Workout recovery rules and hacks Workout recovery rules and hacks

The Rules
of Workout Recovery

Get the most out of your time in the gym with these tips that really work

You know that feeling after you've hit the gym hard or gave your all on a long bike ride or run? It's the smug satisfaction of accomplishment mixed with general fatigue and the slight sting of sore muscles. If the balance is right, it's tolerable and serves as a gentle reminder that you did good. But if you're too sore ... to move or work or generally enjoy yourself, then you didn't recover properly.

Most coaches and trainers will tell you that recovery and rest are essential parts of any strength and conditioning program—perhaps even more important than the lifting itself. Because while it sounds crazy, you don't get stronger when you're training. You get stronger while sitting down after your workout, sipping on chocolate milk. You see, recovery must occur before progress can be made.

And if you're only focused on what you're doing while you're working out, you'll be missing out on all the muscle-building and toning your body does when you're finished. It's also imperative for staying injury free, seeing long-term progress and staying consistent with your workouts. You already know to get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of water. But here's how to ensure that non-fitness time is as beneficial as the time you're crushing it.

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Roll It Out

When your muscles are tight and sore, a lot of that discomfort occurs when our muscles (along with the connective tissue known as fascia) gets knotted. Multiple studies have proven that rolling your muscles out with a "hurts so good" foam roller substantially reduces muscle soreness while improving range of motion. The tool can target trouble spots, work to remove those knots and stiffness while speeding recovery by increasing blood flow. And bonus, one of the studies (PDF) also found that a "post-exercise massage can generate well-being, a reduction in anxiety and an improvement in mood and perceived relaxation and recovery." Now you just need to decide if you'd prefer smooth or textured. Smooth rollers apply pressure evenly across an area, while textured rollers apply more pressure to specific points in your muscle.

Amazon Basics Smooth High-Density Roller

Smooth high-density roller,
$19.79 by Amazon Basics

Gaiam Textured Foam Roller

Textured foam roller,
$22.49 by Gaiam

Down Some Chocolate Milk

Ask any trainer and they'll tell you that the perfect recovery ratio of carbohydrates to protein is four to one. And it just so happens that this childhood favorite is a perfect recovery beverage—better than any neon colored sports drink, according to research published in the journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. Scientists found exercisers are able to retain more than twice the amount of fluid in chocolate milk than in a sports drink after a vigorous workout. In short, when it comes to chocolate milk, your body is able to absorb more protein in less volume.

Soak in Some Epsom Salt

Epsoak Essential Oil-Infused Soak

Essential
oil-infused soak,
$10 by Epsoak

Way better than dunking your body in a tub of ice, soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath can have some seriously relaxing effects on your body. The salts contain magnesium sulfate, which helps relax the muscles, so any achy, cramped problem areas naturally loosen up. Underneath the skin, as your muscles soak in the salty water, your blood vessels dilate, releasing some of the natural waste products that have built up. Plus, the water's heat will help you sweat out even more pent-up metabolic waste and toxins in your body and skin.

Epsoak Essential Oil-Infused Soak

Essential oil-infused soak,
$10 by Epsoak

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Hit the
Steam Room

Treat yourself to a relaxing steam session. Sit back, breathe in the steam and the let the heat soothe your muscles—for five minutes. Then stand under a cool shower for three to five minutes. Then back to the steam and repeat with a cool shower again. Do this three to five times, as the contrast is what gets the blood flowing to the muscles in need.

Try Compression Garments

You probably see plenty of compression garments—shorts, leggings, sleeves—in the gym. And while guys will talk about how much they help performance, most recent studies indicate that compression sleeves do not boost blood flow through muscles during exercise—likely because our blood flow during exercising is already at its peak. However, compression garments do seem to significantly aid muscles' recovery once strenuous exercise is over, says Billy Sperlich, a professor of sport science at the University of Wüerzburg in Germany. Sperlich studied how garments can augment the movement of blood through muscles after exercising, when blood flow would otherwise slow. He says this increase in circulation helps flush away some of the biochemical byproducts of hard workouts, which increases inflammation and muscle aches.

Under Armour Vanish HeatGear Compression Shorts

Vanish HeatGear compression shorts,
$45 by Under Armour

Nike ACG Compression Sleeves

ACG compression sleeves,
$50 by Nike

Fight Inflammation

Consider adding natural anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and ginger into a post-workout smoothie. They've long been found to help repair damage to muscle fibers, which will help minimize soreness. You could also pop a couple NSAIDs (over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin) after a workout, which will definitely keep any discomfort to a minimum. But the latest science suggests that these drugs may hinder the muscle-growing process known as hypertrophy. So if you're looking for gains, you may want to skip this one.

Fuel Up ... At the Right Time

Blender Bottle Shaker Bottle With Locking Snack Storage

Shaker bottle
with locking snack storage,
$11.29 by Blender Bottle

You might chuckle at the guy pounding the shaker bottle full of protein shake, but he's feeding his muscles the necessary fuel to grow and tone up. You should aim for 20 to 40 grams of protein after each workout. And then have a light, protein-rich snack (such as yogurt, cottage cheese or hummus) before bed in order to give your body a boost of fuel to keep repairing muscles overnight. Then, in the morning (after you've given yourself plenty of sleep), your body could use the nutrients in a high-protein breakfast to continue rebuilding and recovering.

Blender Bottle Shaker Bottle With Locking Snack Storage

Shaker bottle with locking snack storage,
$11.29 by Blender Bottle

Boost that Protein

Science shows that the cannabinoids in hemp oil are effective in managing inflammation post-exercise. It also reduces muscle strain and dehydration from training. This protein powder is packed with 27 grams of quality whey protein and 25 milligrams of CBD. We found it completely eradicated next-day soreness after a hard training session.

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