Most of us average Joes love to exercise (for the most part), but what happens afterwards? Do we just walk off to get a shower and a protein shake? Gulp down an energy drink? We’ve all been there. One thing that most definitely gets ignored is exercise recovery.
What on Earth am I on about?
Exercise recovery comes in so many different forms. It can be your pre and post workout fuel, your warm ups and warm downs, it can literally be anything you do before and after your chosen form of exercise.
Let’s face it, we’re all average Joes here. I doubt Michael Phelps reads my blog. He might do, and so may Usain Bolt, but the likelihood is, your Grandma’s probably more likely to read my murmurings than the athletic elite.
You’re here because you want to improve, you want to get to the highest physical level you can and since I have some choice knowledge in this area, you come to ya boi for these nuggets of physical education.
If you want to be maxing your performance in whatever activity you partake in, exercise recovery simply has to be in your regime. To neglect recovery is not only detrimental to your day to day life, it’s just plain stupid.
Just before we get into the rest of the article: You can find loads of stuff like this (and much more) in my book – yes I’ve written a bloody book people. You can find it on Amazon here. If you fancy putting some sweetie money in my back pocket, pick up a copy and leave a review – pretty please.
Why do we need exercise recovery?
Let’s think of it in its most simple terms – if you were to exercise all day, every day without any recovery, what do you think would happen?
You’d be a big steaming pile of injured human scum. Exercise breaks down your body, recovery is what builds it back up. Recovery is the Yang to the exercise’s Yin – ya feel me peeps?
We’ll get into the benefits in just a moment but we need to make sure that you understand just how important exercise recovery really is first.
Fitness is basically made up of 3 main pillars. One third is the exercise itself, one third is nutrition and that final third is made up of recovery. To neglect this would be to neglect one third of your progress. You’re not stupid are you? Do the maths.
Benefits of an on-point recovery routine
Let’s get right into those lovely benefits shall we. This should whet your appetite somewhat before we dive into the actual routine.
First and foremost, recovery lets your muscles repair themselves. Every session you partake in, whatever it may be (weights, running, football, etc), will cause micro-tears in the muscles.
The whole point of recovery is to let those micro-tears heal. When they heal, there will be a slight increase in strength and size, so the more you get that exercise recovery game on point, the more of this you’ll get.
The actual act of exercise is catabolic, it is the recovery element where your body is in its anabolic state. Bear this in mind before uploading that ‘no days off!!!’ post to Instagram.
Adaptations take place
This is much in the same vein as the muscle repair point above. Your body adapts to the demands regularly placed on it after every session.
If you continuously practice movement patterns, your body eventually internalises these patterns and becomes efficient at them. It doesn’t do this while you’re working out though – it’s during that all important recovery stage.
If you are a powerlifter who constantly practices the squat, deadlift and bench press, your body becomes efficient at these specific movements. If you’re a runner, your body will adapt to running. It’s a clever machine, but you need to give it a chance to repair itself and make these adaptations with sufficient recovery.
Improves mental clarity
We’ve all heard it before, but how do you know if you’re overtrained? Well, there’s a tonne of ways, such as increased stress, lowered sex drive and brain fog.
We’re going to focus on the brain fog element here as working out too often can really fog that noggin out big time. By taking time off and actively recovering from the stresses you have been placing on your body, you can achieve mental clarity again and get things done outside of your exercise regimen instead of just slumping on the coach like a crippled pile of flesh and bone.
Hormones balance out
If you beat your body down into the ground then expect your hormones to be out of whack for a bit. After a workout, cortisol – the chief hormone when it comes to stress, is increased.
By continually amping this up, you may end up with chronically elevated cortisol – not something you want if your goal is to feel energised and optimise your testosterone or more specifically, your free testosterone.
By resting and promoting cortisol reduction, you allow your body to reap more of the benefits of high testosterone (a byproduct of weight training, sports, competing, etc.) as these hormones won’t be battling it out inside your cherished flesh vessel.
Your exercise recovery guide
This guide will outline a tonne of things you can do to really amp up exercise recovery and feel like a million dollars on the reg. Be sure to start off with the easier ones or ones you think you will enjoy most and then gradually try and introduce the rest when you get the hang of it.
Before even attempting to get active, you should take into account what you’re putting into your body.
Ideally, you want some form of complex carbs that will fuel you along with a healthy serving of protein and minimal fat.
I usually opt for oats with a bit of fruit and Greek yoghurt. Pretty simple stuff but you can make it as complex as you wish – just make sure you’re following those basic guidelines of high carb, moderate protein and low fat.
If you’re looking for that extra kick, you can employ a pre-workout energy drink. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll probably know I’m a big fan of the Herbalife Nutrition range. After realising how good their products actually were, I’ve sworn by them ever since.
I have been trying out one of their energy products – Liftoff. It tastes great and contains B vitamins that are necessary for everyday energy metabolism and energy production in our bodies – caffeine and Guarana.
It’s not just marketing hogwash either, Liftoff is the real deal. It won gold at the men’s fitness sports nutrition awards this year for best energy drink. Not bad praise if you ask me.
This is probably the one everyone had in mind isn’t it?
Well, that’s because this is probably the most important one when it comes to direct injury prevention.
Now, let’s get this out of the way first – static stretching isn’t the way to go when it comes to warming up for exercise. You want to focus on dynamic moves. I know that’s a bit of a fluffy jargon word so I’ll break it down simply.
Dynamic basically just means moving. You want to do things like bounds, arm circles, jumping jacks – you know the score. Stuff that gets your blood pumping and lubricates the joints and muscles.
Then you should practice some exercise-specific movement. So, if you’re lifting weights, do some lighter sets of your first exercise followed my incrementally heavier sets until you reach your first working set. If you’re playing football, do some sprints with sharp directional changes followed by some dribbling work with the ball at your feet – you get the gist.
We all know we should, but do we? I’d say the likelihood is you probably don’t…
And neither did I, until I realised just how important warming down correctly is. Warming down brings your heart rate down safely, calms the nervous system and prevents injury and the seizing up of muscles.
Ice baths and cold showers will turn boys into men. Not sure what they’ll do to women but I’m sure it’d turn them into men too, try it out if you want.
They help recovery and make you feel like a new man after your workout – great to battle that post-workout energy dip.
If you want to read more on this, see my guide to cold showers.
Everyone knows about that fabled 30 minute post workout protein window. If you want to maximise your efforts, get something down you within that time frame.
Take your bath or shower, calm down and have your post workout meal. Your body has raised cortisol levels straight after a workout, so letting your hormones return to baseline before ingesting anything helps you digest it better.
Could be bro-science but it makes sense doesn’t it? Just err on the side of caution and optimise that anabolic window. To be quite honest, it doesn’t matter when you take it but after a workout your muscles will be crying out for a lil’ bit of nourishment.
If you want to make the most of this, you’ll want to supply them with a decent carb and protein hit. The best and quickest way of getting this in is through a post-workout drink.
Just as with the pre-workout, I’m a massive fan of Herbalife Nutrition’s range. I have been using the Rebuild Strength for almost a year now and it does the trick.
It has a decent blend of carbs and protein to replenish your muscles pronto. Using a shake post workout is far more handy to carry with you to the gym than a full meal.
If you get the right quality ones, you’ll give yourself the best recovery chances. The Rebuild Strength won gold at the Men’s Fitness Awards along with Liftoff – invest in quality and you’ll thank yourself later.
Use a shake as your first wave of nutrients and follow up with a meal an hour or two after. Pack it with veg and healthy protein and you’re good to go.
Active recovery can be over complicated by most folks but it really needn’t be. Things like stretching, long walks, swimming and cycling can all be fantastic ways to aid the recovery of aching muscles.
Exercise recovery can actually consist of exercises such as those listed, so long as you are keeping the intensity very low and focusing on simply moving and getting blood pumping round the body.
I know it’s cliche advice but just stick to these low-intensity basics and don’t overdo it – easy peasy.
This is the easiest but also one of the most effective faucets of exercise recovery. Simply chilling out is such a great way of letting your body rebuild and recover.
Sometimes the best thing to do after pushing your body to limit is to lie on the couch and binge watch Game of Thrones. Doing absolutely nothing can be perfect as it doesn’t put your body under any sort of extra stress – perfect after a ridiculously intense sesh.
It’s also an excuse to be a big lazy oaf – perfect.
This is THE most important factor. Not just for exercise recovery but life in general. If you smash your sleep, you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Sleep is key to recovering from heavy bouts of exercise. It is when hormones are released that help to rebuild muscles and replenish energy stores.
You’ve got a veritable feast of exercise recovery goodness to pick from there, you’d be a divvy not to get involved.
Start out by getting your sleep sorted, move onto warm ups and warm downs, then go for your nutrition. Once you’ve got these nailed, try the rest. It’s much easier to implement these techniques in smaller chunks than simply trying to cram them all in at once.
You’ll have upgraded your status of Average Joe to Slightly-Above-Average Joseph in no time.