Exercise is a form of stress on your body. As a health coach, I work with a lot of athletes on how to optimize their bodies for performance. If you tax your body with excessive exercise without adequate recovery, you may actually lose strength and endurance.
You should place equal importance on your workout and your recovery methods. Here are five ways to improve recovery from exercise:
1. Measure your stress level and adjust your intensity.
Your heart rate variability (HRV) is the variability of the time interval between each heartbeat. The more variance in time between heartbeats the less stressed your body is.
Smartphone apps allow you to take this measurement using a chest-strap heart-rate monitor with Bluetooth capability. SweetBeat is my favorite app. I use it daily after waking up. If your measurement drops too low, the app will recommend a low-exertion workout. If it drops two days in a row, it recommends a rest day.
Give your body a chance to recover by doing lower-intensity workouts. If you had planned on doing a high-intensity sprint session but your HRV measurement indicates that you should back off, then go for a walk instead.
2. Use breathing techniques and meditation to relax.
Breathing techniques are the most powerful way to reduce stress and shift into relaxation. Relaxation is where recovery happens. Here is a simple relaxation breathing technique. Get comfortable in a seated or lying position. Close your eyes. Breathe through your nose. Allow your abdomen to expand with each inhale. Allow each exhale to be long and slow, letting your body empty of air.
This breathing method is a great way to transition to a meditation practice, which will reduce your overall stress level and allow you to recover faster from exercise stress. Regular meditation has been shown to shrink and decrease activity in the part of the brain responsible for the fear and stress response.
Start with five minutes per day. You can use the relaxation breathing technique above and then sit and bring attention to your breathing. Count each breath from one to 10, then back down to one. If you find that your attention has wandered, then start over at one again. Your mind will wander, and the practice is not to force your mind to be clear and free of thoughts. It is all about bringing your attention back to your breathing when you notice that your mind has wandered.
3. Use restorative yoga techniques.
Restorative yoga postures are a great way to speed recovery by placing your body in a position that restores optimal circulation. Place your legs up a wall with your hips very close to the wall for five to 15 minutes each day. This helps to reverse the negative effects of long hours of standing or sitting. Fresh oxygenated blood floods your feet and ankles when you stand back up after this exercise.
4. Avoid NSAIDs.
If you push your body, you will inevitably get sore sometimes. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can ease the pain of soreness, but they may keep proper recovery from happening in the sore muscles and tendons. It’s best to avoid them if at all possible.
If your pain is so intense that you need to take them, it's a sign to let your body heal and recover. Taking NSAIDs and pushing through pain is a good way to turn soreness into an injury and a mild injury into a chronic overuse injury.
5. Get better sleep.
Your body recovers from exercise during sleep. To get better sleep, try the following techniques:
- Control your exposure to various light colors. Our circadian rhythms are highly linked to light exposure. Blue light, such as the sky during midday, promotes wakefulness. And red light, such as the horizon during sunset, signals sleepiness.
- After dark, avoid computers, tablets, smartphones, and televisions. These are sources of blue light, which promotes wakefulness.
- If you must look at a screen or be in an artificial light environment, use blue-blocking glasses, which are available on Amazon.
- In your bedroom and bathroom, use red light bulbs, which allow you to have enough light to see but don’t interfere with natural sleepiness.
I hope this list helps your get started in implementing better recovery practices into your daily life. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.
Here are some articles to help you stretch after a workout, too: