If you want to sculpt a stronger, more powerful physique, you’re going to have to push yourself. And if you’re going to push your body hard, you need to learn how to recover quickly and efficiently.
Heavy gym sessions stress your body, leading to microscopic muscle damage, inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). None of that’s a problem, of course – in fact it’s the damage that leads to stronger regrowth – unless the repair process isn’t optimised.
“What you do immediately after your workout will have just as much effect on your results as what you do in the session itself,” says Sundried ambassador Alex Parren, an experienced trainer, coach and nutritionist with a background in powerlifting and Olympic lifting.
Yet mastering the art of recovery remains one of the most commonly neglected gym skills.
So here is Parren’s guide to resting, recovering and raising your game.
1. Keep your cool-down
After finishing a heavy lifting session, don’t just head straight to the showers. Cool down with a light bit of cardio, instead – nothing strenuous, but enough to get your blood flowing.
“A proper cool-down can help prevent ‘blood pooling’,” explains Parren. “Thankfully, that is nowhere near as gruesome as it sounds. ‘Blood pooling’ is just another term for chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). That occurs after strenuous leg workouts when blood vessels expand, making it harder for the blood to return to the heart.
“By cooling down gradually and thoroughly, you will be less likely to feel light-headed after your workout, and it will prevent blood pooling in your legs.”
2. Foam roll with it
A muscle-relaxing regime after training can enhance your recovery, but try to avoid any challenging stretches.
“Directly after a strength session, the muscles are torn, meaning that is the time to avoid static stretching as you will only tear the muscles further and potentially injure yourself,” warns Parren. “Instead,” she says, “try foam rolling. It is proven to improve blood flow and flush out lactic acid, reducing the effects of DOMS and speeding up recovery.”
3. Be a massage gun slinger
Some form of massage will aid your physical recovery after a brutal weights session. And the quicker, the better.
“If you’re going to utilise post-workout massage, that is best done as soon as your session is over,” explains Parren. “Studies have found that massage can reduce inflammation, which in turn will improve recovery and reduce DOMS.”
If you can’t afford a professional massage, buy a massage gun – a hand-held deep muscle-relaxer – instead. “Massage guns are a great way to administer self-massage without the need for a physio appointment,” says Parren.
4. Dress to compress
Compression garments are now popular among elite athletes for their ability to aid recovery after training.
“Studies have conclusively found that compression clothing improves blood flow and can reduce DOMS after a workout,” says Parren. “That means that by wearing compression leggings or a compression top during your lifting session, you could recover faster and be ready for your next session sooner.”
5. Take a shower
Experts still debate whether hot baths or ice baths are the best way to aid muscle recovery, but combining the two could be a smart option.
“Both hot and cold water have benefits for recovery, so combining the two in one shower is optimal,” suggests Parren. “Hot water helps to improve blood flow, flush out lactic acid and relax tense muscles. And cold water reduces inflammation and can numb the effects of DOMS.”
Try alternating 30 seconds of hot and cold water during your shower for a healthy burst of contrast therapy.
6. Sleep it off
Unless you get a good night’s sleep, you will never achieve the muscle growth you crave.
“Peak human growth hormone (HGH) release is achieved during deep sleep,” says Parren, “which means you need to make sure you’re not waking up often throughout the night or being disturbed by noises and light.
“That means don’t sleep with the TV on or listen to music before bed. Prioritise quality sleep by making sure your bedroom is properly dark and devoid of as much noise and light as possible.”