Recovery is all about how quickly your body gets back to a state where you’re ready to head out again. Follow a few simple steps to improve your recovery time.
How often should you rest?
Not every day needs to be a workout day. Keep in mind that exercise usually involves some kind of wear and tear on your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. And because of that, you will need to give your body time to rest and repair that damage. The good news is that the repair process your body undertakes will usually leave you stronger and more durable than you were before. If you’re just starting on your fitness journey, give your self just as many rest days as workout days — that means no more than about 3 or 4 active days per week until your body acclimates to what you’re asking of it.
In the last 5-10 minutes of each workout, try to schedule in time to move with less intensity. If you’re running, this could simply be a half mile to a mile of a slow jog or even walking. If done right, this phase of your workout should help your body transition back to normal metabolism and cardio resting state by clearing lactic acid build-up in your muscles. Counter-intuitively, this extra time you take will help you recover even quicker for your next workout.
Stretch it out
Do you find you’re a bit sore in certain areas the day(s) after you exercise? If so (or even if not), you may want to make time to do some light stretching on your off days to help your muscles get back to their normal state. This can be a similar stretching routine to what you should already be doing after you finish your workouts, during that cool down phase after each session, as mentioned above.
It makes sense that some foods get your body back to that ready state quicker than others. Immediately after each workout, try to take on some carbohydrates as your muscles will be acting like sponges for a very limited time after each run, walk or cycle. The carbs you take on at this time will be stored away for the next workout — this is your body’s natural way to adapt and make you even stronger for the next time you demand performance. Likewise, take on some form of protein as this is the basic building block of muscle tissue. Of course, not all protein is created equally. Focus on lean protein sources, like chicken, eggs, fish, and nuts like almonds.
As you’re probably aware, getting the right amount of sleep per night has a host of potential benefits: reducing stress levels, a better ability to concentrate during waking hours, and a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease, amongst others. For most adults, you should be aiming for that magic 7-8 hours of sleep per night, as uninterrupted as possible. Remember to start transitioning to sleep time about an hour before you actually want to fall asleep, meaning, avoiding screens, turning the lights a bit lower and maybe doing some calm activity, like reading. This period of your day/night is when your body does the important work of repairing the muscles you used during your training session.
Passive vs active recovery
As the name suggests, passive recovery, is just that: allowing your body to take its natural course in repairing and regenerating your muscles and other tissues without any real intervention needed by you. However, for more experienced athletes, you may be able to increase performance in your next virtual running, walking or cycling challenge by taking action on your rest days to help your body along this process. Basically this involves a very light workout on your rest day meant to stimulate your circulatory system and improve blood-flow and clear any toxins still stored in your muscles. An example of a light workout might be a 30-minute walk, an easy bike ride, some yoga, or a short swimming session at slow pace. Keep in mind if you are truly in pain or injured from your previous workout, active recovery should be avoided, in favour of plain old rest.