With the pervasive prevalence of HIIT, adventure races like Tough Mudders, ultra-marathons and other intense fitness quests, it’s no surprise that exercisers need to practice recovery. This often-overlooked practice is critical, both during training and after a recreational or competitive event. It can help prevent injuries, relieve muscular tension and tightness, make you feel better and enhance future performance.
But recovery isn’t only necessary when training hard for or competing in events. It is also important for consistent exercisers and gym rats who routinely stress their bodies, particularly as they get older. Longtime runners know that a good recovery routine helps keep them running and healthy year after year. Recovery shouldn’t be viewed as an optional or periodic luxury, but as a valuable necessity for anyone who exercises and/or competes regularly.
Recovery encompasses more than just rest days and stretching, which are definitely a start, but should be a given for all exercisers. Today, there are more options than ever when it comes to recovery. Some have scientific evidence to back them up, while others have more anecdotal support. In addition to rest and flexibility work, here are some of the most popular exercise recovery methods:
Popular Exercise Recovery Methods
- Foam rollers/massage sticks and balls – Used to release tension from muscles and myofascial tissue, foam rollers and massage sticks and balls are great, economical tools for self-treatment of tight spots, and can improve tissue recovery, increase range of motion and maintain normal functional muscular length. Today, there are multiple versions of each tool, so talk to a fitness professional, athletic trainer or physical therapist to determine what’s best for you.
- Massage/chiropractic/acupuncture – Hands-on manipulation or the gentle pressure of acupuncture needles can dissipate muscular stress, provide relief from soreness, restore range of motion and stimulate circulation and healing. There are different types of therapy within each discipline, such as sports massage and trigger point therapy, so talk to the practitioner specifically about what you are seeking from treatment. Every dedicated exerciser should try these practices at least once, and then determine their favorite/s to continue as necessary.
- Ice baths/Jacuzzis – Traditional ice baths, or cold water immersion, can help repair the small tears in muscles and soreness from tough workouts by constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation and swelling. As a complementary treatment, heat therapy boosts circulation, which helps eliminate lactic acid buildup, thereby helping to alleviate soreness and stiffness. Plus, heat therapy relaxes muscles.
- Compression therapy – Using boots or sleeves that are rhythmically inflated and deflated (like blood pressure cuffs), pneumatic compression therapy stimulates circulation and lymphatic drainage, helps remove lactic acid and decreases inflammation. This is a more aggressive form of compression garments, such as socks and shorts, that athletes wear to help maintain blood flow and reduce muscle swelling and soreness.
- Cryotherapy – Gaining popularity among exercisers, cryotherapy is an efficient, dry alternative to ice baths in which you stand in a cryosauna for up to three minutes, while it fills with nitrogen vapor and a dry chill that drops the ambient temperature to a range of -90 Celsius (-130ºF) to -120 Celsius (-184ºF). Like ice baths, this method reduces inflammation, accelerates muscle recovery and increases cell rejuvenation. It also helps decrease pain and boost energy.
- Hyperbaric oxygen chamber – This treatment increases the volume of oxygen in the blood to flush out lactic acid, enhance brain function, boost cartilage and bone regeneration and improve recovery time. You are enclosed in a chamber that provides 100% oxygen to increase levels in the blood plasma and hemoglobin. Generally, the treatment takes 60 minutes to experience benefits.