It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on one aspect of recovery. You might stretch . Or you might sleep. But muscle recovery is multi-faceted and to really repeat the benefits, you have to attack it from multiple angles.
What are the goals of recovery?
Simple. When you workout, you damage your muscles by causing little tears in the tissue and muscle fibers. Those tears leave your muscles destroyed. So the goal of recovery is to:
- Repair damage to the muscle and tissues
- Remove waste products and reduce inflammation
- Replenish the energy stores and nutrients necessary for cellular activity
- Restore the central nervous system (which basically repairs the connection between the brain and body)
But although recovery has many faces, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Here are the 10 Commandments of Muscle Recovery.
10. Push the Barrier, Don’t Destroy It
It seems logical – the more you lift, the bigger muscles you’ll get. But in truth, it doesn’t actually work this way. If you destroy your muscles on day one, it might take you an entire week (or longer) to recover and be able to use them again. More important than how much you train at once is how consistently you train. So instead of annihilating the barrier, push yourself to the edge – enough to feel the burn in your muscles but still able to walk and function and train again in a day or two.
9. Laziness is NOT Recovery
Active recovery is one of the most valuable tools to recover. Instead of busting your butt one day and spending the next on the couch, you’re better off taking a walk, a light jog or even doing a lighter workout. The more you move, the more blood flow you get to the damaged muscles and tissues. Sitting and doing nothing will only allow the muscle damage to persist.
8. Get Enough Protein
One of the easiest ways to recovery is by choosing foods that help. Protein is key in recovery. When you train, your muscles break down and become catabolic. Eating protein and nutrient dense carbs can switch them back to building mode instead of breakdown. Plus, most animal proteins are packed with creatine, zinc, glutamine and iron – all key elements in recovery muscle and tissue damage.
7. Stay Hydrated
When thinking about nutrients, what you need isn’t limited to just food. Water is just as vital and should be considered your #1 supplement for almost anything. Our bodies are over half water (the percentage varies depending on your gender, your age, your health, yada, yada). So that means we need to replenish the water needed for our tissues and muscles. Simple. Drink more water.
6. Choose Nutrient Dense Foods
And on the track of eating for recover, other foods such as blueberries and tart cherries are also powerhouse recovery tools. When you train, the conversion of energy can release waste products that contribute to soreness. But the antioxidants and vitamins and minerals of many super foods help to clear out the toxins.
5. Use Sleep as a Tool
Sleeping is a powerful recovery tool – but not because it allows you to be lazy. Sleep matters because it’s your body’s best chance to heal and rebalance your hormones. When you sleep, many of your body functions (like walking or thinking) don’t require energy. No surprise there. What that means is that other important functions, like muscle recovery, can get extra attention from your brain, central nervous system and cells. They don’t have to fight for resources when you’re sleeping so make sure you’re getting plenty.
4. Foam Rollers, Ice and Heat Can All Help
Often times during extreme soreness, trigger points have formed in your muscles and active recovery might not be enough to release the tension. In that case, foam rolling is your god-send. The exact and intense pressure depletes the blood flow the area and when you release pressure, fresh oxygenated blood flows back in to replenish the nutrients and erase the tension. But if you’re inflamed or swollen, then ice or heat could also help improve your circulation and get nutrients back into those areas.
3. Give your Gut Some Love
Gut health is powerful. If your digestion is wonky and you’ve got bad bacteria running rampant, not only are toxic chemicals seeping into your blood stream and destroying savior cells, but the good nutrients you eat aren’t getting absorbed. That means those proteins and nutrient dense fruits and veggies are pointless. Fix your gut with probiotics and fermented foods, avoid ibuprofen or other NSAIDs and antibiotics, and skip the gluten or other foods you might be sensitive to.
2. Manage your Stress in the Rest of your Life
Training is a form of stress on your body. You are damaging muscle fibers and tissues and your body has to work to repair the breakdown. But because we live crazy lives with never ending to-do lists and obligations from here to Mars, we always have a build up of stress from other sources.
But chronic stress blunts the immune function in our body and kills some of our recovery cells. It also screws with our hormones and gene transcription which can instantly prevent muscle recovery from happening. To recover faster, you’ve got to find effective stress management styles that work for your work and personal lives.
1. Recovery Consistently
Muscle recovery is not the sexist part of any transformation journey. And it’s the easiest thing to forget or push to the side when time starts to run out. But the most important Commandment of Muscle recovery is to do it. To find a plan that works for you and to practice the elements of recovery regularly. Don’t wait until super-soreness hits to try and fix the problems. Find ways to integrate recovery into every day. Create a post-workout foam rolling routine, eat a healthy meal after every workout, build in active recovery days, improve your overall sleep hygiene, and on and on.
There are tons of ways to recovery. You just have to make them a priority.
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