Creative Ways To Recover

Proper recovery is an absolutely vital part of any fitness routine. Although it may feel a little counterintuitive, the reality is that your muscles don’t grow or improve in any real way during your workouts. Those adaptations happen in response to the activity, while you’re recovering.

So, if you exercise – sending your brain a signal that it’s time for your muscles to change – and then don’t allow that recovery process to play out, you could not only slow your progress but even put yourself at risk of overuse injuries. To counteract this all-too-common problem, here are a few creative ways to recover from your workouts.

Sleep More, Sleep Better

Granted, sleeping isn’t exactly a creative or novel approach to anything. Everyone does it. But many people don’t realize the key role that sleep plays in exercise recovery.

When you work out – or put your body through any form of stress at all – numerous forms of tissue endure small amounts of damage, your energy levels drop, hydration dissipates and concentrations of various hormones find themselves askew. Of particular concern is is the so-called “stress hormone,” cortisol. When levels are too high for too long, cortisol can actually lead to a breakdown of your muscle fibers, an increase in belly fat, and a decrease in energy levels.

Thankfully, sleep takes care of all of this. According to the Sleep Foundation, research has found that proper sleep can improve athletic performance, decision making, mood, and overall health.

But how much sleep do you actually need? That’s a hard question. The general recommendation is around 7 to 8 hours each night for adults, but you may need closer to 10 if you’ve been pushing yourself particularly hard.

The real key is to make sure that your sleep is quality. Keep your room dark and cool – between 60 and 68 F – doing your best to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day.

Move

When people think about recovery, it’s usually very closely tied up with doing nothing. Within the realm of fitness, though, this is a pretty poor approach.

Remember, your workout has left your muscles damaged and starved for nutrients. Blood flow, then, is key. Increased circulation with help flush any waste products out of your tired muscles and give them a steady supply of oxygen and other nutrients. This will also help warm things up and reduce inflammation.

And, what’s one of the best ways to increase blood flow and body temperature? Movement. The trick, though, is to avoid activities that will cause more of an exercise response in your body. You aren’t looking to challenge your system. That already happened. Instead, this type of movement is simply meant to get your blood flowing.

Do something that you enjoy that won’t tax your system anymore, like a taking an easy walk or going for a bike ride.

Contrast Therapy

Requiring a little more commitment, preparation, and fortitude than the other methods we’ve discussed, contrast baths have been around for a very long time. The idea here is that by immersing your body in cold water and then hot, you force rapid circulation through your muscles.

And this totally works.

A review of 28 different studies on the practice found that contrast baths do, in fact, increase blood flow. The study did not, however, deal with how this impacts athletic performance. Still, the theory is a sound one.

Except for the whole part about bathing in ice-cold water. That part is problematic. With the exception of dedicated athletes who have access to special equipment, this really isn’t practical or realistic for most people.

So, here’s a work-around. By using some cold washcloths and hot water bottles, you can achieve similar results while targeting specific parts of your body.

To prepare, wet the washcloths and place them in the freezer. If possible, hang them so that they freeze flat and are easier to manipulate. Once they’re frozen, fill the hot water bottle with…well, hot water.

  • Place the frozen cloth on the affected area for 5 to 8 minutes.
  • Return the cloth to the freezer.
  • Place the hot water bottle on the affected area for 5 to 8 minutes.
  • Continue to rotate between the two for as long as necessary.

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