Science tells us that we don't actually get bigger, faster or stronger in the weight room. Instead, our bodies rebuild themselves during the recovery phase between workouts. So if you're not emphasizing recovery as much as training, you're missing out on the full benefits of your workouts.
If you don't allow your body to recover after a tough workout, it won't be able to repair and rebuild muscle, reduce soreness or replenish energy for your next workout, practice or game. Use these three workout recovery strategies to ensure that you are always ready to perform at your peak.
Although nutrition has the largest impact on recovery, it's what athletes tend to struggle with most. If you're ready to make an immediate impact on your body through nutrition, start by concentrating on the 30 minutes after your workout.
As a general rule, post-workout nutrition should involve carbohydrate and protein in a 2:1 to 4:1 ratio to refill fuel stores, reduce inflammation and begin the muscle-rebuilding process. This can be as simple as a glass of chocolate milk—or try my favorite protein shake recipe:
- One scoop of whey protein powder
- One small sweet potato
- Half a cup of plain Greek yogurt
- Eight ounces of water
- Dash of cinnamon for taste
The window of opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of post-workout nutrition closes swiftly. Nutritional impact has been shown to decrease by half just 30 minutes following a training session, so be sure to get your intake immediately after a workout.
When muscles undergo the stress of training, they begin to develop small tears. With proper regeneration, fresh muscle tissue fills the tears, resulting in improved muscle size and strength. However, if you continually overload your muscles, you'll fill those tears with scar tissue and adhesion, known as "trigger points." Over time, your overworked muscles will start to resemble beef jerky as they become shorter and stiffer.
Enter the "meat tenderizer"—myofascial release. Through techniques like foam rolling, myofascial release reduces tightness in fibrous tissues and muscles by applying pressure to them. Once you've used myofascial release to bring back your pliability, you can stretch tight muscles back to their original length.
Why not just go straight to stretching? Picture a knot in your shoelace. Pulling on the ends will just make the knot tighter and harder to untie later. So, before you stretch, untie the knots with some myofascial release.
Competitive athletes often feel like the only way to gain an edge on their opponents is constant training. Ignoring their bodies' demands, they march into the weight room and go through the motions, believing that some activity is better than none at all. This is counterproductive. Instead of exhausting the same muscles again and again, invest time in something your body truly needs: a nap.
Rest provides the body with the opportunity to repair itself. Athletes who make the mistake of avoiding recovery often experience over-training symptoms like injury and exhaustion. If you often find yourself tired, irritable, depressed or injured, try pumping the brakes with a little R&R. Watch a lighthearted movie with friends, get a rejuvenating massage or, best of all, turn off the lights and sleep.
When you constantly neglect sleep, your body increases its output of the muscle-destroying stress hormone cortisol; decreases its output of tissue-repairing human growth hormone; and slows down the replenishment of fuel stores. Do not be afraid to take a little time off from your workouts to get refreshed.
In the weight room, you should be doing everything you can to break down your body so it can come back bigger, faster and stronger. But to make all your hard work really pay off on the field, you have to focus just as much on your workout recovery.
Jon DeMoss, co-founder of Synergy Athletic Performance in Dallas, is a strength and conditioning coach who specializes in working with rotational sport athletes. He also assists high school, collegiate and professional athletes to reach their potential and excel in their sports. DeMoss is CSCS- and USAW-certified, and he holds a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from the University of Texas.
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