Anyone who has pushed their body physically knows about post-workout soreness, stiffness, inflammation, and swelling. For many people, the fear of pain is enough to keep them off the track or out of the gym. However, with a bit of prevention, you won’t wake up the morning following an event or tough activity unable to more. After all, exercise shouldn’t cause additional pain after the workout is over. To make sure you keep smiling for days following a workout, here are nine ways to help your body recover after you’ve pushed it to the limit to keep riding that post-workout endorphin high.
Stretching is a great way to loosen tight muscles; and what better way to do this than with yoga? Yoga helps increase your flexibility, stabilize your core, and strengthen your balance all in one activity. Certain moves in yoga that elevate sore legs also help drain the blood from your lower extremities to help facilitate circulation. After a long run, blood can pool in the legs causing swelling. Try lying on your back with your legs perpendicular against a wall for at least five minutes after your next hard workout to help drain the blood from your legs.
Green tea contains catechins, antioxidants that not only help reduce your chances of heart disease and cancer, but also reduce muscle damage from an intense workout. In fact, unfermented green tea contains the highest level of these amazing antioxidants found among natural foods, with 27% of it’s makeup being catechins. You can drink iced green tea before your workouts to receive a boost, or as a recovery drink to help heal and soothe tight muscles.
If you’ve been an athlete for very long, you’ve probably heard of, and may have experienced, the ice bath. While not the most pleasant of practices, ice baths certainly can help reduce swelling after you’ve beat your body up with a monster workout. Many marathoners and endurance cyclists swear by ice baths after a grueling race or long training day.
Now, you don’t always have to submerge yourself in the freezing concoction. If you have more localized soreness, an ice pack can also do the job.
Your diet can be your best friend or worst enemy when working out. During periods of intense training, it’s good to use your foods to help your body instead of hurt it. So, cut out the highly processed, box meals, or preservative-laden offerings from a fast food restaurant, and try to get more foods that fight inflammation into your diet. After all, food can be your best medicine in fighting fatigue and muscle stiffness.
Here are some great anti-inflammatory food choices:
- Cherries (Preferably tart)
- Ginger (also great for digestive health)
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Red pepper
Also, make sure you properly fuel before and after your workouts. Try to get some healthy protein and carbohydrate sources within an hour of your workout so that your body can start rebuilding and replenishing fatigued muscles right away.
Sleep is like hitting the reset button. While you sleep, your body repairs and heals itself. Many elite athletes sleep longer than the typical 7 to 8 hours, and instead utilize more time in REM sleep to repair their body from intense workouts. Even if you aren’t pulling an Olympic-sized training schedule, don’t neglect your sleep. It may be one of your best defenses for recovery that you can employ.
A relaxing massage after a workout unquestionably feels amazing, but it also is a powerful tool to help in recovery. Researchers found that massage reduces cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation and pain. They also discovered that a good rub down increased mitochondrial activity, which sped up the healing process at a cellular level. If you run any races, make sure to get in line at the free massage tents afterwards. Or, just indulge yourself in a professional treatment at a spa.
Everyone knows that to get through a workout, you need to hydrate. However, it is just as important to keep drinking after the workout is finished. Water is essential to assist your body in removing waste products, transport nutrients, and regulate your body temperature. Sports drinks or coconut water can help replace needed electrolytes, helping to further aid in your recovery.
Everyone understands the importance of warming up your muscles to prevent injury, but the cool down should also not be overlooked. You should never stop your workout abruptly. You need to slowly, over a period of about 10 minutes, bring your body back to a relaxed state. Proper cool downs aid in circulation and prevent blood pooling and swelling, which can contribute to soreness later.
Compression and Elevation
While we covered the importance of elevating your legs after a hard workout to help with circulation, compression gear can also give you this benefit if you don’t have time to lay on your back for a few minutes with your legs up a wall. Compression gear has been found to have a moderate effect on certain aspects of recovery. The most important benefits included reducing muscular swelling and pain. However, if you have a basketball game soon after a long run, they also found that compression gear can lessen the time until you gain your peak vertical jumping ability; for what it’s worth.
For athletes who want to avoid the post-exercise gimp of pain, small efforts can provide big relief. While no one solution will work every time, the more combinations you can incorporate, the less pain you will encounter. And, while exercise brings many benefits, facing a painful few days following a tough workout can cause anyone to shy away from it. Thankfully, if you know the proper steps to take to give your body all it needs to heal, you can train harder and reach your fitness goals faster without the suffering.