In part one we discussed the importance of recovery and what tragedies the body goes through if overtraining occurs. For a more in-depth look at the recovery process, read "Stimulate, Recover, Adapt, Repeat" by Dylan Smith to get a better understanding of the amount of time it takes to recover based on the stress you apply to the body.
There are many different types of recovery that athletes and average gym goers can use to help alleviate muscle tension and fatigue. I have arranged them into five categories: Active, Water, Electric Muscle Stimulation (EMS) ,Soft Tissue/Skeletal release, and Sleep.
1) Active Recovery
Active recovery, also known as active rest, is designed to keep your body moving but at a much lower intensity as a mean of helping your body recover from competition, high-intensity exercise, or muscle soreness. You can use this method both on intense workout days and also on what would normally be your rest day or day off from your normal training routine. For example, let's say you just got done doing some heavy squats and your workout is complete for the day. You know you're going to be sore the next day. Hop on the step-mill and keep it at a slow steady pace for about 5-10 min. After placing so much stress on your skeletal muscle from the squats, as soon as you start walking on the step mill your brain begins send out a signal to the body essentially telling it not to work so hard. The muscles surrounding your bones and joints begin to relax. As your muscles begin to relax, an increase in your oxygen and nutrient flow makes its way to the area to help the process of healing muscle tissue.
There are many forms of active recovery. Even something as simple as taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood to light biking count. Active Recovery is also designed to give your metal state a rest as well. Something light and not so intense will help put your mind at ease which in turn will help the body relax as well.
Now when I say water I mean all of things you can do with it to recover. The most common of which is soaking in a nice warm tub. Warm or hot water helps to increase the flow of blood through the body. This is a great way to relax. If hot soaking is your thing, I recommend adding in some Epsom salt.
Epsom is placed in while HOT running water fills the tub. Now hot water doesn't mean burning or to the point where you can barley get in. It means as hot as your body can tolerate. You want to use at least two cups of salt into the running water and soak it up until the water reaches your neck. You don't want this on your face and head. The menthol and magnesium sulfate in the salt is absorbed through the skin, the salts then begin to draw out toxins from the body, helps to put your nervous system as ease, and reduces swelling and relaxes the muscles. Although any type of salts will do I highly recommend to all my clients Dr. Teal's Salts. The two types pictured are targeted towards athletes. I use this in my own recovery frequently after a hard day of training and after a competition.
* Keep a water bottle nearby as you will sweat a lot
* Do not soak for longer than 20 min after sweating beings
* Keep hands off of face and eyes
* Shower when done
Although the salt bath feels amazing there is another type of soak that is a little more intense, The Ice Bath.
Soaking in ice isn't the most comfortable or relaxing but it's a method almost every athlete swears by. An ice bath will immediately reduce swelling while flushing lactic acid out of your body. When you sit in an ice bath the cold causes your blood vessels to tighten. This helps drain the lactic acid out of your tired muscles. When you get out of the bath, your muscle tissue warms back up, causing a return of oxygenated blood to help your muscles recover.
* Build a tolerance slowly. Before going crazy and dumping 2 bags of ice in your tub, start with just turning the water to the coldest it can get.
* Only soak for about 10-15 minutes
* Do not get into the tub naked. Wear spandex shorts and a shirt for men and highly recommend at least a sports bra for women. (men can go shirtless if they can tolerate)
* Try to submerge your self as low as you can into the tub. No need to get your head or face in there but try to ease yourself to neck level.
* When in the tub stay as still as possible
* Shower when done with warm water
Contrast soaking is getting the best of both worlds. Usually the athlete will soak in an ice bath for 5-8min and the go straight into a warm bath for 8-10 min and repeat the process about 3-4 times.
Personally because I don't have two tubs or the time to soak for that long I will choose a day when I soak in Epsom salt and a separate day I soak in ice but I will supplement each with a hot or cold shower. So on a salt soaking day I take a cold shower and on ice soaking days I take a hot shower.
3) Electric Muscle Stimulation (EMS)
EMS is great way to keep your muscles firing at a low and relaxing environment. All levels of athletes use an EMS to help their bodies recover. It can also be used for physical therapy to help heal a damaged muscle. Electrical muscle stimulation is a process through which low-level electrical currents are used to stimulate muscles, forcing them to contract. For deeper explanation of EMS watch the video below which explains all the benefits of an EMS machine and how to use it.
A portable EMS device such as the one above can be very useful for people with a busy schedule. The Unit above, known as a TENS unit, can be applied and used no matter where you are.
* Start low with the amount of current you apply to the muscle.
* Read and follow the diagrams for different areas to know how to relieve the tension more efficiently.
* Use the E-stim device when you are not physically moving the muscle frequently. In other words be at rest, for example, while you're watching Dare Devil on Netflix.
4) Soft tissue release
There are many forms of soft tissue release but one we preach to all of our clients at TFN is Self-Myofasical Release such as using a Foam Roller. Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a technique that is used by athletes to help inhibit overactive muscles and allow for the activation of the muscle we want to work.
A Foam Roller can be used both before and after workouts. I would also recommend using a foam roller on off days especially if your job requires you to stand for long periods of time. Also remember to hit banded and static stretches after a workout or on days off as well.
Getting a massage or going for an acupuncture appointment from time to time is another way to help increase blood flow to an area of your body that may be having some tightness or soreness issues. Not only does it feel great but you get to relax your mind as well.
Chiropractic visits also have a wide range of benefits such as:
• Improved Nerve Communication in the Body
• Improved Joint Motion and Coordination
• Improved Physical Function and Performance
• Improved Posture
• Relief from joint discomfort
Appointments should be made at least once every 2-3 months depending on why your seeing one, whether it's for routine maintenance or an ongoing issue, especially for people competing in a sport or lifting heavy weights.
Without a doubt sleep is the most important. Without this the previous steps are for nothing. Sleep has been the number one aspect of all athletes and they make it their number one priority. It has been proven to show an increase in both a mental and physical state when proper sleep is achieved. During this time your body is able to process all the recovery steps you have followed above and the stress that has been put on it. Now it's able to add the final touches you need to make progress both in and out of the gym.
Exercise depletes energy, fluids, and breaks down muscle. Hydration and the right fuel are only part of training and recovery. What athletes do in the moments during and immediately after competition and training also determines how quickly their bodies rebuild muscle and replenish nutrients. This helps maintain endurance, speed, accuracy and performance. Make recovery part of your daily routine and watch your results multiply.