Home Exercise 101 5 Tips for Your Post-Exercise Recovery

5 Tips for Your Post-Exercise Recovery

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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.

Yes. Stretching.

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.

Click here to read more about foam rolling.

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’.

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Dina January 9, 2015 - 7:39 PM

GIRL! I decided to stretch for the first time after the gym yesterday (a bunch of dudes laughed at me) but hey look at who’s legs are feeling awesome-sauce now? MINES 🙂
Do you have a certain brand of foam roller that you recommend? Is there a pricepoint I should be sticking to as well?

Erika Nicole Kendall January 11, 2015 - 12:31 PM

Good question! I’ll do a blog post, and come back with the link!

milaxx January 11, 2015 - 4:43 PM

I have arthritis in my L knee. I primarily take water aerobics. I go at 4 -5 days a week at my gym. There are different instructors with different style so it feel like a different workout each time. Some leave my arms aching, some my legs, others my core. I also do a lot of walking albeit at a slow pace. I no longer walk with a limp but I notice since upping my workout days I have the twinge on my lower back on the right side. I assumed this was from my right side compensating for the weakness on my left. I still cannot walk up and down steps bilaterally.

Any suggestions?

Erika Nicole Kendall January 13, 2015 - 12:04 AM

My first thought would be what are you doing when you “up” your workout days – is your form accurate? Do you need a regression from the moves you’ve chosen to better strengthen those muscles in supporting that knee? Outside of the pool, do you have a knee brace you can use?

I’d assess you for determining the differing strength levels in each leg, train you to develop proportionate strength, and keep you in a knee brace outside of your training while tweaking your diet to support the healing around that knee area. Make sense?

Amy January 12, 2015 - 2:53 AM

Hi Erika,

I’m not even close to the kind of really difficult strength training you’re mentioning here – which apparently compels use of that foam thing LOL post workout (I say lol because it scares me). I don’t know, maybe I’ll try a pregnancy ball instead ?

Basically so far my fitness journey has mainly consisted of putting my focus on trying to eat clean. Only recently have I started to seriously consider activity as an option. That came especially after watching a 38-minute long video of yours about a scale-free season principles (being compassionate to yourself, measuring progress with alternative methods to the scale, finding an activity you love and are willing to commit to, etc.) which really had a huge impact on my approach. See what I said your videos weren’t boring?

However 2 things save my life after the kind of moderate training I do (couple-hour long walks with a pedometer on, high-intensity dancing to energetic songs I love, etc.) :

– resting (physically laying down someplace where I can collect myself without experiencing any kind of stress
– drinking water. It helps me so much recover, it’s as if I can feel it access my sore muscles and proceed to rehydrating them!

What do you think?

Erika Nicole Kendall January 13, 2015 - 12:16 AM

I think those both are great – I mentioned rest above, and water definitely hydrates and no system can perform or heal optimally in a state of dehydration!

Amy January 12, 2015 - 2:58 AM

Oh and as for nutrition : black coffee and regular Quaker oats for me (I just put it in a bowl with some water, then in a microwave and I put on it a little coconut and some honey). It’s 8 am in here, I have put on workout clothes and am about to walk my son to daycare, watch me out!

Kisses from France,

Erika Nicole Kendall January 13, 2015 - 12:16 AM

YES! Team black coffee! Hope you enjoyed your workout!

Stephanie January 13, 2015 - 3:25 AM

I’m also Team Black Coffee. People think I’m nuts, but all that cream and stuff just obscures the taste of the beans (in addition to all the calories). Buying lighter roasts also made the transition to black coffee easier.

Stephanie January 12, 2015 - 4:59 AM

I’ve actually got some hypermobility in a couple of joints (it’s most prominent in my knees). How would you suggest stretching or foam rolling when I don’t want those joints (or supporting muscles) to get any looser?

Erika Nicole Kendall January 13, 2015 - 12:15 AM

My first thought is, is it possible to train in a way that helps the muscles develop more control over the joints? The muscles facilitate and support the joints, and if you’re getting a little extra love in the lower body, I’d shift my training around in a way that allows for me to develop better control over those joints, so that as I age, they won’t be able to give out on me. Think assisted squats, then assisted squats with weights, adding intensity and speed slowly until you can go without injury.

My second thought would be, it’s not the joints that become looser when you stretch – it’s the muscles, and you need that to perform optimally. If one of your joints were to give out in training and your muscle had to catch yourself, you’d pull something. Your muscles can be as loose as all get out – the trick is in having the muscle memory that can ensure you are able to support those joints. Does that make sense, or does it clash with something you’ve been told previously?

Stephanie January 13, 2015 - 3:23 AM

Makes sense! Thanks for the advice.

So that’s basically what I’ve been doing: exercises to strengthen my quads to make the knees feel less wobbly. Best things I’ve found (that I’ve wanted to keep doing) are hula classes (you need strong quads and glutes to do it properly) and biking.

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to see a PT at the moment (I’ve got emergency health insurance), but I’d like to do that down the road.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 14, 2015 - 11:23 AM

That sounds like a great move! Just remember that you want to train using moves that will not only give you physical strength, but agility and control as well. Think HIIT with regressed movements in the beginning. Five minutes here and there will make a huge difference.

Anna Marie January 13, 2015 - 3:39 AM

Hey Erika, I suffer from overpronation (my feet have no arches) and i have inflammation in my right knee.

This makes DAILY exercise difficult (even though that is what i want desperately to do to increase my weightloss rate).

After recovering from an eating disorder years ago, I finally got serious last year about dealing with the excess weight it has left me with. I am 37 this year and do NOT want to be obese or overweight by the time i turn 40. This is the goal i have set myself.

I currently workout roughly 3 times a week and every attempt to increase that has left me limping with pain. I normally swim once a week for an hour and/or take a Hydrospin class. Then i get on the exercise bike twice a week for 30 mins (thats when my knee cant take anymore). This makes up the three workouts. And i support it with a balanced healthy diet.

This basic pattern helped me loose 2.5 stones last year but it was extremmmmely slow!!

Do you have any tips for how i can;
1. Increase my workouts? Or get more burn for the time i put in?
2. Speed up the weightloss?
3. Recover quicker from overpronation and inflammation-related soreness?

Any help/advice will be appreciated. Thankyou!

Erika Nicole Kendall January 15, 2015 - 2:39 AM

1) I think that it’s entirely possible that the workouts you’re doing aren’t compatible with the current condition you’re in, here. You might want more burn, sure, but have you considered you might need some pre-conditioning to help you become more physically capable? I’m talking a LOT about regressions in these comments, because I think it’s important for people – many of whom have spent lots of time in their lives being sedentary and it’s catching up to them once they try to be more physically active – to realize that it’s not just as easy as jumping in and getting moving. If you’re having knee issues, that’s likely a component of the overpronation and could even be a cyclical thing – your knee hurts, so you shift how you walk in order to compensate, but the over compensation is inappropriate for your frame so it causes the knee to react with pain.

If “getting more burn” is a concern for you, I’d consider focusing SOLELY on strength training for a while – use it to build muscle AND to develop some real support for your aching joints. Maybe tabatas or HIIT might be the move for you, here.

2) This also ties into your second question of speeding up the weight loss – a 5’5″ body with 150lbs and only 30lbs of body fat will have higher metabolism than a 5’5″ body with 150lbs and 50lbs of body fat, because muscle is more metabolically active than fat. This allows you to increase your metabolism, thereby eventually being able to cut more calories while still eating enough to fuel your day to day activities without excessive hunger pains. This is a long term plan, not a short term plan and, considering the physical challenges you’re experiencing might be the ideal one.

3) The fastest way to recover from overpronation is, truly, to stop overpronating. There are some things that CAUSE overpronation – a little extra love in the thigh area, for example – and, if it’s causing you grief, the ideal is to stop running without being very mindful and thoughtful about your gait.

Fighting inflammation – many people do it with NSAIDs but I don’t make that recommendation – would ideally start BEFORE the actual inflammation starts. See those nutrition tips in the post? Infuse your diet with those on a regular basis, and you’ll notice a change in how your body handles situations that would otherwise cause grief.

Best of luck to you in your journey, sis! <3

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