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You dedicate hard work and long hours to improve your body and its abilities. You may be working towards a new PR, a yoga backbend, faster race time, or weight loss. But what are you likely forgetting that is crucial to your success?
Regardless of your fitness goal, every training program requires flexibility because you can only go as far as your body will let you. In order to maintain and improve your mobility and prevent injuries, you must spend intentional time recovering.
What is Recovery?
Recovery is defined as the act or process of returning to a normal state after a period of difficulty. In fitness terms, if you don’t return your muscles to their normal state post-workout, you’re setting yourself up for injuries and hindering your progress.
Keeping muscles flexible and pain-free is what recovery is all about.
While it may be tempting to skip your post-workout stretching to opt for a few more reps or a longer run, taking that extra time to care for your tired muscles is time well spent, because it will help reduce soreness and prevent injuries.
Any injury, whether it’s a broken bone, torn ligament, or simply a tight muscle causing discomfort, will prevent heavy lifting, endurance, and fluid movement. The more time you invest in recovery now, the better you’ll be able to perform over the long term. And isn’t that what we all want?
3 Key Components of Muscle Recovery
Muscles become tight when you workout, which can result in imbalances and the formation of “knots” that keep them from working properly in their full range of motion. If you reduce the range of motion, you limit your strength and performance, meaning your workouts are less effective. Tight muscles can also become painful, requiring you to limit the amount of weight you can lift or reduce workout days.
There are various ways to prevent muscle tension and recover quickly, but a well-rounded approach that uses various methods is your best bet.
Stretching, massage, and blood circulation are all key in muscle recovery. Here are methods to incorporate these three components into a daily routine for the best results.
Most people are aware that they should stretch after a workout. Some actually do it. Even less know how to do it correctly, often just repeating what they remember from high school gym class. However, a few standing quad stretches and arm circles are not adequate to withstand the intensity of workouts like cross-training.
Stretching helps get muscles back to their pre-workout length and further improve flexibility. It prevents tension that can cause improper form and other issues like headaches, knee pain, or lower back aches.
In order to keep your workouts going strong, be sure to stretch every muscle you worked for at least 20-30 seconds. Any less than this and you’re not truly allowing your muscle to relax to the point where it will benefit from the stretch.
You may also want to incorporate yoga into your weekly routine to enhance overall flexibility and body awareness.
Deep-tissue massage is one of the best ways to alleviate muscle pain. Of course, regular trips to the masseuse can be costly and time-consuming. Foam rolling, also known as myofascial release, is a simple, daily alternative to soothe sore muscles in between massages. Foam rollers are used to apply direct pressure to help release trigger points (“knots”) in the muscles in order to get them back to normal length and function.
Foam rolling helps keep your muscles operating in their full range of motion, hastens recovery, and promotes blood circulation (which will be discussed below).
Applying pressure for 20-30 seconds in one spot will help to release trigger points. The key is staying in those spots to get the muscle to relax, not just rolling up and down your muscles. You’ll know where you need to pause by a tender feeling, or in some cases, downright painful.
There are a variety of foam rollers to try, depending on where you have knots and your level of sensitivity.
Lacrosse balls are great for smaller areas such as feet, calves, and shoulders; foam rollers with bumps can penetrate larger muscle groups a bit deeper; smooth foam rollers work well for extra painful areas like the IT band.
Strenuous exercise causes damage to muscle fibers, which is actually a good thing, as it is the repair process that causes muscles to grow. But to heal quickly and sufficiently, muscles need oxygen and nutrients, which are supplied by blood. Therefore, proper blood circulation is critical during and after workouts to deliver nutrients and remove harmful waste.
Aside from regular massages, acupressure is another great way to stimulate blood circulation and reduce pain. A great at-home remedy to try is an acupressure mat.
Over 8000 pressure points stimulate meridian lines of the body to release endorphins, increase blood flow, and improve sleep, which is also crucial for recovery. Just 10-20 minutes is all you need.
During and after workouts, you can also try kinesiology tape. This sweatproof tape provides support for athletic injuries, helping to reduce pain while slightly lifting the skin to improve blood flow for waste removal and healing.
Get Better Results
Start incorporating these methods of stretching, foam rolling, and acupressure into your weekly fitness and health routines, and you can expect to see even better results and long-lasting success!