You have just finished a heartbreaking workout. Your muscles scream. You are drenched in sweat. So what now? You will likely do some water, stretch a little, and maybe inhale a snack. While these are helpful after a hard sweat session, your post-workout routine (and your daily routine!) Will really benefit from a little more focus on proper recovery.
“Many people consider post-exercise recovery to be something they do when they have the time,” says Amoila Cesar, a NASM-certified personal trainer and BeachBody super trainer. “That means it is often ignored, which is unfortunate because prioritizing recovery is important to optimize your results and reduce your risk of injury.”
Plus, many of the steps you take to recover from an exercise also contribute to important body functions that keep you healthy, energetic, and ready to face the day. So next time you’re tempted to break down on the couch after your workout, try these expert-backed post-workout recovery tips instead.
1. Cool down
The last thing you want to do after a hard workout is try harder or work harder, but that’s exactly what you should be doing. “Take at least five to six minutes to focus on your breath while you stretch the major muscles that you just worked out,” says Sara Farias, a personal trainer who specializes in HIIT and strength training.
Stretching relieves muscle tension, improves blood circulation, increases mobility, and promotes oxygen and nutrient delivery to tired muscles, all of which help make repair and recovery easier, and help your body get stronger, Cesar adds.
2. Drink up
It’s important to replenish your body’s water supply after you’ve exerted yourself and sweated so much. In addition to lubricating the joints to ward off pain, proper hydration also helps regulate body temperature and prevent muscle spasms and dizziness. You also need enough flow to carry all of the nutrients that promote regeneration to your muscles, heart, brain, and more.
And don’t forget to drink water before and during your workout. “If, like so many people, you only drink when you’re thirsty, you’re already overworked and on the spectrum of dehydration,” says Theodore “Teddy” Savage, Head of Health and Fitness Excellence at Planet Fitness. “Your body will also absorb it better if you sip for long periods of time instead of swallowing a bunch right after your workout.”
3. Treat yourself to a massage
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The foam rolling feels really nice, and that’s because it’s essentially a massage. Using a foam roller helps loosen any muscle buildup that can cause sore muscles or affect performance, Cesar says.
Similarly, a massage gun can help, Farias adds, and if you don’t have both, a lacrosse or tennis ball can help. Follow the product’s directions for use, and if you are using a DIY method, let a personal trainer or physical therapist show you the correct procedure (or check out our most popular foam roller exercises here).
4. Feel the cold
There’s a reason athletes regularly soak in an ice bath (yes, a tub of ice-cold water!). “Hydrotherapy has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow, two key components of recovery,” says Savage.
If you’re not quite ready for an official ice bath, that’s fine – “the same benefits can be absorbed by a cold shower!” Says Savage.
5. Try compression garments
You can find tight-fitting compression garments for most major parts of the body – calves, knees, hands, elbows, back, whatever – and they help tame or prevent pain and delayed sore muscles by gently squeezing the muscles to free up blood flow to improve and reduce inflammation.
They are also said to help remove lactic acid, which builds up in muscles after high-energy exercise and causes pain, especially in runners, says Savage. In addition to improving comfort, relieving or preventing pain will help you keep track of your health goals and promote improved flexibility and freedom of movement, adds Savage.
6. Plan for rest
Of course, you’ll take a breather after your workout, but you should set certain days of the week when you don’t do much at all. “Often the mindset is that you have to keep exercising to achieve your goals,” says Savage. “But seven days a week is too much – your muscles need time to regenerate, get stronger and grow, so incorporate rest days into your exercise program.”
That doesn’t mean lounging around (sorry!). Light activities that get your body moving – like a walk, a hike, a bike ride, a light swim, or a catch game – improve muscle recovery without putting any strain on them by promoting blood circulation, Cesar adds.
7. Do a short body check
When you are done exercising, take a moment to assess how you are feeling. One of the best ways to keep pain or injury at bay is to avoid over-exerting yourself. “Your goal should be to challenge yourself without punishing yourself. In other words, go hard, but not so hard that you painfully pay the price the next day, ”says Cesar. “They know that you hit the sweet spot when you leave your workout challenged but also strong and energetic. You should never leave a workout drained and exhausted. If so, choose it back next time. “
8. Feed your muscles
To build muscle strength or bigger muscles in general, pay close attention to the foods you eat after your workout. “It’s best to eat something within an hour of training,” says Farias.
Savage recommends eating a balance of healthy carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat, all of which will help facilitate the changes your body needs to make physical progress. For example, a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and sliced bananas or a cup of Greek yogurt with fresh berries will fit.
It’s also important to replenish the electrolytes lost through sweating. These minerals play an essential role in fluid regulation and muscle contraction – and a lack of them can lead to muscle cramps or weakness, dizziness, headaches, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Most fresh fruits contain electrolytes, and drinking coconut water is also a great way to boost your levels, says Savage.
9. First hot, then cold
If you feel sore after a hard workout, apply heat to relax and calm the muscles, then switch to ice to reduce pain and inflammation. “This combination is ideal – then stretch your muscles,” says Savage.
10. Prioritize sleep
“Bedtime is when our muscles have a chance to recover from exercising, and sleep deprivation prevents the protein synthesis needed to repair your muscles,” says Farias.
Create a sleep routine to help you fall asleep. Our guide to getting a good night’s sleep recommends creating a calming ritual that can include brief meditation, dimming the lights, or spreading a relaxing scent like lavender.
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