My latest article on Irongirl.com (or in the FREE Irongirl newsletter) could not be more appropriate right now. Regardless if you are recovering from an Ironman, training for a 5K or exercising for fitness, training is not finished until you take care of yourself and recover.
Did you recover today?
Marni Rakes-Sumbal, M.S., CISSN
Do you take an ice bath after exercise? Do you have a protein smoothie after a high-volume workout? Do you give yourself more sleep to compensate for increases in your weekly training volume? When was the last time you had a massage?
Wouldn't it be nice to live the life of a professional athlete? Well, if the average fitness enthusiast is looking to get stronger after exercise, reduce the risk for illness or injury and speed up recovery after exercise, it's time to train like a professional athlete. Maybe you don't have the luxury to train whenever you want and a 5 a.m. spin class and a 30-minute after- work run is a successful training day, but if you want to improve as an athlete, proper recovery needs to be vital part of your fitness and exercise program.
Proper nutrition is only one of many ways you can recover after exercise; apply some of the following physical recovery tips to your current exercise routine. Stayed tuned for the next Iron Girl article, which will focus on nutrition and recovery.
If you've ever been injured, you probably know the phrase "heat before the workout, ice after." However, you don't have to be injured to enjoy the benefits of ice. Although scientific research is inconclusive on the effectiveness of elite athletes taking ice baths immediately after exercise to reduce risk of injury, it doesn't hurt to try.
Although ice baths and wrapping your legs, lower back or arms in ice may be impractical as you rush off to work, you have other options. In addition to using commercial ice packs, which should always be wrapped in a cloth to avoid skin toxicity, try to plan your longest and most intense workouts on days when you can give yourself 15 to 20 minutes after the workout to relax with a freezer bag of ice. This can help to reduce inflammation, soreness and pain on your exhausted muscles. There are also many types of ice shorts or wraps on the market, which may be convenient for your busy lifestyle.
Chronic sleep deprivation has a tremendous effect on hormones, such as growth hormones thyroid and cortisol, which may negatively affect glucose tolerance, the inflammatory response and your metabolism. Although there is no set number of required hours of sleep per night, athletes should aim for between six to seven hours of continuous sleep on most days during the week. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and avoid eating within one to two hours of sleep. If you must have a snack before bed, opt for slow digesting low- fat protein foods (around 50 to 100 calories), as opposed to quick-digesting carbohydrates, such as a bowl of cereal or ice cream.
As you add volume to your weekly training schedule, be sure to give your body more time to recover by adding 30 to 60 minutes of extra sleep per night for every one to two hour of extra weekly training volume. Short naps after exhaustive workouts are another option for those who just can't add more sleep during the night. Restful sleep is the most important type of sleep for an active athlete. The more you wake up during the night, the more you stop your REM cycle, which results in one groggy, sore and tired athlete in the morning. If you feel like your workouts are in a slump, skip a workout one morning and give yourself an extra hour or two of rest. Your body will thank you, and you will really enjoy having an extra boost of energy during your upcoming workouts.
There is little validated research demonstrating a positive relationship between stretching before exercise and reducing risk of injury during exercise. However, regular stretching is a vital component in any exercise program. As far as stretching before exercise, a proper warm-up is an effective way of loosening-up the muscles and increasing range of motion. In reference to reducing the risk for injury, stretching before or after exercise may or may not ensure an injury-free season. Nonetheless, stretching after warm-down from exercise has a valuable role in the recovery process, which includes reducing the risk for injury.
Whether you prefer static stretching, passive stretching with the use of a stretch cord, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), yoga or Pilates, stretching will increase flexibility, improve range of motion, increase blood flow and reduce muscle soreness. As you stretch, focus on major muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, back, hips) first and move toward smaller muscles groups (shoulders, neck, calves, ankles). Hold each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat two to three times as you feel yourself becoming more mobile.
Regardless if you are injury-free or if you suffer from acute injuries, chronic pain, tight muscles or a high- stress life, make an effort to treat yourself to a massage with a trained sports massage therapist at least once a year.