By using the proper tools for recovery we can repair the damage done by exercise leaving us with a superior product to what we started with. The food choices and post workout activity choices we make give our body the materials to rebuild on a cellular level.
Sitting with my lower body submersed in a tub of nearly freezing water, I couldn’t help but feel I’d made the right decision.
If you know Matt or I or have visited this site before then you know that we love running. Specifically we are training for the Leadville Trail 100 mile endurance race. As part of my preparation for this race (and to try to catch up to Matt’s superior running ability) I decided to take a training vacation; a vacation for not from training. I needed a place that would serve multiple functions while providing beautiful and fulfilling backdrops along inspiring trails… I wasn’t asking for much, just everything.
I chose Boulder, Colorado based on 4 key elements:
1. Altitude of 1,655 m (5340 ft) in Boulder itself
2. Mountains covered in well-kept and easily accessible trails.
3. 300 Days of sunshine a year!
4. All Sports Recovery Club… where i was currently perched in an ice bath, post 25 mile trail run and about to spend 2 months learning about the single most overlooked element in training.
Within the first few days of arriving in Boulder I had eagerly sampled the first three elements: ran the mountainous trail systems, soaked up the cold but ever present sunlight and done it all with what felt like the lungs of a 70 year old smoker thanks to the altitude. On the fourth day in town, I went for an ambitious jog that carried me over 8000ft of accumulated positive elevation along 25 miles of linked trails. Upon completion it became clear by the deafening complaints of my body that it was time to incorporate the fourth element.
1. restoration to a former or better condition
2. the extraction of useful substances from waste
As active or aspiring active people, commonly have a flawed understanding of how to achieve better fitness. We tend to push our bodies to the point of collapse and then fall into our couch and congratulate ourselves for how” fit” we got today… often rewarding with a tasty and usually unhealthy snack… post workout cookies? Ice Cream? Margaritas? It’s a vicious cycle. Immediately after we are finished ravaging our musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems is the point when the true fitness building begins. The reality being that the exercise is just the beginning of the the fitness cycle. Once the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems have been sufficiently worked it is then up to the rest of the body’s systems to utilize the choices we make in terms of food and rest to rebuild on the now damaged systems and leave us with a superior form.
Simply put, we don’t gain fitness through the physical activities themselves. We gain fitness after the activity by absorbing the workout and completing the recovery process effectively.
Wash – rinse – repeat and you are on the road to heightened fitness.
Say you’ve just finished a track workout. Your legs have given all you could ask and maybe more and you are proud of yourself for the efforts you’ve just put forth. You should be. Though the hard physical work is behind you, today’s fitness potential is far from realized. Your muscles are shredded, glycogen depleted, ligaments and tendons stretched and electrolyte levels drained. Time to RECOVER and recover RIGHT.
1. The process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth.
2. Food; nourishment.
I am no Biochemist, but by this definition I feel we can stop lying to ourselves about how we need to refuel with that bacon-cheeseburger and soda. We have to start things off on the right foot. This means addressing your depleted energy, water and electrolyte levels. We need to start paying attention to what the body needs. Healthy, nutrient dense foods. Fruits, veggies and quality proteins, either from meat, legumes or supplemented in a powder or ready mix drink. Many studies show that the first 30 mins after finishing intense exercise are optimal for replenishing sugars and electrolytes and the following 1.5 hours are when protein and carbohydrates will be best utilized by the body to repair the damage done and turn your efforts into effects.
The next overlooked and very important step is to get the metabolic waste moving out of the muscles and return them to a supple and balanced state. There are a wide variety of tools that range from expensive to pocket-sized to painful.
There are plenty of methods that can cost upwards of $80 per hour such as chiropractic, specialized massage, acupuncture and so on. I am going to touch on a list of self-recovery tools that can be purchased locally and will allow you to perform a valuable recovery routine on yourself in your own home and even on the go.
Ice/Ice Bath – Top of my list and in my opinion the most effective, available and easy to use recovery tool there is; and the more the merrier! The effect of ice on inflamed tissue is invaluable to reducing swelling and increasing blood flow. Time and time again, ice has reduced local pain and sped my recovery time after the longest and most intense periods of exercise.
Inversion Table – This falls under the expensive category and is not too “on-the-go” but holds incredible benefits for the user. The release of vertical pressure on the spine allows it to lengthen and therefor increases blood flow in general to the body. This action of lengthening the spine is crucial and so rewarding after the sort of repetitive compacting that takes place, especially in runners. The inverted position also allows blood to return almost without effort from the legs, helping to move metabolic waste and reduce inflammation.
Foam Roller and Massage Stick – Both fall under the more portable and affordable category and more and more folks are becoming familiar with these simple yet versatile and effective tools. The foam roller and massage stick work as a personal masseuse on virtually any muscle group with little more than body weight and a high tolerance for pain. Both self-massage tools help release the fascial tissues surrounding the muscle allowing the muscle to release to a neutral state and thereby increasing blood flow and with it the flow of nutrients to the damaged areas. Getting the muscles to relax into a neutral position is of great importance in creating balance in the muscle groups, helping to reduce a muscle’s pull against its complimentary muscle group. A massage stick is compact and simple enough to take with you on a trip, store at work or leave in the car for a post outdoor adventure.
Lacrosse Ball – The most portable and versatile of tools is also the cheapest and easiest to use. In many cases all you have to do is lie on it. There are a bunch of companies out there producing enticingly named products that are little more than a lacrosse ball. Unless you are dead set on brand names you can save your money by buying a lacrosse ball from your local sports store. I recommend getting a pair which will allow you to perform releases on muscle groups bilaterally or just to keep one at home and one at work.
Compression Wear – There seem to be as many studies in favour as there are against the benefit of compression apparel. I have not read any studies that strongly advise against using compression wear and most seem to deem these items benign if not effective. Compression wear is designed to increase blood flow, helping the body reduce lactic acid buildup from intense exercise. Simply put, speeding up recovery.
I have personally used each of the tools listed above to facilitate recovery from numerous running related issues. More importantly, I now regularly use these amazing tools to prevent injury and stay pain free through miles and miles of training. Taking the time each day, as little as 10 minutes, to release and massage tense and weary muscles can save you long weeks and even months of rehab down the road from entirely preventable muscle, tendon and ligament strains. Pre-work out allows your body to work in its natural alignment and promotes healthy muscle function and circulation while post-workout helps speed recovery by reducing inflammation and quickening the transport of metabolic waste from fatigued muscle groups.
To wrap things up, I strongly believe that in order to reach and maintain our health and fitness goals, we all need rethink our approach towards them. Simply put, exercise creates damage in the body. Sleeping and eating builds and repairs the body. Balance the two and success should follow.Read More