Feeling a bit sore after a recent gym session? We’ve all been there, waddling around like penguins after a challenging leg day, or requiring 3 people’s assistance to take off a sports bra after an upper body session, as the struggle to lift arms up gets too real!
And even if you’re not sore as such (which, by the way, is not a great indicator of workout quality anyway), it’s not uncommon to feel a bit rundown between sessions if you’re not dedicating enough time to recovery.
Signs of insufficient recovery include soreness, fatigue, irritability, sleep problems, compromised performance – and a resulting lack of motivation to continue with your plan!
By taking the time to understand effective recovery strategies, we can train much harder, more effectively, and - most importantly – with a higher degree of consistency!
Keep reading to find out how to take your recovery between sessions to the next level!
Numerous methods have been used for decades in hopes to beat the pesky DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and accelerate recovery between workouts.
However, before jumping right into these strategies, it’s very important to remember that not all these are created equal!
For example, some strategies, while helping alleviate soreness and other negative symptoms, can unfortunately also blunt the adaptation to exercise when performed too close to the workout. This is because exercise essentially induces a number of stressors, damage, and inflammatory responses in the muscle. Research shows that all these stressors play a very important role in the reaction of muscle tissue and the remodeling process that occurs in the critical hours after the session is finished.
Because of that, although this may seem counter-intuitive, we don’t actually want to overuse recovery methods that blunt this essential stress-response – as this is detrimental for exercise adaptation, meaning you get less out of your session!
So broadly, recovery methods can be broken down into 2 categories: those you can implement right after the session, and those that are best left for at least a few hours after!
After your session
Here are a few recovery methods that you can apply immediately after exercise, without worrying about interfering with exercise adaptation:
- Active recovery means performing low-intensity exercise following a strenuous workout. It sounds fancy, but basically refers to “moving your body” as opposed to doing your best impression of a couch potato after a challenging session! Examples of active recovery include walking, gentle yoga, and leisurely swimming.
- Getting a massage can really boost recovery! A recent analysis of 1700 studies, massage was deemed the most effective strategy compared to stretching, self-myofascial release, compression garments, and many other techniques (although all demonstrated good results).
- Stretching can enhance recovery too – you can find many guided stretching routines in the Move With Us app and add them to your session!
- Another great recovery technique is using a foam roller! They have become popular very quickly, and you can find one is almost any sports store now. Make sure to get some guidance on using a foam roller for your specific concerns instead of going through some random motions, as the latter can sometimes be harmful!
- And last but not least, post-workout nutrition can also play an important role!
Speaking of nutrition, research shows that rehydration, protein, and carbohydrates together all improve both recovery and adaptation to exercise.
For example, guidelines for hydration recommend replacing 150% of the weight lost in the training session in the hours after training. So, if you see people at the gym weighing themselves before and after a session, that's most likely to estimate how much fluid they’ve lost to replenish it accordingly! Unless you perform very intense workouts and/or train outdoors in hot weather, this level of precision may not be required – but definitely always remember to drink plenty of fluids after exercising.
With regards to macronutrient intake, recent research shows that unless you’re a professional athlete or perform multiple training sessions each day, the most important factor is hitting your overall daily targets.
However, if you’re someone who prefers to follow nutrient timing, you can definitely try consuming more protein and carbs around your workout and see if it makes a difference! For protein, well-accepted recommendations suggest around 0.4g of protein per kg of body mass after exercise and a similar amount several hours later. Furthermore, research also suggests that the addition of carbohydrate to the protein may provide an additional benefit to just protein alone (around 1.2 g total carbohydrates per kg of body weight soon after training is a good place to start – although you can have a bit more or less, depending on your overall targets).
Remember though that these are just guidelines, and individualised approach may vary. So long as you’re consuming plenty of carbs and protein around your sessions, you’re off to a great start!
Another nutrition strategy to improve recovery is ensuring you’re consuming enough magnesium. Specifically, most studies show a benefit to recovery and performance when 300-600g a day of elemental magnesium is consumed.
In contrast, applying magnesium topically – being that creams, sprays, or baths – doesn’t appear to be as beneficial, and evidence around these methods is incredibly mixed.
Therefore, your best bet is consuming enough magnesium from foods (some great sources include almonds, spinach, cashews, avocado and oats) – and if dietary intake is not sufficient, your doctor may recommend oral supplementation, too.
In the following hours
Now that we’ve covered the strategies to implement immediately after training, here’s a few that you may want to leave for later (6+ hours after a workout):
- Wearing compression garments
- Cold water immersion
- Heat exposure (e.g. sauna)
- Contrast hot/cold therapy
Many of these methods are aimed more at very advanced trainers, so don't feel like you must follow them to achieve results. However, if you enjoy any of the above strategies, there’s nothing wrong in hopping in your gym’s sauna, or taking a contrast shower at home. Experiment and find what feels best for you and your lifestyle!
A few words on sleep
A good sleep routine is definitely something to work on if your recovery is lacking!
It’s such a simple yet under-appreciated aspect of recovery, with sports and exercise sleep experts advocating for 8-9 hours of sleep each night. If your lifestyle permits, adding a short nap in the day can provide additional benefits – but understandably, it's not feasible for everyone (there are barely enough hrs in the day already!)
Cutting into your sleep time can really undermine performance and overall progress, as well as negatively affect your mental health.
We hope implementing these strategies helps you feel more refreshed after each workout, as well as get the most of your sessions!
Rachel Dillon and Tony Boutagy