Recovery is a hot topic these days in the health and fitness world as it should be. I think recovery is a broad subject, therefore, lets define it for our purposes today.
“Recovery from exercise refers to the time period between the end of a bout of exercise and the subsequent return to a resting or recovered state. It also refers to specific physiological processes or states occurring after exercise that are distinct from the physiology of either the exercising or the resting states.”
The above definition of recovery is straight forward and seems simple enough, don’t work out all the time but its more than that. Before I go any further if you barely workout 3 days per week recovery is not your problem. This is for people who are consistent in their workout regime and want to maximize their workouts and life.
I like to look at recovery in 2 ways. The first way is the simple things we have control over such as hydration and sleep. The second is the recovery tools we can use to speed or enhance recovery.
The basics for good recovery are:
- Quality sleep
- Moving daily
- Eating a whole food-based diets
- Stress management techniques such as meditation
Let’s break each of those down quickly. For sleep you should be getting anywhere from 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. A simple tip here is to go to bed and wake up at the same time daily. You should drink ½ your bodyweight in ounces of water daily. You should try and hit 10,000 steps daily. In regards to food cut out processed food and limit your quantity. Check your stress levels, if you are stressed out try meditating or any other stress reducing technique. None of this is hard yet not too many people do it. Ask yourself if you did this daily how much better off would you be?
Now let’s dig into the tools available to help with recovery. A short list is:
- Foam rolling
To me one of the best ways to recover is soft tissue work which is done by massage, foam rolling, or a theragun for example. There are many ways to do it but keeping muscles loose and pliable is important to staying injury free. Those tools are great ways to do it and it doesn’t take much time out of your day.
Getting a little more advanced would be cryotherapy and the sauna. Both of these have been shown to have many benefits. Here is some of the latest research on the sauna.
- Supercharge your cell power. Heat has been proven to positively impact your mitochondria, the ‘batteries’ powering your cells, helping your body naturally produce more energy and stay fit.
- Slow down Father Time (aka: aging!). Cell regeneration means you slow the aging process. And if you’re not quite convinced, check out the 20 year study of Finnish men that links two to three sauna sessions per week with a 23% decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
- Detoxify heavy metals and chemicals. Everyday exposure to potentially toxic heavy metals through a variety of sources means even the most health conscious people still have toxins in the body. Regular sauna bathing helps excrete toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.
- Make your heart happy and healthy. A 2018 study found that sauna bathing four to seven times per week reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by as much as 58%.
- Reduce blood pressure. Sauna heat helps widen blood vessels and improve circulation, which reduces blood pressure.
- Optimize athletic performance. Blood flow improvements from hyperthermic conditioning (heat conditioning) sends more blood to the heart, leading to an increase in plasma and red blood cell volume. That process delivers more oxygen throughout the body, fueling athletic performance.
- Improve muscle function and recovery. As more blood flow and oxygen is delivered throughout the body, muscles increase in size and muscle breakdown is diminished. One study showed that two, one-hour sauna sessions for seven days straight increases production of the human growth hormone (HGH) by two to five times.
- Fuel weight loss. Regular sauna use is shown to regulate the appetite, increase metabolism, and improve oxygen utilization, helping to fuel weight loss along with a reduction in body fat.
- Boost brain function. The brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF increases with regular sauna use, activating the growth of new brain cells, better maintaining existing cells, and improving neuroplasticity, the brain’s process for forming new neural connections.
- Ignite your immune system. Heat exposure from sauna use increases the heat shock protein, stimulating antigen-presenting cells, along with releasing cytokine, thus stimulating the body’s natural immune system.
- BONUS BENEFIT: improve emotional health and mood. When your body and brain are healthy, detoxified, and destressed, and you’ve boosted endorphins, your overall mood and emotional health improves.
There is not much of an argument for not using a sauna other than not having access to one.
Cryotherapy is relatively new but is popular and shows great promise. Cryotherapy is:
“Cryotherapy, which literally means “cold therapy,” is a technique where the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes.”
- Reduces pain and inflammation
- Improves joint function
- Rheumatic diseases
- May support exercise recovery and performance
The nice thing about cryotherapy is that it takes up very little time. For those not familiar this is how you do it:
“Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) involves immersing the body in a cold chamber, which emits vapors at extremely low temperatures ranging from -110℃ to -160 ℃ (around -160℉ to -220℉). This is usually done for an interval of 2 to 4 minutes [1, 2].”
If you want to try the sauna or cryotherapy for recovery, they will be useless if you are not doing the first part discussed here. As usual you need to do the basics before moving onto the advanced but if you are someone who is consistent with living a healthy lifestyle these new technologies for recovery show great promise.