How to Recover from Workouts, According to Science
You lose out on fitness gains if you don’t prioritize recovery. Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash
Foam roller, massage gun, compression boots, cryo membership — you have it all. You’re royalty when it comes to workout recovery. Have you ever wondered how well those things actually work, though? Even the fanciest tools may not have the profound effect you think they do. Here’s a look at what does and doesn’t help you recover from workouts.
What might work
Massage and percussive therapy
Massage therapy is backed by a rather impressive body of evidence, but studies on massage as it relates specifically to workout recovery is limited. Percussive therapy is a newcomer to the muscle recovery arena, but the available science shows promising results. Both massage and percussive therapy work by manipulating your fascia and, if deep enough, your muscle tissue, which can work out kinks that cause soreness.
Percussive therapy devices, such as the HyperVolt, may help with sore, knotty muscles.
Cryotherapy is nothing new (hello, ice baths after practice), but whole-body cryotherapy — the trendy kind where you sit in a below-freezing chamber of nitrogen — is relatively novel. The concept behind cryotherapy makes sense: Muscles become inflamed after exercise, and cold reduces inflammation. However, some research shows that the age-old ice bath is at least as effective as that cryotherapy chamber session…
Health professionals have long used compression to treat pain and speed up healing of inflammatory injuries. When it comes to muscle recovery, compression therapy (a la NormaTec) might help because it can increase blood flow to specific parts of your body, thereby increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to taxed muscle fibers.
Compression boots like the popular NormaTec ones may facilitate better recovery.
Surprisingly, this one actually has some solid science to back it up. Far-infrared therapy, which works by transferring energy as heat into deep layers of body tissue, may stimulate your body’s healing processes and help speed up muscle recovery. Who’d’ve thought? (Besides scientists).
Surprise! While most people are aware that stretching can have immediate effects on the way you feel, science doesn’t necessarily support stretching as a bona fide workout recovery tactic. Evidence is conflicting at best, but that doesn’t mean you should swear off stretching. Your own anecdotal evidence is worth following in this case — if stretching makes you feel better and improves your recovery, then stretch.
Stretching may not support muscle recovery specifically, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help in other ways, like mobility.
Surprise again. Foam rolling may not be the fitness cure-all you thought it was. Like stretching studies, foam rolling studies present conflicting evidence: Some studies say rolling relieves soreness, while others say it doesn’t. Some research even suggests foam rolling is better for warming up than for cooling down. But, again, don’t discount your own experience. If you think foam rolling helps you recover, definitely keep it in your routine.
What we know works
Protein: Ya need it. Carbs will help, too. Your body is equipped with everything it needs to do its job -- repair your muscles. Studies show that post-workout nutrition is a significant controllable variable in the muscle recovery process, so don’t neglect your post-lift protein shake.
Balanced meals go a long way. Photo by Logan Jeffrey on Unsplash
Those six hours you get each night won’t cut it if you want to maximize muscle recovery. Research points to a clear link between sleep and whole-body regeneration, from hormone and metabolism regulation to — yep, you guessed it — muscle recovery. So, don’t feel bad about hitting snooze tomorrow.
As always, water comes in clutch. Your body must maintain fluid balance to function optimally, and dehydration can impair the recovery process.
The bottom line
Workout recovery is about the fundamentals: mobility, hydration, nutrition, and sleep!
If you’d like to learn more about post-workout recovery, talk to a personal trainer at your nearest World Gym.