When I was eleven, every so often my swim coach would have us do circuit days. Circuit days were the BEST days because instead of traditional swim practice exercises, we would basically do an aquatic obstacle course for the whole practice. However, inevitably, part of this circuit would be to do lunges nearly the whole way around the pool. We must have done the circuit itself about ten times which probably means we ended up doing a couple HUNDRED lunges by the end of practice. These circuit days were special and were few and far between, and even though they were my favorite, I would absolutely wake up the next morning with lactic acid throbbing throughout my body in the form of delayed onsite muscle soreness (DOMS).
As an eleven-year-old, I clearly didn’t pay too much attention to repairing my body after practices, but as I got older I realized how much proper recovery made a difference and how little time people spend on it even as their bodies stop bouncing back as if they were a preteen.
I obviously recognize the fact that I am still a fresh-faced twenty-two-year old and my body is nowhere near crapping out on me yet, HOWEVER, I have picked up a few tricks throughout my athletic career that make a HUGE difference in my workouts and overall health and should really be included in any fitness regime regardless of your intensity
Stretching: There are many different stretching ideologies: before your workout, only after your workout, before AND after a workout, Sunday yoga, etc. Doesn’t matter your view on stretching, the point is that you should be doing it regularly. Stretching obviously helps with flexibility, but it also decreases soreness and prevents injury. My preference is a little bit of dynamic stretching before a workout like arm and leg swings, and then at least 10 minutes of static stretching (traditional stretching) after my workout when my muscles are warm and it doesn’t feel like I’m ripping them with every stretch. If I can, I will also do a little bit of yoga once or twice a week to get a deeper stretch and work on my overall flexibility and balance.
Fuel: Back when I was a swimmer, I was practicing so hard that I’d either be ravenous and down a whole pizza after practice, or my appetite would be nonexistent and I barely wanted even wanted to rehydrate. Neither were great ways to refuel my body after what was almost certainly a killer workout. Immediately after you workout, it is important to replenish your body. If you don’t eat, your muscles will be screaming for nourishment, but you don’t want to give them just anything. Having a bit of protein after your workout, in the form of a bar, a shake, chicken, almonds, whatever, can help your muscles immediately start their restoration process. If you want specific results for your body, then visit a nutritionist or dietitian who can help you figure out what exactly is best for your body to have, otherwise just be aware that your muscles need to recover and eating a bit of healthy protein after a workout can go a long way.
REST: We’ve talked about getting enough rest before and we’ll talk about it again. Proper rest is CRUCIAL to repair your body each day. If you are an athlete or have regular workouts, your body NEEDS the rest to recover and reset. If you don’t rest properly, not only will your normal life suffer as your mental capacity will be reduced, but so will your physical activity. Your muscles will be tired and you’ll struggle to get through any workout. Trust me, I’ve been there. Get some quality sleep and your body will show you the difference.
Massage: This one can definitely be viewed as a luxury and in the most literal sense, a massage is a luxury in America. Most of the time, they cost upwards of $50 dollars for an hour, a price which is not sustainable for most people. However, like stretching and rest, massages can make the recovery process far easier on your muscles. It can also help with posture and other bodily pains. However, if you’re like me, and you can’t afford a weekly massage, there are other ways to get close. Invest in a foam roller or massage tool. Most are less than the price of one massage and you keep them at home and use them when you want. I have this nifty little ball that is far more resilient than a tennis ball that I can use by myself to work out the knots that plague my back and neck. Even though it is not a normal massage, that small amount of self massage, when used regularly, has worked wonders keeping my muscles loose.
I know these might seem like small things, but if you are putting stress on your body every day for workouts, manual labor, or any number of physical tasks, it is important to note that stress and give your body the adequate recovery it needs. If you’re as diligent about your recovery as you are about putting the stress on your body in the first place, you can start to push yourself harder and harder in your workouts without immediate fear of injury, pain, and fatigue. The types of things I’ve described really only take a few minutes and I don’t know about you, but I’ll spend the extra few minutes healing my body now, rather than paying for it later in life.