What you do for recovery is as important as what you do in your training. Everyone of us loves working out and we also like that feeling of soreness, BUT to some extend. Feeling your muscles ache is one thing, but not being able to come to the gym because you are too sore is another story. In this article I am going to cover ways how to improve your recovery and therefore perform better at the gym as well as outside the gym.
1. Cool Down & Stretch
Many people finish the WOD, take a shower and they sit at work the entire day. Going from a high intensity workout, when your entire body is working into not moving at all for hours is going to make your muscles feel stiff and sore. I understand that, especially in the morning, you have to run to work to be there at certain time, but if you can take 15 minutes after your workout to cool down and stretch, it is going to make you feel much better.
Cool down is an important post workout routine as it decreases lactic acid build up in your muscles and therefore decreases muscle fatigue and soreness. Its goal is to gradually bring your heart rate back to resting level and decrease the activity level of your body. Rowing or biking are two great tools for cooling down. I personally like to spend the same time the workout took on the rower/bike (this usually applies to max 15 minutes). So if it was a 7 min AMRAP, I would then row for 7 minutes at a speed that I can maintain a conversation at. As a general rule, I would recommend spending at least 5 minutes rowing/biking and then 10 minutes stretching/foam rolling the parts of your body that you used the most in the workout. If you have more time to stretch then it is even better. Also, the more intense the workout is, the more time you should spend cooling down.
2. Post Workout Meal
Your post workout meal is the most important meal of the day. Its main goal is to replenish glycogen, decrease protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis. In other words you need to replenish your energy systems, increase quality and/or size of muscle and repair damage caused by the WOD. Therefore post workout meal should consist mainly of protein that will aid protein synthesis and carbohydrates that will help replace muscle glycogen. You should ideally consume your post workout meal within max one hour after the workout. If you know that it will not be possible (because you live too far from the gym or you do not like meal prepping), you can have e.g. a protein shake and a banana. The earlier you eat, the better it is.
Your overall nutrition also has got a big impact on how you feel and recover. There are many approaches to that, but if I really simplify it, you need to be eating healthy balanced meals in moderation. The quantity depends on your goals. You can also consider taking supplements like branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) that help with recovery. You can read more about BCAAs and other supplements here.
We’ve already written about the importance of getting enough sleep couple years ago. You can check out the article here. You are probably asking what is exactly defined under “enough”. Well, that individually varies, but you should get at least 7 hours/night to support recovery. Getting enough sleep helps to provide mental health and hormonal balance, enhance muscular growth and recovery, weight loss,.. and the list goes on. Ideally you should sleep in a dark room with no artificial lights. Cooler temperatures and fresh air also help to improve quality of sleep. If your schedule/work allows you to take a nap during the day, take it.
Our bodies are 70% water. When you sweat, you lose water. Hydration is another essential part of recovery as it helps all of our body’s functions. You should drink at least half of your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces. As an example:
I weight 64 kg which is 140 lbs.
140lbs/2 = 70 ounces (1 ounce = 29.57 ml)
70 ounces = 2070 ml
This is when you are not training. If you are training, you should drink additional 16 – 20 oz (cca 0.45 – 0.6 l)/per hour of training.
So if I do one of our typical 60 min group classes a day, I should drink at least 2.6 l of water that day.
The easiest way to see if you are properly hydrated is to look at your urine. Clear to pale yellow means you are hydrated. The darker it is, the less hydrated you are and you should drink more water.
5. Take Rest Days Regularly
Even if you do all you can for your recovery, you still have to take rest days. You need to realize that it is the time when you rest that makes you stronger. The most common work/rest schedule in CrossFit is 3 days on/1 day off/2 days on/1 day off and I personally feel like it works very well, but I realize that it might not fit everyone’s schedule. It is still the best if you listen to your body and schedule your rest days based on how you feel. And if you really feel like you cannot stay inactive at all on your rest day, go for a walk or a light jog.