It can be tough to fit a workout into a busy lifestyle. But to make the most of a good workout, you need to take care of yourself before and after you exercise as well. You probably know common tricks such as having a pre-workout smoothie and staying hydrated throughout the day. But what else can you do? Here are a few things worth thinking about when you find yourself between workouts.
Rest is a critical, but sometimes overlooked, element of an active lifestyle. How much rest needed post- and pre-workout is largely up to the individual, but no one can go hard at the gym day after day after day. Since strength training causes small tears in your muscles in order for your body to make bigger, stronger ones, it makes sense that a good amount of rest is needed afterward. Rest is how your muscles change, adapt, and get stronger.
So schedule your rest days wisely. You don’t have to be completely idle on your rest days, either. You can still do mild movements like power walking or light kayaking which will still help your muscles recharge. If you get antsy on a rest day, one of the best things you can do for your body is stretch. Whether it’s some light yoga at your house or casual stretching throughout the day, staying loose can rid your muscles of lactic acid to prepare them for the next workout ahead.
Another way to treat your body right after a workout is to get a massage. According to studies, a fifteen minute massage on concentrated areas can go a long way in helping your body recover in an optimal way. Even a brief massage can influence two genes in muscle cells. The first gene affected can decrease inflammation while the second turns up production of mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of the cell which use oxygen and food to generate energy, so improving their production is definitely a good thing.
In another study, a brief massage after strenuous activity helped muscle recovery in several ways. Those treated with massage in the study showed improvement in proprioception, which is an athlete’s awareness of his or her body movement. As an expression of strength and technique, proprioception is crucial for injury prevention. A ten minute massage can also help muscle strength on a concentrated area. Last, massage has been shown to help improve muscular architecture, which is the arrangement of individual muscle fibers.
You may have also heard of cold therapy for exercise recovery, also called cryotherapy. Many athletes treat their muscles with extreme temperatures in an effort to improve recovery. Most commonly the athlete will put muscles in a cold water bath after strenuous exercise, but sometimes hot and cold temperatures are alternated. Like other methods of exercise and exercise recovery, cold therapy falls into the category of “it works for some.” Some athletes swear by it, however there is not much research which offers a solid explanation as to why this is reliable.
The theory behind cold therapy is in response to microtrauma, which is the tiny tearing of muscle fibers after strenuous exercise. The method is also used to treat delayed onset muscle soreness, which can occur two to three days after a workout. When athletes take an ice bath, they are hoping to constrict blood vessels in a way that flushes waste products like lactic acid. Cold therapy is also thought to decrease metabolic activity as well as reduce swelling and tissue breakdown.
Now that you know massages can be good for your muscles after a workout, it may be time to schedule that into your weekly routine as well. At the very least, a concentrated self-massage can go a long way in helping your muscles recover. Always get proper rest and hydrate. If you have a trusted friend or trainer who uses cold therapy, it might be worth checking out, too. There are many ways to take care of your muscles after exercise and it’s important to find the best ones for you.