In our last article, we asked the question ‘Should my Muscles Ache after Training?’ Not surprisingly there wasn’t a straight yes or no answer! It very much depends on what you were doing and more importantly what you were intending to achieve (especially when weight training, e.g. muscle tone vs muscle build).
In this follow-up article, we want to explore how to aid muscle recovery and repair after a training session. Many people like the feeling of tired muscles immediately after training, and even the following day. It is perceived as a sign of a successful and worthwhile session. But there are steps that can and should be taken to help muscle recovery. This is so important and often overlooked as an integral part of your training program.
Helping your body and muscles recover from a training session will actually enhance the benefits of the session itself, not to mention help avoid injuries in future sessions (especially common if you train again on damaged muscles, which essentially is what you have done during a heavy training session, as discussed in our last article).
Below are some of the options you should be aware of and consider as a way to aid recovery following a training session:
OK so let’s start with the basics, and most obvious! We should all know about the importance of stretching, especially at the start of a training session. But how many of us stretch at the end too? We see so many people just walk out of the gym after completing a session. Maybe they stretch back at home, but the best time is immediately after exercise while still in the gym. Your muscles have been working hard, and are at their most flexible. Now is the time to stretch them further before they start to retract and tighten. In theory, you should spend just as long stretching after a session as you do before. It is the one aspect of a training session that can make the biggest difference to muscle recovery, so please please allow a little extra time at the end to stretch all over again!
2. Fluid intake
Another basic! You should already be in the habit of taking on fluids during exercise, mainly to replace those lost by perspiration and sweat. But do you continue after the session too? How often do you go home then, several hours later, start getting muscle twinges, twitches and cramps? In part that is down to the build up of certain chemicals in your muscles. You need to flush these out, and continuing to take on-board fluids in the hours after training is just as important as fluid intake during training.
3. Food intake
I don’t want to spend too long discussing this, but it is worth mentioning the role that some foods can have on muscle recovery. Cramps are caused by a build-up of lactic acid, and this needs to be buffered by alkaline elements such as potassium and sodium. Hence taking salt tablets or eating substances such as bananas (potassium-rich) can help avoid or recover cramps. Another hot discussion topic is the role of protein shakes as part of training regimes, but we have already covered this as a separate topic in a previous article (see In Out, In Out, Shake it all About… published in the autumn of 2019).
4. Showers and baths. Hot or Cold?
There is nothing better than the feeling of a hot shower or bath after a training session. It feels right, feels like it is helping your aching muscles. But is it? Or should we all be having ice baths that seem to be increasingly practised by elite athletes? The theory behind ice baths is fairly straight forward to understand. The cold water causes the blood vessels to contract and slower metabolic activity in surrounding cells. This helps reduce swelling and tissue damage and squeezes out exercise by-products such as lactic acid. When you exit from the ice and cold water then your body tries to warm up these areas by rapidly pumping blood into the vessels which again can help flush the system and aid faster recovery. But a note of caution, or two notes of caution to be precise! Firstly, your body can go into shock very quickly from emersion in ice-cold water, so it is best to consult with a professional or your doctor before integrating any ice bath or coldwater strategy into your recovery regime. And the second note is in relation to the practicality of filling a bath with ice or ice-cold water! It’s not very easy to do or practical, even if you have an efficient ice making machine!
5. Get a Massage
Ah, now we are talking my language! Save the best to last! Most of us love a good massage, and they are great as part of a muscle recovery strategy. As discussed above muscles are put under strain during exercise and can become damaged. There is also the build-up of by products such as lactic acid. Massaging the muscles and surrounding tissue helps stretch these out and prevent rapid tightening. It can also promote blood flow which aids faster recovery. On the negative side there is a cost to this, especially if you like one after every session! Unless you have a willing partner, that is!
Please come and speak with one of our trained professionals here at any of the three Choices Health Clubs or at our Oceans Health Club for advice or more information on muscle recovery. We would be more than happy to discuss any of the above options and help you build your own personal strategy.