the second your body begins the inflammation process.
5) Sat down somewhere! Get the proper rest. When you are sore, the last thing you should be doing is moving around – not only because it hurts, but because you’re moving around during a time when your body is incapable of supporting you through movement properly, and you’re most likely to incur injury. If your left leg is more sore than your right, and you try to go for a walk, and you step on a slippery branch with your right leg and land on your left…guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to fall, because your body will naturally fight that instant feeling of pain in your left leg, leaving you unsupported and likely to hit the ground.
Things like ice baths and epsom salt soaks aren’t necessarily proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to assist with pain and soreness – ice baths are great because they take your mind away from the pain, but icing pain doesn’t actually help the source of the pain heal – but both are great because they force you to sit and relax for a few hours instead of pretending to be Super So-N-So who can’t quite leap tall buildings in a single bound, but can limp to the fridge for a protein treat. Sit down somewhere!
All in all, make sure you are properly nourished going into your training, use proper form and be mindful of your needs – knee brace? wrapped muscle group? high-traction shoes? – and you should be just fine.
What questions do you have? Ask away!
*This was not, in fact, a brilliant idea. I would’ve been better off waking up a bit early and getting in some HIIT at home instead of thinking I needed to wreck myself in the gym to make up for the day or two I’d be missing. Clearly, I was buggin’.