When it comes to being fit, I believe that your recovery is just as important as the work you put in at the gym.
See, you’re only able to train as hard as your recovery allows. It’s easy to crush it in training but it takes extra work to make sure you can recover from your training too!
Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself recover better and train like a beast. But, it can be hard to figure out which ones actually help and which ones are a waste of time.
So, let’s break down the best recovery methods that are proven to help you recover faster and make more gains!
Let’s start with my personal favorite, the sauna.
Having lived in Phoenix, AZ all of my life, but being in extreme heat is no problem for me. So, naturally, I find it relaxing and fun to sit in a 160-degree sauna for 30 minutes. But I only do so because of the benefits it provides in terms of health, performance, and recovery.
Sauna use improves your cardiovascular and mitochondrial function. It also decreases muscle breakdown which happens every time you workout. Together, these adaptations will boost your fitness and develop a stronger and more muscular physique (1) (2) (3).
Sauna usage also Improves heart rate variability, a marker of nervous system fatigue, and decreases muscle soreness following a tough workout. This means that it can help your nervous system and your muscles recover faster so you can keep working out hard! (4) (5).
How to Use the Sauna
You want to start slow with the sauna because it can be pretty fatiguing for some people. In fact, it could even have the opposite effect on recovery if you are not careful.
Start with 5-10 minutes at first and try to do it on a day that does not precede a heavy training day. Then over time, work up to 20-30 minutes at 120-180 degrees (F), 2-3 times per week.
Just make sure to drink plenty of fluids and listen to your body. That way, you stay healthy and don’t unintentionally hurt your progress!
Ice Bath & Cryotherapy
Shifting gears to the opposite side of the spectrum, cryotherapy has become pretty popular due in no small part to all the pro athletes out there posting images of themselves sitting in an ice bath, frozen lake, or Mr. Freeze looking cryo-chamber.
There is no doubt that cryotherapy provides a significant boost to your fitness. In fact, studies have shown that power output, and work capacity are improved significantly when post-workout cryotherapy sessions are performed regularly (6) (7).
Plus, cryotherapy can boost recovery as well. HRV is significantly improved from cryotherapy just as it was from sauna use (8). And, muscle and performance recovery seem to be sped up when cryotherapy is done after intense exercise (9).
However, some research shows that doing an ice bath right after a lifting session leads to less hypertrophy over time (10). This is likely due to the blunted inflammation response that is actually important for muscle growth. So, you may want to wait at least an hour between lifting and cryo if your goal is to pack on as much muscle as you can.
How to Use Cryotherapy
Now, how long you should spend doing cryotherapy depends on which method you use. If you choose to use a cryotherapy chamber, you are only going to need around 2 minutes to get the job done.
These chambers are extremely cold so you don’t want to spend too much time in there. Otherwise, you’ll end up with frostbite like Antonio Brown.
However, if you choose the ice bath method, you might need to spend upwards of 10-15 minutes sitting in there to get the benefits. Of course, this method is much cheaper and can be done from the comfort of your home so the time commitment may be worth it.
10 minutes may seem like an eternity for you so if you can only get a few minutes at first don’t worry. Just slowly add 30-60s each time until you are able to reach your target.
Foam Rolling & Massage
A third recovery tool you can take advantage of would be some sort of massage practice.
Of course, you probably see tons of people using foam rollers in the gym and may have even seen people using massage guns to limber up their muscles. And although those things may not directly improve your fitness, they do seem to have a decent benefit for recovery.
Research has shown that foam rolling can decrease the pain associated with delayed onset muscle soreness (11). And massage has been shown to improve range of motion recovery and DOMS when done in between training sessions as well (12). So, doing some massage work allows you to keep soreness at bay and train more effectively.
Personally, I find that foam rolling before a session and massaging between sessions makes my muscles feel more limber and less painful. This just makes me feel better mentally and helps me to train better. And even if that is just a placebo effect, it is still benefiting me nonetheless!
Now, one of the best recovery methods you can employ in your life would be optimizing your sleep.
Many people overlook their sleep since it’s such a normal part of life. But, many people also have some not-so-good habits when it comes to sleep.
Research has shown that poor sleep leads to slower and less complete recovery from training and decreases our pain tolerance by up to 15% (13) (14) (15) (16). Along the same lines, getting more sleep has been shown to improve athletic performance considerably (17).
So, it is important to get enough sleep if you want to recover from your training. The general rule of thumb would be 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
But, you also want to make sure your sleep quality is on point. A few things you can do to improve your sleep quality are:
- Sticking to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time
- Avoiding caffeine within 8 hours of bedtime
- Limiting alcohol at night
- Cutting out TV and cell phones at night
- Keeping your room pitch dark
- Making sure the temperature is cool and comfortable.
All of these things will help you get a great night of uninterrupted sleep so you can recover and feel refreshed each morning!
Finally, if you want to make sure you are recovering well from your training, you can’t overlook your nutrition.
Training hard to get stronger and fitter is only half the battle. You also have to fuel your body appropriately. Unfortunately, many people put a lot of thought and effort into their training but just sort of hope for the best when it comes to their diet.
Obviously, your body needs an adequate amount of calories to fuel your workouts. But it goes deeper than just calories.
The foods you eat make a big difference as well. For instance, if you want to promote strength and muscle growth, you’ll need to make sure you eat enough high-quality protein foods to fuel muscle growth and recovery.
And you also need to pay attention to the vitamins and minerals you consume. This is where fruits/vegetables, and eating a variety of whole, nutrient-dense foods come into play.
Eating a bunch of low-quality foods is only going to lead to low-quality recovery and performance. So make sure you get this aspect in check so you can fuel yourself to better performance!
When thinking about increasing the effectiveness of a training program, most people only focus on how hard they are training. But, the best way to boost your efforts in the gym is to boost your recovery efforts first.
Once again, you can only train as hard as you can recover. So, by improving your recovery, you’re able to train harder and more frequently without burning yourself out.
Sauna, cryotherapy, and massage are a few of the best recovery methods out there. But, you don’t necessarily need to add anything new to your life to make an impact on your recovery.
Simply optimizing your sleep and nutrition will go a long way in helping you improve your fitness.
No matter what methods you choose to add or improve, you can be sure that you will notice better performance and gains from your training as a result!
If you need help optimizing your training routine or nutrition habits make sure you browse our pre-built Training Program and Diet Programs. And of course, I am also available for Online Coaching if you really want to get the most from your fitness!