17 Scientific Ways to Recover from Exercise

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

The Recovery Series - Part 2


Part 1 of the rest and recovery series explored the importance of our muscles getting 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild after training, otherwise we risk the muscle leading into breakdown instead of growth. (Catch up on part one of the rest and recovery series here). Part 2 will now focus on 17 scientifically proven ways you can speed up that 24- to 48-hour recovery time between training sessions. Just a little reminder that whilst all of these ways are proven to speed up recovery, every one responds differently to each method and you should learn what works best for your body.


The down-low of recovery:

When we train, our goal is to break down muscle to then allow the recovery process to happen. Depending on the person and difficulty of the activity trained, four key processes happen during this recovery phase: protein synthesis, muscle fibre rebuilding, fluid restoration and removal of metabolic waste products. Our goal when we recover is to speed up all of these processes. 


1.    Sleep

No wiz bang crazy method here! Sleep is the most essential part of recovery but it is the first thing that goes by the wayside when the stress of comp or work life starts to build up. A lack of sleep can lead to serious physical and medical issues. Not only is it associated with a huge increase in anxiety and stress levels, but it also has been shown to lead to increased risk of injury, lower pain thresholds, mood swings, poor immune system, obesity and chronic medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

‘Daytime napping can make up for lost sleep time overnight’

While you sleep your body is doing amazing things! Mainly it’s producing growth hormone which is responsible for the growth and repair of all your muscles. So, make sure you’re getting the recommended 9 hours sleep every night. And if you can’t manage that all in one burst, then trial some daytime napping. Evidence shows that napping can make up for lost sleep time overnight.



2.    Nutrition

After depleting your energy stores during exercise, you need to refuel if you expect your body to recover, repair and be ready to take on the challenges on your next training session. As I’m sure you can appreciate this is such a huge topic and I could write multiple blogs on this topic alone. But I like to keep things simple to understand.

Aim for a low GI (glycaemic index) snack 60 minutes before exercise & a high GI/protein meal within 4 hours of exercise

Prior to exercise, a light low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrate snack 60 minutes before is helpful in providing energy to fuel for the activity at hand. Low GI foods are recommended as the main aim is to maintain energy for a prolonged period.


Post exercise it’s important to replenish energy stores within 4 hours of finishing a workout. This can be through a light snack immediately following exercise and then a full meal as soon as possible within the 4-hour time line. The best foods to eat after exercise are high GI foods. High GI foods are digested and absorbed quickly by the body thereby allowing a fast replenishment of energy. Some examples of high GI foods include:

  • Bananas

  • Sandwiches

  • Sushi 

In addition to high GI carbs, don’t forget a lean source of protein in your meal to promote muscle repair such as:

  • Meat

  • Eggs

  • Cheese

3.    Replace lost fluids

‘The amount of fluid consumed after exercise should equal or slightly exceed the amount of sweat loss’ 

Muscles are 75% water and dependent on the intensity you can lose a lot of fluid during exercise! Whilst you should ideally be replacing fluid as you go, filling up with water post exercise is an easy way to boost your recovery. Water has an important role in the body assisting in transfer of nutrients and supporting our metabolic function. It’s equally important to not over-consume water as well! A good rule of thumb to determine how much to drink is by weighing in pre & post exercise, drinking 1.5x the amount of lost weight.

Chocolate milk and sports drinks have also been shown to be helpful for those partaking in intense exercise due to different carbohydrate/fat and electrolyte intake, however I would suggest leaving these drinks for high cardio exercise as they are high in sugar and that would require that energy to be burned to ensure no weight gain.



4.    Perform an active recovery

An active recovery focuses on low intensity exercise and is mostly successful due to its ability to rapidly remove waste products, facilitate blood flow and transport of nutrients. Cross training is a great way to engage in an active recovery and can include activities such as walking, light cycling, yoga or even light circuit exercises.

  • Cycling/walking: a low joint impact activity, exercise at an easy pace around 120-140bpm heart rate

  • Yoga: a beginner’s online class is a great place to start with poses to boost circulation, release tightness and gently activate sore muscles.

  • Circuit: 15-20 minutes of very light intensity bodyweight exercises can help boost circulation whilst stretching. Remember this shouldn’t feel harder than light exercise

5.    Stretch it out

Dynamic stretching before a workout and static stretching post a workout are both thought to be important to reduce muscle shortening and improve joint mobility. Post-workout stretches are commonly forgotten after a training session, but it is essential to include these in a training schedule to prevent injury. Recommended time of stretching is between 20-30 seconds repeated once or twice for each body part involved in the exercise. 


6.    Unplug

Take some time out of your day to unplug from all things pole related. This not only includes stepping away from your pole but also not looking at social media to allow a complete mental break. 


7.    Meditation

Meditation can be new and foreign to people but there can be huge pay off when done correctly. Spending time in a state of calm can produce clear mental focus and reduce anxiety. Additionally, positive self-talk can allow for a more productive conversation in your head when it comes time to train. Apps such as smiling mind, calm & headspace are useful to assist in this

 

8.    Listen to music

Music can be a powerful way to help inspire us to push through a challenging trick but also can aid in exercise recovery when listening to some chill tunes. Slow tempo songs can help to slow down our heart rate after exercise or help us mentally relax on days off.


9.    Skip the booze

Quite simple, alcohol consumption after exercise can significantly impair muscle fibre synthesis and energy storage so should be avoided in the recovery period. 


10. Make friends with your foam roller and massage ball

A lot of the soreness that occurs with exercise is due to overuse and active trigger points (commonly called knots). Rolling out these trigger points with a massage ball or foam roller can desensitise these points and reduce muscle pain.


11. Massage

Alternatively, you can treat yourself and level up with a massage from a trained massage therapist. This has the added benefit of global muscular release instead of local points with a roller/massage ball. 


12. Wear some compression

There is some evidence to suggest that wearing compression garments can decrease muscle recovery time. In particular strength recovery time has been shown to recover quickest between sessions with the use of compression.


13. Consider the use of natural anti-inflammatories

Anti-inflammatory medications can speed up muscle recovery and reduce soreness in the short term, however there are a great number of risks associated with their use. So, it is not advised to take them unless under medical advice (please note: this article does not count as medical advice). Instead we can look to mother nature’s version of natural anti-inflammatories. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • Turmeric

  • Blueberries

  • Nuts

  • Leafy greens

  • Chia seeds

And don’t forget to stay clear of sugary foods! These are large drivers of inflammation and pain.  


14. Increase your magnesium intake

Magnesium has been shown to have some incredible benefits on the body including improved brain function, lower blood pressure, reduce depression and even combat migraines. However, it’s most well-known use is in the muscles. Magnesium is directly responsible for relaxing your muscle fibres after a contraction and when levels are depleted you may find you can experience cramps, spasm or tightness. There is mixed evidence on this, however it is still anecdotally shown to reduce muscle tightness in athletes of all different levels.


15. Hot/cold therapy

The theory behind this method is that by repeated constriction and dilation of blood vessels helps to flush out waste products in the tissues. There has been research which has found benefits of contrast water therapy such as reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). When showering post training session, you can alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat this up to four times with a minute of moderate temperatures between each hot/cold spray.


16. Avoid overtraining and rest between workouts

This was talked about in part one in great detail but, put quite simply, rest after exercise is essential for muscle and tissue repair and strength building. A muscle needs between 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild and working it too soon simply leads to the breakdown of tissue of building. Design a smart workout routine that includes multiple rest days and does not undermine your recovery efforts


17. Listen to your body and seek help when needed

Don’t forget the most important thing you can do to aid your recovery is to listen to your body. If you’re noticing pain or decreased performance you need to pay attention to what your body is telling you and listen to these warnings. Seeking out the help of a health professional if you sense something isn’t quite right is always better off to do earlier than later! No one likes an injury!


As mentioned earlier, there are so many different individual responses to each and every one of these recovery methods. Instead of trying them all why not try a couple at a time and see what works best for you. A great way to determine if you’re recovering enough is through our 100 points of recovery system explored in part 3 of our blog which will be available shortly.


Are you after a tailored pole training program that takes rest & recovery into account?


Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.

Until next time, train safe.

The Pole Physio

x


Related:


References:

  1. Dupuy O, Douzi W, Theurot D, Bosquet L, Dugué B. An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol. 2018;9:403.

  2. Shirreffs SM, Armstrong LE, Cheuvront SN. Fluid and electrolyte needs for preparation and recovery from training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2004;22(1):57-63.

  3. Burke LM, Kiens B, Ivy JL. Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. J Sports Sci. 2004;22(1):15-30.