Post workout recovery is a huge aspect of your success with your gym performance and your body composition. Obviously, you know that I like to focus on physique and performance as my main motivation in my own training, as well as my clients’.
The Importance Of Post Workout Recovery
A lot of beginning trainees think that training and nutrition are much more important, and neglect recovery. If that’s you, it’s time to stop! Recovery gets more and more important the stronger and leaner you get. I like to think of training, nutrition, and workout recovery as a triad, with each piece lending itself equally to the complete form.
It’s not just about post workout muscle recovery, either. Your joints and connective tissue also need time to recover, along with your CNS. You need to avoid fatigue whenever possible to ensure consistent and long-term training ability.
Our post workout recovery tips go a long way in contributing to the perfect lifestyle for maximum performance and your optimal physique. If you want more tips besides recovery tactics, you can check out our actionable tips for your entire active lifestyle.
Now, lets jump into my favorite ways to improve your post workout recovery!
A contrast shower is an easy technique to implement. When you are taking a shower (hopefully you do after every workout :/ ), you’ll switch between as cold as you can handle and as hot as you can handle. The hot water improves your blood flow, speeding up the recovery process in your muscles. The switch to cold makes the blood leave the muscles and retreat to your most important organs to avoid cooling down to much.
The process reduces muscle soreness. It also can improve the function of your organs, since the cold forces extra blood to pool into the organs, helping them with the recovery process of their daily beatings.
You need to cycle through hot and couple a few times at least. Also, your hot cycle should last about 3 times longer than your cold cycle. Here is an easy layout to follow:
- Start with 3 minutes of hot. You can actually do this step after you are done with the cleaning part of your shower, or do it concurrently. No big deal which you choose.
- Switch to as cold as you can handle for 1 minute.
- Repeat the cycle 3-4 times
- Make sure you end on cold. This will help with your alertness for the rest of the day, which can be an issue after a grueling workout. If you are training late at night before bed, you could end on a hot cycle, as it will relax you and get you ready to sleep.
Stretching – Static, Dynamic, & PNF
There are ton of different types of stretching that you can do. You can stick with typical static stretching, where you will hold a stretch for about 45-60 seconds. You can work with dynamic stretching where you are never static and use swinging movements to stretch muscle through the ROM (great for pre workout stretches). Another type of stretching is PNF stretching, which is a specific cycle of a 10 second stretch, a 5-10 second contraction of the muscle, and then a 30 second deeper stretch.
There are also things like Yoga and mobility work that can help you achieve the same thing. No matter which style(s) you choose, you are providing the same benefits for the body.
Stretching is great for getting blood flow into muscles. This is great if you are already sore. Research isn’t definitive on whether stretching actually improves soreness, but most can attest to the benefits of a regular stretch session. I prefer to dynamically stretch before workouts, perform mobility work within my training session, and do static or PNF stretches outside the gym after a training session.
Whatever you choose, just make sure to do it often. A few times a week is ideal.
Unless you have expendable money to get massages, or have a very giving partner, massage isn’t always a possibility. That is why foam rolling can be such a great tool. It is a form of self-myofascial release. Again, blood flow is improved in the target area.
I have actually found very similar benefits from foam rolling and stretching. So, here is what I do: I stretch muscles that need more flexibility and are generally easier to stretch. For the other muscles, I stick to foam rolling. You don’t need unlimited ROM in your muscles, so foam rolling is a great choice if you don’t want/need more flexibility in a muscle group.
Here is a full body foam rolling routine if you are new to the game! I like to do foam rolling before workouts to get some blood pumping into muscle groups that I’m about to use. Also, it’s good to use on off days on muscles that are sore. Post workout recovery isn’t just about the rest of the day after a training session!
If you can afford it, or have a willing partner willing to give you massages, take advantage. If you can get a massage regularly, you don’t have to worry about foam rolling very often.
There are a lot of different types of massage. Talk to your local professional about their experience with weight-training related soreness and how they’d approach the post workout recovery improvement.
If you are just getting a massage from your partner, friend, or someone who didn’t get educated in different types of massage, no worries. Just get some relaxing massage lotion and let them learn by doing :).
Epsom Salt/Ice Baths
I put these two together because of personal preference. I just can’t get myself to submerse my whole body into an ice bath. For that reason, I like to leave that tactic for leg recovery only. Since my upper body also wants some special treatment, I’ll hit that with a nice, warm Epsom salt bath!
An ice bath is just like icing a sore muscle or sore joint. The difference is that you’ll get a lot more coverage. The recommendation for icing is no less than 15 minutes, no more than 20 minutes. You can use that same layout.
As for your Epsom bath, you can choose a pre made mix designed for relaxation, or just use some bulk Epsom salt and find some other relaxation-promoting ingredients to throw into your bath/stew! You’ll find the amount to use and duration on the packaging for the product most likely.
These may not be regular tactics for you, but they are great for post workout muscle recovery if you want to switch it up or feel the need for a little extra.
If you have ever sat down for a long time after a leg workout, you will know that inactivity makes muscle soreness much worse. That is the reason that most of us wake up with our worst soreness.
To combat this, we need active rest and much as we can get it. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) not only helps boost your metabolic rate, it also helps reduce the soreness you experience.
This activity doesn’t have to be specific at all. Just do something active that you enjoy. If that’s going out into your garden and working it, do that. If that taking a walk to the park and playing with your pets, go for that. The point is to get moving and keep your activity levels up for a good duration. Again, it gets the blood flowing to the muscles (if you haven’t seen a pattern, you are blind!).
Improving Nutritional Intake
A lot of your recovery quality will come down to your nutritional intake. If you are cutting with a large deficit, your post workout recovery is going to suffer a lot. If you get to the point that recovery is taking longer and longer, and interfering with workouts, it might be time for a couple refeed days, or a higher calorie intake overall.
Getting enough protein is critical for post workout muscle recovery as well. While 0.8g/lb of bodyweight is generally enough to build maximal muscle and optimize recovery, you might find benefits beyond this.
Carbohydrates are important to replenish glycogen stores in your muscles. You’ll need this glycogen for energy for the next workout. Otherwise, your performance will suffer. That is why I like to get the majority of my carbs from the point of finishing my workout until I go to sleep. This time frame also helps with nutrient partitioning – shuttling nutrients to muscles more than fat stores.
Improving Quality & Quantity Of Sleep
Sleep is probably the best form of post workout recovery that you’ll ever get the chance at. If you aren’t getting sleep, you can get a little boost from doing everything else in this article. However, it won’t compare to getting enough high quality sleep.
The first step is to try and maximize your sleep quantity. If you aren’t getting 8 hours a night, try and get there. You can skip the late night TV in return for better recovery. If you simply can’t get it all in one session, try and find some time for a quick power nap during the day. Some days I have to go with 2 4-5 hour blocks of sleep, due to my work schedule.
If you can’t get more quantity, it’s time to maximize your quality. Certain supplements can help sleep patterns. I’ve personally used Melatonin and had some good benefits. If you have a problem getting to sleep, Benadryl/Zzquil definitely helps. Make sure to minimize any light exposure as well. Mayoclinic has a few tips as well.
Don’t understand how important sleep is. The saying “I’ll sleep when I die” will make you die sooner! Nothing heals better than a good night’s sleep!
Compression On Muscle Tissue
Research has shown that compression garments on sore/worked muscles can enhance recovery. This isn’t simply a little bit of compression, however. Your muscles need to be considerably compressed for quite a while to show the benefits.
Each individual garment will have different instructions. Just make sure to choose a high quality product.
I personally do not/have not used compression for recovery as I’m content with my recovery quality with these other tactics.
Anti Inflammatory Supplementation
I’m not a doctor, so I’m not going in depth with this one. Anti-inflammatory medications, like Aspirin, have been shown to improve muscle soreness, and even blood flow.
Talk with your doctor before taking any medication! I’m not your doctor!
Take A Deload Week
I will recommend a deload week to you if you need it though! There comes a time when an extra rest day, or a calorie increase doesn’t cut it. You’ve tried everything in this article, but your recovery is still rough. Joints are aching and it’s affecting your daily life.
This is when you need a deload week (probably before this, but I have a hard time convincing people to not exercise if they are feeling good). Taking a deload week means you are cutting back on volume and intensity. You’ll do less sets and less weight.
If you want a little more in-depth explanation, you can check this article out. A deload week doesn’t have to be complicated. Just cut your amount of sets in half and cut your weight in half too. All you are doing is a few easy workouts to actually improve recovery even more.
I go for about 4 a year, even if I feel great. Sometimes, I might need more. It just depends on how you feel. If you need more, use them. Just don’t wait until you’re broken down to nothing before you decide to take them!
Now Enhance Your Workout Recovery
Try some of these out and let me know how they work for you! I regularly use these with my OPPT training clients. They love them, and I love them too!
Do you have other tactics that I didn’t talk about? Let me know with a comment below and I’ll consider adding it to the article.
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