Rest days and recovery sessions are essential parts of any training and conditioning program. In fact, some would argue that it might be as important as the workout itself. The truth is recovery must happen before progress is made.
It is key to minimizing injuries, staying in the game for the long haul, and increasing success on days when you want to push to the max.
While the benefits of any exercise are immense, a change in routine may leave you feeling pretty sore and tired in the first few sessions as your body tries to adapt.
What’s Happening to Your Muscles During and After Exercise?
Muscles that haven’t been worked in a while may go through a period of adaptation. During exercise, your muscles start to break down. This muscle micro-trauma can result in something called “delayed-onset muscle soreness” or “DOMS” for short and is entirely normal.
When your body becomes accustomed to that type of exercise, the delayed soreness is often minimal.
Fortunately, you can do things to help relieve muscle soreness while your body recovers and repairs the muscle fibers. Cue recovery sessions.
What Should You Do?
Schedule Rest Periods
For optimal success, make sure you take at least a 24-hour rest between intense training sessions within the same muscle group.
Remember, when you train, you are breaking down your muscle tissue and depleting your energy stores. Rest periods allow for the muscle fibers to repair and grow. Returning to the gym prematurely could increase your risk for injury.
Then, every 3-4 weeks, plan a total recovery week. If you are lifting, try performing half the number of reps with sub-max loads. Or do a different take on a workout. Swap your HIIT session for a hike session, for example.
Proactively scheduling your rest days and recovery session weeks can keep you from getting overtraining syndrome (OTS). OTS can occur when the body struggles to recover from constant strenuous exercises. Overtraining can actually cause a decrease in performance. It may even lead to serious, adverse metabolic and physiological changes within the body.
Pro Tip: Take one of your workout slots in your recovery week and schedule a sports massage during the time you would usually work out. That way, you keep a routine, and you fit in some needed self-care.
Sleep, Hydrate, & Refuel
The whole purpose of sleep is to induce a state of restoration in the body. When your body gets the recommended 7-9 hours, it produces much of its hormones and growth factors that can aid in daily muscle repair and recovery. In fact, it is the hormonal secretions that occur during sleep that can have the most significant influence on recovery.
Research shows that without adequate sleep, the body can experience a decrease in both tolerance and performance during training sessions and the healing process after.
Bottom line: get your ZZZs and avoid screen time right before bedtime.
Dehydration not only reduces performance potential but can delay the recovery process.
Exercise increases the body’s need for water and electrolytes, especially the sessions that are the most sweat-producing.
And how much water should you be drinking daily? Find out here.
Proper nutrition is also key to successful recovery.
Make sure you have a good source of protein as it is required to rebuild muscle tissue.
And don’t rule out carbs just yet. Carbs are muscle’s primary source of energy and are important for refueling your body’s glycogen stores.
Consult a sports nutritionist for the best food options and fuel recommendations based on your activity level and other considerations.
What should you include in Recovery Sessions?
Be sure to schedule active recovery sessions into your workout routine. Doing so can help not only with injury recovery but overall workout success. Try these:
When moving tight muscles toward full length after a workout, you may experience resistance or pain. The purpose of a stretch is to have more muscle length available, otherwise known as full range of motion.
- Glute Stretch (laying on your back, bend one leg so your foot is on the floor. Take your opposite foot and let it rest comfortably on the knee of your bent leg, switch sides)
- Hamstring stretch SMART Strength Band (laying on your back, place the SMART Strength Band around your foot, lift your leg into the air, pull the strength band to your chest until tension is reach but comfortable.)
- Stability Ball Posterior Chain Stretch with the SMART Stability Ball (with your feet grounded on the floor for balance, ease your back over the ball, and reach overhead)
Active recovery can be important after a tough workout because it can help your body circulate waste products caused by rigorous activity while promoting blood flow and tissue repair. Be sure to choose activities that don’t get you winded or cause further fatigue to your muscles.
- Light Walking or Gentle Bike Ride
- Standing Crosses with (light) SMART Medicine Ball (gently move the medicine ball up and down in front of your body, and then side to side)
- Banded Walks (wrap a light Mini Flat Band around both shins and side-step back and forth)
Massage: Foam Roll
Massage can also push out the fluid carrying waste products of muscle breakdown, encourage fresh blood to flow, and help muscle rebuild. In fact, massage following exercise can often improve circulation for up to 72 hours later.
Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release, which is a way to use pressure to release tension in the muscles, much like a sports massage. It’s not always feasible to schedule a sports massage, so having a foam roller as part of your smart recovery plan is a perfect alternative.
- Outer Thigh Foam Roll with SMART Recovery Foam Roller (with the foam roller on the ground, gently ease back and forth over your outer thigh)
- Quad Foam Roll with SMART Recovery Foam Roller (with the foam roller on the ground, gently ease back and forth over your quads)
- Inner Thigh Roll with SMART Recovery Foam Roller (with the foam roller on the ground, gently ease back and forth over your inner thigh)
Build your own Restorative Fitness Session
Although Yoga might be the first thing that comes to mind when people hear the word restorative fitness, in fact, this wellness trend includes modalities that range from massage, stretching, mobility, foam rolling, sauna sessions, and more. In fact, rest, coupled with restorative wellness, allows our fitness levels to improve and muscles to build after a tough workout.
Here’s our fitness expert’s go-to recovery sessions:
What you’ll need:
Pigeon Pose, Right
Pigeon Pose, Left
Reverse Lunge, Right
Right Angle, Right
Reverse Lunge, Left
Right Angle, Left
The Mayo Clinic says that, in general, stretching may help you improve the range of motion in joints, improve athletic performance, and reduce the risk of injury.
In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that you stretch for 60 seconds on each major muscle group at least two times a week.
Lay face down, arms out in T position. Roll bodyweight to one side, using the opposite arm to steady, and stretch the shoulder joint)
Cobra to Updog: Lay your belly down and lift your upper body, pressing your palms into the floor and drawing your shoulder blades together and away from your ears.
Spinal Roll Massage: In a seated position, lift your legs parallel to the floor. Roll backward paying attention to your spine and neck while you allow each vertebra to connect with the floor. Roll back to a seated position.
Read More about stretching here.
Foam Roll Session
Muscle recovery is an important step in overall fitness. The general idea behind rolling exercises is that by applying direct loads to your muscles, you lengthen and massage the underlying tissues.
Try this leg sequence for posterior chain recovery. Spend 30 seconds on each area: calves, hamstrings, and glutes.
Foam Rolling Leg Sequence: https://youtu.be/-ZQZ_J0oWsA
Read more about how to use foam rollers in recovery here
Recovery is where progress is made. Adding in a few recovery sessions will have a big impact on your overall performance! You’ve got the tools now to make recovery a regular part of your workout regime!
While the benefits of any exercise are immense, even a quick recovery session will have you moving better!