When you’ve completed a hard workout at the gym, at home or on the hiking trail, you could be in for fatigue and soreness if you don’t wind yourself down (and back up) properly. This leads to pain and unpleasantness.
Taking these steps to recovery will make you feel much better and more enthusiastic about making a regular date with your workout, be it aerobic, strength-based or some combination.
In roughly this order, they are:
1 Cool down
After an intense workout, it’s a good idea to take at least 10 minutes to cool down with a gentler activity than what you’ve just been doing, whatever qualifies. It could mean slower hiking or jogging than you were doing or something completely different, like a couple laps in the pool or a few yoga poses. This gradually brings your heart rate, breathing and blood flow back to normal levels, while an abrupt halt can lead to dizziness or even passing out.
Stretching is a vital part of every cooldown, and if your workout wasn’t too strenuous it may suffice as your whole cooldown. Stretching the muscles most used during your workout continues the process of slowing down your heart rate and allows your muscles to begin recovering, as well as reduce post-workout soreness. It releases endorphins, increases your range of motion and improves muscular coordination.
Replenishing the moisture just perspired out of your pores should be done at intervals while you’re training if possible, but definitely following a workout. This is yet another step to getting your heart rate back to normal by replacing the fluid that’s been lost from your cells and your plasma. Experts say you can lose 1% to 4% of your body weight in water in an intense workout.
One way to know close to the amount of water you need to rehydrate is weighing yourself immediately before and after exercise without any drinking in between, then drinking at least 100% of your weight loss.
Plan on eating a healthy snack or meal within 45 minutes of your workout to aid the recovery process and build back your muscles’ energy stores. Some good choices include low-fat Greek yogurt with fruit and granola, banana with almond butter, hard-boiled eggs with toast or a cup of chocolate milk with a handful of crackers.
Many experts suggest finishing your workout shortly before breakfast, lunch or dinner when possible, which encourages eating healthier, more balanced meals. An omelet with a few chunks of roasted potatoes or grilled chicken strips with raw veggies and hummus are good examples.
5 Take a cool shower
This doesn’t have to be a freezing cold shower or ice bath, but turning the water down at least a few degrees from your accustomed temperature has been shown to reduce inflammation and soreness after a workout while accelerating muscle repair.