Top 10 Workout Recovery Habits of Successful Athletes
The improvements made from one training session to the next occur outside of the gym. Optimizing your recovery strategy is the one overlooked area of athletic development that will give you a massive advantage over your competition.
This article outlines ten of the best workout recovery tools and strategies to take your training performance to the next level.
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The Best Workout Recovery Methods:
Sleep is one of the most critical components to athletic performance and boosting recovery after a hard training session.
Getting adequate sleep is a well-researched field of study in both the general population and athletes alike. Optimizing your sleep schedule allows your body more time to jumpstart its natural functions that repair damage induced during exercise.
Disruptions to natural sleep patterns cause a broad range of physical and cognitive issues for athletes. From decreased power output, diminished glycogen concentration, and reduced sport-specific accuracy, sleep deprivation puts you in a catabolic state that locks the breaks on your progress.
When you restore natural sleep patterns, you give your body more time to stop catabolism and release natural growth hormones that stimulate muscle growth, repair damaged tissue, and burn fat.
Although the idea of improving your sleep may not be as exciting as what goes on during your training, it is the foundation for the physiological functions that create progress in your athletic development. Arguably it is the single most crucial factor in your performance and should be something you focus on prioritizing into your training schedule.
2.) Self-Myofascial Release
Self-myofascial release like foam rolling and massage guns have a laundry list of benefits for post-workout recovery, mobility, and athletic performance.
Self-myofascial release works by activating the mechanisms that contract and then relax muscle tissue. When that happens, it allows them the opportunity to re-align properly to their original shape.
A recurring theme in this article will be finding ways to improve circulation and reduce exercise-induced inflammation. Self-myofascial release accomplishes both, as well as significant improvements in mobility, range of motion, and balance of muscle tension.
Not only does self-myofascial release like foam rolling jumpstart your post-workout recovery, but you can also use it before training to help restore range of motion and reduce the pain perception of tightness and soreness caused by your last workout.
3.) Active Recovery
Active recovery is any low-intensity exercise done after a period of high-intensity training. Whether that’s a brisk walk after a training session or an easy jog on a rest day, active recovery helps to promote blood flow and circulation throughout your body.
Your circulation is a crucial component to replenishing depleted muscles and disposing of metabolic waste from exercise. It’s your first line of defense to give your body everything it needs to create a healthy environment for growth and repair.
The most straightforward rule to follow for active recovery is to stay active in your lifestyle. Head out for a walk after work, go swimming in the lake on weekends, or pick up a casual sport to play with your buddies. You could even practice your dynamic warmup routine during your recovery days. You don’t have to overthink active recovery. It only adds to the fun and adventure in your life.
4.) Cold Water Therapy
Cold shock therapy is a form of hormesis that has the power to initiate several positive mechanisms in your body to boost workout recovery, mental health, and athletic performance.
Hormesis is the incredible result of exposing yourself to short bursts of beneficial stressors that trigger your body to produce a waterfall of biochemical processes that improve your overall health.
For endurance athletes, experiencing the benefits of cold water therapy are very straightforward and positive. If your training focuses on strength or hypertrophy, it’s important to mention timing.
Your body relies on its natural inflammation response post-exercise to maximize strength and muscle growth. Since cold exposure does a fantastic job of reducing inflammation, you can actually halt some progress if cold exposure is done immediately after strength or hypertrophy training. This natural post-workout inflammation response lasts about an hour. So it’s an excellent idea to postpone your cold therapy until well after that period to maximize the benefit of both.
You can practice cold water therapy in various ways, from a simple cold shower to creating a dedicated space for ice baths at home.
Although taking an ice bath at home can come with all sorts of challenges, one of our favorite products, Ice Barrel, has created a straightforward way to simplify your cold immersion at home.
Since the benefits of ice baths are both mental and physiological, having a space that allows you to be in a comfortable and natural position to focus on the process amplifies the results you get from it. So having an ice bath like Ice Barrel that lets you be upright and concentrate on your breathing facilitates the full range of benefits from cold therapy.
Like cold exposure therapy, heat exposure also creates a hormetic response that benefits your post-workout recovery.
Sauna use does an excellent job of improving circulation in the body to transport nutrients and oxygen back into the muscles you depleted during your training session.
One of the essential benefits of sauna use for workout recovery is the triggering of heat shock proteins. Heat shock proteins are the cellular directors that signal which amino acids are required to repair muscle damage. Not only do they help repair muscle, but they also help protect the heart, improve insulin resistance, and improve the immune response.
During training, your body produces large amounts of catabolic hormones like cortisol. Regular sauna use promotes heat stress acclimation, which aids in re-balancing the stress hormones in your body. Additionally, it can actually help increase the growth hormones needed to repair and grow muscle tissue.
While you’re in the sauna, your body temporarily increases your heart rate to around the same BPM as a brisk walk. So, in addition to the health benefits of heat exposure therapy, you are also applying the same fundamental principles of active recovery described earlier in the article.
If you want to dive into all of the details about the effects of heat shock therapy, check out our article outlining all of the benefits of sauna use for athletes.
Stretching is one area of athletic training that always seems to find itself on the backburner. Not only can it help you improve range of motion and general flexibility, but it can also improve the blood circulation required to boost workout recovery.
When you’re stretching, your muscles press against your blood vessels, causing your body to release chemicals that make them expand so more blood can flow through.
Interestingly, a recent study from the Journal of Physiology showed that stretching done isolated to just the lower body still had a positive effect on changes to circulation in the upper body as well.
Not only can you help improve your post-workout recovery with stretching, but you can also enhance your protection from other conditions caused by poor blood flow like heart disease, stroke, and even diabetes.
7.) Pneumatic Compression Boots
Compression boots used to be a workout recovery tool only available (and affordable) for elite professional athletes. But companies like Normatec have released consumer options that put the recovery power of pneumatic compression into the hands of everyday athletes.
Pneumatic compression has its origins in medical treatment to improve circulation as an intervention for conditions inhibiting blood and lymph flow and for maximizing recovery from medical procedures. The technology quickly found its benefits translating over to athletic performance and workout recovery.
Compression boots can help improve circulation and decrease exercise-induced inflammatory signaling. They’ve even demonstrated improvements in flexibility.
But possibly the most convincing benefit of pneumatic compression is the reports of how fantastic they feel from the athletes who use them.
8.) Power Naps
Power naps are short durations of sleep during the day that are typically around 20 minutes long.
For many athletes, this may be the most exciting recovery strategy we’ve listed yet. Taking a short nap during the day allows you to take advantage of its restorative mental and physical benefits without having the negative impacts of sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia causes the impaired performance you experience whenever you wake up from a more extended sleep period (like how you feel when you wake up in the morning). A nap around 20min long will usually keep you from experiencing the adverse effects of sleep inertia.
However, nap too long, and you could end up taking even more time getting your body to come back to full wakefulness. So while naps can be an excellent tool that helps supplement your daily time in sleep, it’s essential to understand balancing the role that timing plays in getting the most benefit out of your daily naps.
Hydration is essential to nearly every biological function in your body. So it’s not a surprise that it plays a fundamental role in maximizing your workout recovery.
Water helps you deliver nutrients throughout your body, re-oxygenates muscle tissue, and transports metabolic waste out of your body. If your hydration isn’t optimized, neither is your athletic performance and capability to recovery from exercise.
A good rule of thumb for your hydration as an athlete is to divide your body weight in half and drink at least an ounce of water per pound of body weight throughout the day. That will provide a great baseline, and then you should continually adapt that amount based on the intensity of your physical activity and the temperature you’re training in.
You should also focus on your electrolyte balance throughout the day. Your body needs electrolytes (like sodium, calcium, and potassium) for your cells, organs, and body systems to work correctly. If the amounts swing out of balance, so does your athletic performance and general health.
We’ve talked a lot about the importance that improved circulation has on nutrient delivery in this article. What you eat is the source of those nutrients essential for every aspect of your workout recovery.
Nutrition is an incredibly complex science and, in practice, differs drastically based on every person’s individual biology and training goals. Everyone reacts differently to different nutrition protocols. And what you end up with is high-carb/low-fat, ketogenic, vegetarian, and carnivore diets that provide incredible results for some but disappointing results for others.
So instead of breaking down the thousands of nutrition plans for this article (you’re likely to have your preference already), we’ll talk about how you should approach and source the foods and macronutrients you decide to eat.
The first step you should take in optimizing your nutrition is to have a plan that’s simple to follow, well thought out for your goals, and keeps you from falling off track. The best nutrition plan is the one you’re actually going to keep up with to experience the compounding benefits.
The second tip for your nutrition strategy is to opt for whole foods over processed foods. Eating whole foods ensures you consume the maximum amount of the food’s original nutrients. Most processed foods either add or remove things to give them a longer shelf life or make them taste better.
Optimal nutrient absorption and harmful preservatives aside, the added complexities of tracking how the additives affect your daily macronutrient targets alone make choosing whole foods the easy choice.
So whether you’re vegetarian, paleo, or high-carb, if you can put the focus on having a plan you can stick to and ensuring that the foods you select are as close to natural as possible, you’ll be head and shoulders above the rest.
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