How Best to Aid Recovery
Recovery is as important, if not more so, than training itself. In order to create the adaptations (results) from your training sessions, you need to adequately recover. If you don't recover well, you are putting in a lot of work for ZERO results and that seems like a terrible waste of time and effort. Recovery can look like many things. It comes in the form of breathing, massage & compression, thermal regulation, nutrition & supplementation and even movement. I will touch briefly on all of these tactics in the following post. First and foremost, the easiest way to start stimulating recovery after a workout is "down regulation" breathing. You create stress every time you workout and the harder you train the more stress you create. This is the point of training, to create the stress which will (hopefully) initiate the adaptation. BUT, to get the adaptation you have to recover properly. If you skip the recovery step, you might as well have not even done the work. So pay attention!!!! Down regulation breathing is simple to understand and execute. After you finish a training session, lay down on your back or your belly, and take deep breaths. Ideally you will do some sort of box breathing or use a physiological sigh technique, but the ultimate goal is to get back to 100% nasal breathing. YES, nasal breathing is rearing its evil head once again- cue tangent. Nasal breathing is the type of breathing we should be doing MOST of the time we are alive. Whether we are sleeping or awake, sitting or walking or even jogging, nasal breathing should be your dominant breathing modality. It's exactly how it sounds, breathing in and out of your nose. Your mouth is shut, your tongue is pressing on the roof of your mouth and you are breathing in and out of your nose exclusively. If this comes as a surprise to you, or you think, I NEVER breathe through my nose, then you need to start. A great way to train yourself to nasal breathe is by taping your mouth shut at night. I'm not kidding. Use medical tape and tape that sucker shut, you have no choice but to breathe through your nose. If that seems drastic, just practice during the day. When you are sitting at your computer, shut your mouth and breathe through your nose, when you go for a walk, breathe through your nose (this may be harder than you originally think it will be), leave post it notes around your house that say BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE...... you get the point. An example of box breathing is taking a breath in for a set amount of time (let's say 5 sec) and holding it for the same amount of time (5 sec), then exhaling for that time (5 second exhale) and holding the exhaled breath for that same time (5 sec). Continue that pattern until you can return to nasal breathing or until you reach 3-5 minutes at a minimum. A physiological sigh is a bit different. You inhale deeply through your nose, then take one additional quick lung expanding inhale through your nose, after which you exhale through your mouth and sigh as the air comes out in a sort of weird sounding noise. The sigh slows the speed of the exhale. In a recently published study this technique has actually been shown to be the most effective way (when comparing breathing drills and mediation) to boost your mood. Physiological Sigh Moving on to massage and compression, these are both tactics to move fluid/blood in and out of cells to help alleviate inflammation. Compression can be simply putting on tight clothes or you can invest in compression "gear" or even a compression system- like a "Normatec" suit. Massage can be light Swedish massage, or lymphatic massage or deep tissue- pick your pleasure with that one. Next, we have thermal regulation (aka- hot/cold therapy- ice baths/saunas/contrast therapy). This one gets a little tricky. Depending on what phase of training you are in, or what your goal of training is, the timing of using ice therapy in particular becomes nuanced. For example, if you are looking for hypertrophy (growing bigger muscles) taking an ice bath right after a strength training session will dull or negate your adaptations from that session. If you wanted to use an ice bath another day when you didn't train, that would be fine. If you contrast this however with someone who is looking to optimize recovery and isn't worrying about hypertrophy then an ice bath immediately following training is a great idea to assist in kick starting recovery (think in season football players that need to recover quickly). Heat is also a great way to stimulate recovery but there has not been as many studies about how heat affects training adaptations so use it with caution directly following a workout until more research is completed on this technique. And of course going from hot to cold and moving between those two are also extremely helpful if you use it at the correct time. When you think of recovery as a fluid state of being, you also need to think about how best to fuel yourself during this state. I'm not going to get into nutrient timing here, that's just too much for this post, but feeding yourself some protein following a workout is usually a good plan. Some helpful supplements that can assist in recovery are creatine, curcumin, glutamine, and omega 3's. I'm linking my posts about creatine here and Omega 3's here if you want more info on the benefits of those two. Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant commonly found in turmeric. Glutamine is the most common amino acid and your body can also produce it. As a supplement, it can aid in reducing inflammation and additionally if you have any issue with leaky gut, glutamine can help with that too. It assists in the "clean up crew" aspect of recovery after the immune response has settled down and your cells are heading into regeneration mode. Lastly, let's briefly discuss using movement to aid recovery. My last blog post was all about LISS and this is an amazing way to use exercise to help your body recover. Easy movement with a low to moderate heart rate will increase blood flow to sore muscles and help ease the pain associated with general muscle soreness. Activities such as, light hiking, a walk, an easy swim, bike ride, a game of pickleball or anything that gives you pleasure while pumping some blood through your system.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, your results from training will only be as good as your recovery protocol allows. The better you recover, the more adaptations you will see from all your hard work in and out of the gym. Down regulation breathing is the easiest and some may say, most effective technique to start doing TODAY. Just breathe...... (but mainly though your nose!)