Exercise Recovery – how to recover faster so you can perform better

Ever wondered how to improve your performance? How you recover is the key to your success, and it’s the reason the biggest and best sporting clubs around the world spend the time, money and energy into getting it right.

Every body is different. Every sport and athletic pursuit is demanding in it’s own right and what is required of you will be different from someone else. Not only do you have to think about the type of training you are putting your body through but how you are loading it and how often. You don’t see the goal keeper of a soccer club running the same drills as the midfielder, nor would you see an eight hundred metre runner training the same way a ten kilometre runner would train. Understanding what your body needs will not only speed up your recovery process but it will enhance your body’s ability to adapt to the training load and THIS is the most important factor. Your ability to adapt quickly and efficiently is the key to progression and ultimately a better performance.

We believe there are 5 key principles to great recovery:

  1. Sleep
  2. Nutrition and hydration
  3. Movement – Active Recovery
  4. Massage
  5. Stretch and Roll

SLEEP

Remember the last time you had an awful nights sleep. Remember how you felt the next day? Dreadful. (And that’s putting it politely.) It’s a given though right? Have a bad nights sleep and wake up feeling awful. BUT that’s not the end of it. Have several nights of bad quality sleep and you’ll not only feel the effects of it when you wake up but you start to notice your body feeling lethargic when you train, your attention span is that of a goldfish, everything and everyone irritates you and even worse, your recovery slows down and you end up hitting a plateau. The exact opposite of what you want from your 12 week marathon training program. So, to say sleep is important is an understatement. It is crucial for our body to recover, recharge and reset itself for a new day. 

So, if your sleeping habits are a little erratic, here are a few things you can try.

  1. Stick to a schedule – Going to sleep and waking up at the same time (or very close to,) everyday is important in setting your internal clock. BUT the most important part, is actually waking up at the same time everyday which will set your body clock and you’ll find yourself getting sleepy at the same time each night.
  2. Eat light at night – The quote “eat Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince and Dinner like a pauper” couldn’t be more right. Eating a light dinner in the evening (and early if possible), will help your digestive system and by the time bedtime comes around, your body will be ready to wind down and relax.(1) 
  3. Cut out Caffeine – I have to admit, I love a good coffee. Actually I love a mocha which everyone repeatedly tells me is not a real coffee. But hey thats beside the point. Caffeine is a stimulant so whilst it may be good to have earlier in the day (or as part of your training program advised by your health professional,) having caffeine close to bedtime stimulates the nervous system and relaxing becomes difficult.
  4. Create a healthy bedtime routine – This will be different for everyone. You could try a relaxing bath with essential oils, or reading before bed, or meditating. Whatever it is, your routine should be focused on winding down and relaxing the system.
  5. Reduce blue light exposure – Yep, this is a thing these days. With the amount of technology ruling our lives, it’s important to note that cutting back your time staring at your smartphone or computer screen is really important. Did you know, the blue light tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime(2)! Not very helpful when we’re laying wide eyed in bed.

NUTRITION

We all know nutrition and hydration play a vital role in our health. Eating a healthy balanced diet provides the body with the right nutrients at the right time and can facilitate gains from your training program. It promotes muscle repair and growth assisting you in getting stronger, it boosts your adaptation from the training so you’re able to train at higher intensities and has an all round positive effect on the immune system.

When you eat well you are appropriately fuelling, refuelling and rehydrating your body and getting the right nutrients pre-training, training and post training.  As for hydration, as mentioned in Sports Dietician Fact Sheet, “Drinking fluid during exercise is necessary to replace fluids lost in sweat. This action will reduce the risk of heat stress, maintain normal muscle function, and prevent performance decreases due to dehydration.”(6) 

We are definitely not nutritionists, so for the best nutritional recovery strategies, see a nutritionist or sports dietician for an individualised plan based on workload, the fuel used during the session, body size, body composition goals and the period of time before the next training session or event.

MOVEMENT – ACTIVE RECOVERY

An active recovery simply means you are moving at a lower intensity than you are used to. Instead of doing absolutely nothing, active recovery will help increase recovery from your previous workout by increasing blood flow to your muscles and tissues. This will increase your blood circulation and will help to get nutrients (like amino acids and oxygen) to your muscles so they can repair themselves. It also helps flush out waste products that build up during exercise (like hydrogen ions(3) and contribute to muscle damage and fatigue

What to try?

Yoga is fantastic at providing a low intensity (Yin Yoga or restorative yoga) dynamic practice that helps you to focus on your body, mind and breath. Please keep in mind the type of Yoga you choose to do. Yoga forms that have the word ‘hot’ or ‘power’ in them are going to be strong and intense. This is the opposite effect of what we want, so be mindful of this.

BONUS POINTS; Yoga is excellent in improving your stability AND mobility. Why is mobility so important? We explain further into this article.

Swimming is a wonderful low load bearing activity, and what’s better is if your can get to the beach and wade around in the salt water which has many great health benefits from the physical to mental to your emotional wellbeing. 

Tai Chi –  The first time I tried Tai Chi, I was blown away with how great I felt. My energy levels had increased, I was more alert and physically felt like my body was ready to take on anything I threw at it. Why is it great? Well firstly it’s low impact and intensity and secondly the practice involves a high level of focus and concentration on your movement and breath which can also be beneficial to your overall performance on the track. Definitely a practice to try!

MASSAGE THERAPY

I’ll be completely honest with you. I could talk about the amazing benefits of massage All. Day. Long.

But I will try and keep it short and to the point.

So here we go. Massage post exercise is now gaining the much recognition it deserves. Researchers at McMaster University reported that massage following an intense workout actually causes muscles to enlarge and grow new mitochondria. Don’t go glass-eyed on me yet. The Mitochondria in our cells (known as the powerhouse) are responsible for converting nutrients into energy.

And I think we can all agree that energy is everything.

The McMaster University(4) study also found that massage therapy increases the range of motion in muscles and decreases recovery time between training and game/race day. Not only that, it helps bring your muscles back to a relaxed state, post training/game/race day.

Win!

Oh wait, there’s more!

Massage is beneficial to more than just our muscles, massage can help reduce anxiety, enhance attentiveness, increase relaxation and overall improve your mood. The ultimate mind and body therapy.

That’s a lot of bounce for your ounce! (Sorry, kilo didn’t rhyme with bounce..)

STRETCH AND ROLL

There is a lot of debate these days about stretching. I’ll tell you why I’m an advocate of stretching.

1. It encourages movement

2. It keeps our joints healthy. How? When you stretch, the muscle fibers are pulled out to its full length.

3. It enhances the development of body awareness.

4. It reduces the risk of injury to muscle, tendons and joints (we’ll get back to this.)

5. It increases suppleness due to the stimulation of the production of chemicals which lubricate connective tissue. Phew, that was a lot to get out.

Stretching is a topic that i take very seriously so in order to make this article a reasonable length and not twenty seven page essay, here is the link to my stretch article that tells you when to stretch, when not to stretch and everything else you need to know about stretching. But for the purpose of this article, stretching the muscle groups that are overused in your chosen activity is necessary in injury prevention.

Check out the article here.

Roll! whether it’s over a foam roller, spiky ball, posture pro and a frozen coke bottle. This really does wonders for the muscle tissue and fascia. Rolling is fantastic for stretching the tissue and increasing blood flow. The other great thing about these tools is you can use them to release  trigger points. These are the ‘knots’ and contractions that form in response to poor posture and over-use. Releasing trigger points helps reduce muscular pain, and restores it’s range of motion subsequently improve joint motion.

What is MOBILITY?

Not to be confused with flexibility. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked. Mobility, or joint mobility, is the ability to move a limb through full range of motion–with control. It’s based on voluntary movement. Flexibility on the other hand, is passive and not strength dependant. So what’s better to have? Great mobility wins out every time. 

Mobility work will help to reduce the potential body imbalances and/or injury associated with your athletic and recreational pursuits.

So, what can you do to increase your mobility?

We mention this a lot but it’s important to remember, and that is, that everyone is different. So understand your body, it’s limitations and restrictions. Once you have an understanding of this then you can work specifically through your restrictions whether you roll a spikey ball to release tension then take the joint through it’s range of motion and gently work through movements that challenge this range but not to a point of pain. Check out Jackie going through different ranges of motion here.

Give it a go or come up with your own movement dependant on your needs.

A great article  https://mikemahler.com/articles-videos/joint-mobility-training/mobility-training-may-be-the-most-important-factor-in-musculoskeletal-health

Interesting paper https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248411001795

So there you have it! b3’s best tips on how to master your recovery. Is there something we’ve left out? Let us know if you do anything additional to this. In the meantime, happy training and smart recovering. 🙂