Unlace your sneakers, stash your lifting gloves, and trade your quick dry shorts for a pair of super comfy leggings. It’s time for some deep-down, good-for-your-bones post-training recovery.
By the way, it’s literally good for your bones, according to a study published in the FASEB Journal. In fact, proper recovery isn’t just good for your bones — it’s good for your entire body.
“When you work out, you’re physically breaking down your body: the muscle fibers, your immune system, your connective tissues, everything. If you don’t recover, you’re just breaking your body down over and over again,” says Karli Alvino CPT, FNS, coach at Mile High Run Club and Founder of Iron Diamond Fitness.
Skimping on recovery can lead to symptoms of overtraining like decreased performance, elevated blood pressure, poor sleep, decreased immune strength, and general irritability, explains certified strength and conditioning specialist, Alena Luciani, MSc, CSCS, Pn1, and founder of Training2XL.
“No matter how you’re exercising, nutrition, hydration, and sleep are the main pillars of recovery,” says Alvino. That means eating ample protein and high-quality carbohydrates, consuming (at least) half your body weight in ounces of water, and aiming to get 8+ hours of sleep a night, she adds.
But depending on your fitness mainstay, there are additional recovery methods that can help you get the most out of your workout. So, whether you’re just getting into fitness or are starting a new fitness regime, we’ve rounded up the best recovery practices for your routine.
Remember to include these three practices in your post-workout recovery:
- 15-minute cool-down stretch immediately following class
- cup of coffee
HIIT-style workouts are incredibly taxing on your central nervous system and body, says Luciani, which is why she suggests a 15-minute cool-down routine. “A cool-down stretch allows your central nervous system to deregulate, returns your heart rate to its normal resting rate, and sets you up for speedier recovery,” she explains.
For an added recovery boost, don’t shy away from that second cup of joe. One study published in the Journal of Pain showed that exercisers saw a drop in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) when they drank some coffee.
Rest schedule tip
- According to Alvino, you should never do HIIT-style training more than two days in a row. Instead, she suggests a two-day-on, one-day-off rest schedule.
- foam rolling
Relieving tension in your muscles after a weightlifting session is paramount to feeling top notch during your next lifting session, says Luciani. One of the best ways to do that, she explains, is massage. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation found that a post-exercise massage can significantly reduce exercise-induced pain and that regularly getting massages may help stave off delayed onset muscle soreness.
But while a massage might be an ideal recovery technique, there’s no denying that they’re also pricey. If you’re unable to drop the necessary dough on a weekly session, Alvino suggests foam rolling instead. This can also help reduce DOMS and even improve performance in your workouts that follow, according to a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training.
Rest schedule tips
- Beginners should take two days off between sessions, while regular lifters should rest every third day, according to a review published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
- Take a de-load week once every two months. Luciani defines “de-loading” as a “purposeful lull in your training volume and intensity that lasts one week.” Luciani adds that coaches working with weightlifters will strategically place a de-load week into a training schedule after a heavy strength phase.
Resistance and circuit training
While sleep is a necessary practice for recovery from most exercises, Alvino stresses that sleep is the “number-one thing you can do [for] your body” to help improve your performance and enhance your recovery from strength workouts. “It helps [repair] muscles [and] restore energy levels, and [allows] your body to find homeostasis, especially after a strength-workout,” she adds.
How important is sleep after a workout? If you’re training regularly, sleep should always be a priority, but especially after a tough workout. In fact, according to one study, sleep deprivation actually impairs the recovery of muscles following muscularly taxing training. Here’s how many hours of sleep you really need.
You can also incorporate some light cardio, like walking, running (though it should be short and slow), or bike riding to speed up recovery. Luciani explains that you should take part in an activity that’s “gentle enough to prevent you from further tearing the muscle fibers” but also “active” enough to get your blood pumping. “This brings oxygen and nutrients to the targeted area and helps the body recover,” she adds.
Rest schedule tip Alvino recommends that you don’t do resistance training on the same muscle group two days in a row. Instead, you should take one to two nonconsecutive rest days each week.
- Epsom salt bath
- tart cherries
Because endurance training is taxing on your body, Luciani says that recovering from your training and staying off your feet is vital. One way to do this? A bath. Epsom salt baths have earned a lot of attention for their health benefits, particularly for athletes, but the research is still pretty new.
One small study published in the journal Temperature, however, did find that taking a hot bath can burn about 140 calories an hour and lower blood sugar by about 10 percent more than exercise.
For an extra recovery-boost, throw some tart cherries into your post-run snack. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that marathoners consuming tart cherry juice five days before, on the day of, and 48 hours following their races reduced muscle soreness.
Rest schedule tip
- Alvino says that those training for a marathon should incorporate rest and recovery at least twice a week into their training schedule. These should be on nonconsecutive days.
Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie–blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York–based wellness writer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drank, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.