Muscle Recovery After Tough Workouts
It takes hard work and dedication to lead a healthy lifestyle while also building strength and endurance. You have to continue to challenge yourself to tough workouts that include muscle building resistance training and heart pumping cardio to maintain your fitness. But what we sometimes forget is that muscle recovery between these intense training sessions is just as important.
Recovery For Muscle Growth
Every time you work out, you create tiny microtears within your muscle fibers. This is necessary to stimulate muscle growth. However, you also have to allow your muscles to rest between your strength training sessions so that these muscle tears can repair and rebuild. Without proper recovery, you will just be constantly breaking down muscle without properly building it back up again. This means you could be wasting all of that time spent in the gym.
After exercise-induced muscle damage, intramuscular inflammation is a dynamic process that eventually leads to muscle remodeling (1). This is how you achieve muscle hypertrophy. However, you also need the time and the building blocks to build these muscle fibers back up.
For many, coming up with a recovery plan is harder than developing an actual workout routine. These are a few ways to improve your recovery and get the most out of your workouts.
Top 9 Muscle Recovery Tips
1.Rest Muscle Groups
There is an ongoing debate about the optimal amount of rest and recovery needed between workouts. The general consensus is that you should give your body a minimum of 48 hours, and possibly 72 hours, of rest before another bout of resistance training.
One meta-analysis of 140 exercise studies found that untrained participants experienced maximal strength gains by training each muscle group 3 days a week, while trained individuals experienced the biggest gains training 2 days a week (2). This correlates with a rest period of about 48-72 hours between workout sessions.
2. Use Compression Garments
Research has found that utilizing compression garments for recovery after exercise can also help increase power and strength. In addition, there is evidence that compression gear can also reduce perceived muscle soreness and swelling (3).
You can find compression gear for your calves or entire lower extremities, as well as your arms. Using these garments in addition to your other recovery techniques will have you feeling stronger and more revived for your next workout.
3. Cold Immersion Therapy:
Cryotherapy, or cold water immersion therapy, has been shown to help alleviate soreness after workouts. A 2015 meta-analysis that ooled data from 27 articles found, that cooling and especially cold water immersions affected the symptoms of DOMS significantly 24 hours after recovery (4).
If you’re unsure about trying this out, start out by standing in a cold shower following a workout. At the end of your shower turn down the temperate as low as you can handle and stay in for as long as possible. After trying this a few times you can attempt an ice bath. Buy a few bags of ice from your local supermarket and fill your bath with them.
Add cold water and submerge yourself in the ice. Try and stay in for at least 5 minutes to get the full benefits.
4. Percussive Devices
Percussion, or vibration therapy, is a newer modality used to help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (5). Since soreness following a workout can impede performance and daily activities days later, using these devices has been found to be a great way to aid in recovery.
Percussion devices, or massage guns, are marketed under a number of different brands, but all of them use the same principles.When used correctly, percussive massage devices can be used in a variety of ways to dramatically improve recovery time.
As mentioned above, these devices help with post workout soreness by increaseing blood flow to the muscles used in their training. This helps target sore muscles in a similar way a massage would. In addition, massage guns can decrease myofascial adhesions that reduce range of motion and cause even more pain during exercise. Using a percussive device helps break myofascial and restore range of motion.
5. Dynamic Warm Up Prior to Workouts
A review of exercise studies has shown that a warm up with dynamic stretching can help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (6). In addition, dynamic stretches help increase power output during exercise as compared to static stretching. So not only will this help with muscle recovery, it will also lead to a better overall workout.
6. Foam Rolling
While a warm up with dynamic stretching can help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness, the cool down does not really have an effect on muscle soreness (6). However, foam rolling can substantially improve muscle tenderness following exercise (7). So if you have a foam roller available this is a great way to cool down after a tough workout.
With a foam roller you can target the upper and lower body to improve range of motion and decrease post-exercise soreness.
7. Quality Nutrition After a Workout
Protein is the building block for muscle growth, so you want to include lean protein sources into your diet throughout the day and following your strength training workouts. Research has found that whey protein has the advantage in aiding muscle growth following a workout. It is digested quickly, peaks in the blood, and can be used for muscle protein synthesis in the crucial period following a workout where muscle breakdown has occurred (8).
In an especially intense workout, it is also important to combine this with a carbohydrate source as well as this will replenish glycogen stores and allow insulin to rise enough to allow nutrients to move into your muscle cells to do their work and aid in muscle recovery. So if you can’t get something to eat right after a workout, a whey protein shake with additional carbs is a great option. Studies have even found that fat free chocolate milk is a great post workout go-to due to its ratio of protein and carbohydrates! (9)
Adequate sleep is essential for recovery. While you are sleeping, the body is able to fully recover and repair itself after a strenuous workout. In addition, lack of sleep increases cortisol levels. Since this is a catabolic hormone, it will break down muscle even more and slow your recovery.
Sleep also enhances muscle recovery through protein synthesis and human growth hormone release. So don’t waste a hard workout by staying up late! It is essential to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night to allow for the best recovery.
9. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated during exercise is important to replace your sweat losses and get you to the finish line. However, hydration in between workouts is just as important.
Strength training builds up muscles by first breaking them down and then rebuilding them through protein synthesis. This protein synthesis, however, requires that muscles are well hydrated. If you are dehydrated following a workout, protein synthesis will be slowed and will delay your recovery from the workout.
In addition, a small study from The Journal of Applied Physiology found that having poor hydration can increase cortisol levels and attenuated the body’s response to testosterone during exercise (9).
The amount of water that you should be drinking each day will vary based on your level of activity. The easiest way to monitor your hydration status is by the color of your urine. This should be pale or clear colored. And always remember that the higher your level of activity, the more water you will need throughout the day.
You Have To Have Muscle Recovery to Rebuild Muscle
Sometimes resting and recovering can be hard to do, especially when you love being active. But if you want to get the full benefit of your workouts, you have to incorporate proper recovery methods. Without this, you will just be constantly breaking down your muscles and will never see full results.
You don’t have to do every one of these recovery methods. However, by adding one or two into your weekly fitness routine you should start to feel more revitalized going into your workouts. This will improve your overall fitness and health, reduce injuries, and build muscle and strength.
- Chazaud B. Inflammation during skeletal muscle regeneration and tissue remodeling: application to exercise-induced muscle damage management. Immunol Cell Biol 94: 140–145, 2016. doi:10.1038/icb.2015.97.
- Rhea, M. R., Alvar, B. A., Burkett, L. N., & Ball, S. D. (2003). A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 35(3), 456–464. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.MSS.0000053727.63505.D4
- Marqués-Jiménez, D., Calleja-González, J., Arratibel, I., Delextrat, A., & Terrados, N. (2016). Are compression garments effective for the recovery of exercise-induced muscle damage? A systematic review with meta-analysis. Physiology & behavior, 153, 133-148.
- Veqar, Z., & Imtiyaz, S. (2014). Vibration Therapy in Management of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 8(6), LE01–LE4. https://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2014/7323.4434
- Hohenauer, E., Taeymans, J., Baeyens, J. P., Clarys, P., & Clijsen, R. (2015). The effect of post-exercise cryotherapy on recovery characteristics: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS one, 10(9), e0139028.
- Law, R. Y., & Herbert, R. D. (2007). Warm-up reduces delayed onset muscle soreness but cool-down does not: a randomised controlled trial. The Australian journal of physiotherapy, 53(2), 91–95. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0004-9514(07)70041-7
- Pearcey, G. E., Bradbury-Squires, D. J., Kawamoto, J. E., Drinkwater, E. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2015). Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of athletic training, 50(1), 5–13. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01
- Hulmi JJ, Lockwood CM, Stout JR. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2010;7:51.
- Lunn, W. R., Pasiakos, S. M., Colletto, M. R., Karfonta, K. E., Carbone, J. W., Anderson, J. M., & Rodriguez, N. R. (2012). Chocolate milk and endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen, and performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44(4), 682-691.
- Judelson, D. A., Maresh, C. M., Yamamoto, L. M., Farrell, M. J., Armstrong, L. E., Kraemer, W. J., … & Anderson, J. M. (2008). Effect of hydration state on resistance exercise-induced endocrine markers of anabolism, catabolism, and metabolism. Journal of applied physiology, 105(3), 816-824.