Do you take your recovery seriously? I’m not talking about day-after hangovers that no amount of Bloody Mary can fix, although that happens basically Thursday through Sunday in the East Village.
I’m talking about recovering from working out – any kind of strenuous activity that gets your heart rate going, where you might perform functional, compound movements; isolated movements or any combination of strength and conditioning. Basically, are you sweating? Did you work hard? Good, you worked out.
When you use your muscles, it’s important not to abuse them, but to give them the best chance to recover and become stronger so you can continue kicking butt in the gym. (Ladies, this does NOT mean your muscles will become super-human-sized. Read this.)
*Before you look at this post further and wonder why so many products are mentioned, please realize that I’m not endorsed in any way for mentioning any of the following products. These are things I actually use, and I’ve seen improvement in both my ability to recover and my performance in the gym from them.*
What is “recovering,” anyway? For me, there’s no exact, scientific definition. Simply put, recovering is a framework of consistent habits that I perform before and after working out in order to help reset my body for the next time I work out.
Listed in “rough” order of importance (for me personally), here are 8 things I do to recover:
1a) Set a foundation with nutrition.
Eat well. What you put into your body matters greatly. I fuel with carbs and protein anywhere from 60-120 minutes before working out, and I consume protein and carbs post-workout (within 30-45 minutes or so, no need to chug a protein shake the second your barbell hits the floor). Some days this post-workout meal is a protein shake, other days this is a whole-foods meal, usually chicken breast and sweet potatoes or white rice and green veggies.
Take-away: If there is one thing a new athlete should do after a workout, it’s eat properly. Your body needs to replenish glycogen (read: refuel with carbs, which is what your muscles need for energy), and repair and build muscle.
1b) Get adequate sleep.
There is no substitute for actual rest. You should aim for at least 8 hours a night. I know, I know – that’s “impossible.” But it’s not, trust me. You just need to schedule your sleep the way you might schedule your work hours or social calendar. This might also mean going to bed earlier than you want to. Yeah, it’s kind of like when our parents made us go to bed AT bedtime; boo freaking hoo.
Sleep time is when our body goes into repair mode, and many of its functions begin whether or not we’re actually sleeping. It’s to our advantage to actually be at rest.
Take-away: Get your sleep. It improves every aspect of your life, and that feeling of being well-rested is life-changing. Honestly. Also, download the Sleep Cycle app.
2) Drink water.
This seems obvious enough, but our bodies should be well-hydrated at all times. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, up to 60% of the body is made up of water.
Opinions vary as to exactly how much water one should drink. I aim for a gallon because I train hard six days a week and my sessions are usually at least two hours long. I’m usually short on this water goal by about 20-30 ounces, but I’m consistent. As a baseline, I’d aim for at least 60 ounces per day (2 liters).
Take-away: Drink water. Ditch just about every other beverage.
3) I don’t need a drug store, but I take a few key supplements.
During that post-workout window, and also usually before bed, I take a PurePharma supplement packet that contains a serving of Omega/O3 (fish oil), M3 (a Mineral supplement combining magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6 and malic acid) and Vitamin D (aka, sunshine in pill form).
Please read more about the benefits of these supplements. In a nutshell, they help with reducing inflammation, muscle soreness, muscle fatigue and bone maintenance. I also like that PurePharma maintains a very high product standard, particularly with their fish oil – it is third-party tested by the IFOS, the International Fish Oil Standards program.
Depending on how I’m feeling that day, I might also take a multi-vitamin and a B vitamin supplement. I firmly believe that if you eat a (mostly) whole foods diet, you will consume an adequate amount of micronutrients.
The essentials, especially in the face of (a mild) winter and all the bar-holding I've been doing lately💪 # What I use: PurePharma Omega, Magnesium and D 🌞 WOD balm for these delicate lady hands 🙌 Olbas up my nose for sinus relief 👃 lip balm 💋 and 21 Drops 💦 #05 and #14, Headache and Immunity. # #recoverbetter #stronglife #thejourney #theessentials
Take-away: You don’t *need* supplements, but they can really improve your quality of life, especially when you work out and/or don’t have a great diet. (Clean that up already, won’t you?)
4) Mobility can save your life. Seriously.
Do you want to be a better human? Even if you don’t work out, you should want to be a better human. Most humans living today are slowly being crippled by sitting at a desk for 8-12 (or MORE) hours a day and through horrific posture while sitting, standing and everything in between. (Text neck is a real thing, folks.)
I strive to take 5-10 minutes out of my day and perform some form of mobility on myself. I use Dr. Kelly Starrett’s “Becoming a Supple Leopard” and his website (tons of FREE CONTENT), Mobility WOD, to find areas I need to work on and discover how I can target them.
Take-away: Don’t develop a hump on your back because you were too lazy to learn proper posture. Care about your future body. You only get ONE.
5) Don’t dismiss cooling down and stretching.
Yes, even if you’re “only” a weightlifter, you should cool down after your sessions; an easy-going walk or bike ride will do. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter your workout, the more time you should take to cool down. Example: you should cool down for about 15 minutes after a 5-minute workout; you might only need a few minutes and some stretching after a 30- or 40-minute workout.
Don’t neglect simple stretches. Can you touch your toes? Are your shoulders tight? Do something about it! I promise your body will thank you.
Am I doing it?! This is one wild hamstring stretch. Standing on a bench, folding over, holding a kettlebell (I'm so supple you can't see it, NOT) ✔️ Obviously there's room for improvement👌🏻Thanks @coachpanda, this is a keeper. #supple #ish #mobilitywod #hamstrings #posterior #BeastRiver #eatliftthrive #humpday #stronglife
Take-away: Humans should be agile. Do you feel agile most of the time?
6) Take a bath.
Obviously cleanliness is cool, but so is relaxing your muscles. Especially when you use the Soak Muscle bath salts. It’s a combination of magnesium sulfate and essential oils (yummy peppermint) that helps draw out toxins and makes your muscles feel good, IMO.
Take-away: You can also purchase (cheaper) Epsom salt at any drug store and soak in that. At least take a shower, jeez.
7) Go the extra mile for your muscles.
This is new to me, but after only a few sessions with the NormaTec, I’m passionately in love. It’s a muscle recovery system that compresses your muscles. You can target a specific muscle group (quad, calf) or do a “recovery flush” on the lower or upper parts of your body, depending on what attachments you’re using. What’s great about this system is that it’s a sleeve you zip up around your legs (or arms or waist), so it can target the circumference of your leg and not just one side at a time (like massage). It feels AMAZING, and I’ve already noticed a huge improvement in muscle soreness.
Massages are also an excellent option. I’m not talking about the nicey nicey essential oil-laden massages. As my masseuse once said, “no pain, no gain.” And he is not kidding.
Take-away: These are expensive maintenance items that are not intended for everyone. But as a serious athlete, I think it’s important to take care of your body. These are two excellent options to help you do just that.
8) Exercise your brain – read.
The physical challenges and benefits from exercise are undeniable, but don’t neglect the changes that can (and will) take place when you exercise your mind.
Read everything you can get your hands on, about any and every aspect of what interests you. This can be fitness-related, or it can be fiction, biography or graphic novel. Work out your brain, and you will be sharper, more focused and perhaps more eloquent because of it. And you might even learn a thing or two.
Some of my favorite reads: Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellent, The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive, and The New Health Rules: Simple Ways to Achieve Whole-Body Wellness.
Take-away: Read. It’s good for your brain and soul.