A Beginner’s Guide to Post-Workout Recovery
December 2, 2021 @ 12:00pm
For too long, I was horrendous at maintaining any semblance of a post-workout recovery routine.
Was I one of those people who got up from the spin bike as the instructor started the cool-down track, and when the instructor said, “For those leaving early remember to stretch,” would I nod in agreement? Yep, that was me. And no, I didn’t stretch.
Did I often leave a vinyasa flow yoga practice as we were entering savasana, arguably the most relaxing aspect of class where you end in a resting and rejuvenating pose? Guilty.
Did I use every minute of my lunch break to get in a lifting workout, then rush back to my work area without so much as a quick quad or calf stretch to loosen tight muscles? Me again.
Eventually, my muscle soreness became more painful and for longer periods of time, with the surprise bonus of some intense back issues. Throw in months of physical therapy sessions and a few cortisone shots and it all led back to one thing — I was not letting my body properly recover.
In fact, I’ve come to learn that recovery is the single most important part of a workout. It keeps muscles loose to prevent cramping and further injuries, and helps accelerate progress.
Fitness, nutrition and physiology experts helped break down the importance of recovery and how to get into a simple routine that will have your muscles, posture and overall well-being thanking you.
We caught up with three local pros who gave us their top tips for recovering post-workout: Shakeelah Sutton, exercise physiologist, yoga teacher and founder of the calm/cool collective; Katie Henry, a registered dietician and certified personal trainer; and Amelia McNamara, the owner and founder of A-List Fit.
District Fray: Why is it important to allow yourself to recover after a workout?
Sutton: Anytime we exercise, we’re putting stress on the body. Although this type of stress is considered eustress, or stress that has a positive outcome, it’s important to allow the body adequate time to heal and recover from the demands placed on it. Many people may think gains happen during workouts, when in reality it’s during the recovery period that muscles are able to adapt and rebuild. Inadequate recovery time can lead to overtraining, performance regression or injury.
How does one get into a post-workout routine?
McNamara: Pick one thing to change a week or a month and make that into a habit before you add on to something else. Start small: think breathing exercise before bed and commit yourself to staying the extra five minutes to stretch after a workout. You don’t have to become a recovery mavin and do everything under the sun overnight — make it sustainable.
What is a good post-workout recovery routine for beginners?
Henry: It does not have to be anything fancy. First off, make sure you cool your body down by either doing five minutes of light cardio or slowly decrease the amount of weight you are lifting if focusing on strength training. Following that, complete around five to 10 minutes of static stretches focusing mostly on the muscles you used (especially if strength training). The rest of the time before your next workout, the most important thing is to keep your body active. This means you should walk around for a few minutes every hour and/or complete a short yoga routine morning or night. If you are experiencing intense soreness from your workout, try completing a few bodyweight repetitions of the exercises that caused the soreness in the first place. This will help loosen up those muscles to recover quicker.
What role does the mind play in post workout recovery?
Sutton: Recovery not only provides reprieve for the body, but for the mind as well. When you experience a stressful event, whether it is due to vigorous exercise or daily life, your sympathetic nervous system ignites the “fight or flight” response which causes physiological changes to occur throughout your body so it can best respond to it. While this is a healthy and necessary function, chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to sleep disturbances, decreased immune function and depression. Incorporating an intentional recovery routine allows the mind an opportunity to relax, thus aiding in the deactivation of the sympathetic nervous system and stress response.
What are some key things to think about when it comes to post-workout nutrition?
Henry: The most important thing is to focus on what you are eating, and the other aspect is when. Post-workout snacks should be mostly lean protein and complex carbohydrates and the key timing is to eat as soon as possible, but definitely within an hour post-workout. That is when the muscle fibers are still broken down so consuming the protein as quickly as possible will speed up the building back up of those fibers. This will look different for everyone, depending on what types of foods you eat, but some ideas are:
- Small fruit smoothie with nut butter and spinach
- Hard-boiled egg with fruit on the side
- Small Greek yogurt bowl with oats and berries
- Toast with nut butter and banana slices
What are some simple actions one can do to recover from an intense workout?
McNamara: Sleep is probably one of the biggest things people forget about, especially in the D.C. area, and especially now with everyone working from home 24/7 with a phone nearby. Simple recovery starts with maximizing your sleep and seeing if you are getting the right amount of sleep each night. I also believe in mobility flows, so I do something called animal flow — taking not just an isolated stretch like a hamstring stretch but moving your body through different points of motion as you stretch — active flow stretching, not just sitting static. As far as foam rolling goes, I tend to see people go overboard with it. They get a neurological response that it feels good to keep doing it. It’s best to foam roll before workouts because it stimulates the blood flow and breaks down fascia in the body.
Follow Shakeelah Sutton @cool_shak and learn more about calm/cool collective by visiting calmcool.co or following on Instagram @calmcoolco. Follow Amelia McNamara at @amelia_r_mcnamara and learn more about A-List Fit by visiting alistfit.co.
Tips for Beginning a Post-Workout Routine
Keep It Simple. Start with committing to staying an extra five minutes after your workout to do some static stretching and diaphragmatic breathing (in through your nose out through your mouth).
Have A Snack Ready. Prep some quick complex carb/protein heavy snacks that you can easily have ready to consume post-workout (handful of nuts and fruit, cheese stick and hardboiled egg, peanut butter on toast with banana).
Don’t Forget Sleep. Maximize the amount of sleep you are getting at night and shut off your phone when you hit the sheets.
Listen To Your Body. Adjust your post-workout stretching routine as you need based on how your body is feeling. If you are feeling lower back pain, the culprit could be some tight hamstrings. So ultimately, be sure you are checking in with your body and see what needs attention.
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