How to Recover After Exercise | Great Health Guide
How to Recover After Exercise

How to Recover After Exercise

Written by Kusal Goonewardena

The question of how to recover after exercise is key to reaching new heights as it allows your body to heal. Elite athletes separate themselves from the rest of us simply because they know how to recover after exercise. While the personal bests generate headlines, elite athletes know that they can only keep pushing when they recover properly after exercise. The quick summary to how to recover after exercise includes:

  1. Hydration

  2. Avoid energy drinks

  3. Sleep

  4. Compression

  5. Hydrotherapy

  6. Massage/physiotherapy

But so many of us are time-poor and sleep deprived. While we may find a way to fit in exercise amid careers, family and more, our recovery time may be lacking.

Some big roadblocks to recovery include not getting enough sleep and rewarding ourselves with alcohol, sugary drinks and fast food after exercise.

Here are some keys to how to recover after exercise

     1. Hydration.

You cannot recover properly when dehydrated. We are 70% fluid and need to replace what is lost. A simple test is to notice the colour of your urine – a straw or clear colour is good. A darker yellow colour says you are dehydrated. Unfortunately, rewarding yourself with wine or beer after exercise will cause dehydration and interfere with your recovery. It’s the same for sugary soft drinks and caffeine-packed energy drinks. Athletes are so concerned about their hydration levels that they weigh themselves before and after games. Happily, the rest of us need not be so obsessive.

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     2. Avoid energy drinks.

Energy drinks do not help recovery after exercise. The high concentrations of caffeine give you a short-term boost but may dehydrate you and does nothing to help your body. Excess consumption may also be dangerous to the heart. Only consume sports drinks with exercise, as this provide better hydration because they contain sodium and magnesium that is lost in sweating, so are ideal during or after exercise. But only take these when exercising, not as a social drink. 

     3. Sleep.

Sleep is nature’s way of helping our body and mind recover. Athletes know that sleep is so critical for their performance that they keep a sleep diary. Yet sleep doesn’t come easy to Australians, with between 33-45% of us having poor sleep patterns, according to the Sleep Health Foundation. Busy women juggling careers and families are among the most sleep deprived. Improvements in this one area can make a huge difference.

     4. Compression.

Compression garments help prevent fluid build-up in muscle tissue due to microtrauma from exercise. Compression is particularly ideal for the legs since gravity will pool the fluid down at the ankles, creating a ‘dead end’, thus compression helps prevent this. Sleeping in compression garments may help minimise swelling overnight.

     5. Hydrotherapy. 

A bath is fabulous for recovery. Bathing in warm water relieves tired muscles, joints and ligaments. Buoyancy decreases the weight of the body and aids recovery through circulation. And it’s timeless! the Ancient Egyptians practised hydrotherapy around 5000 years ago. If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, bathing in the sea is also therapeutic with salt water having many healing qualities.

     6. Massage/physiotherapy.

Hands-on treatment including massage is one of the fastest ways to recover after exercise. Elite athletes use massage on a regular basis. But for the rest of us, a massage weekly or fortnightly will make a positive impact if we are very active. Even a monthly massage will make a difference. However, if you are training for a big event or trying hard to improve, you may need more. Physiotherapy is crucial to maintaining your body, performance and address injuries or tightness. How do you choose the correct therapist? Make sure you are seeing results in three sessions or less. It means they are on track. If not, get a second opinion.

Key points:

  • Recovery is an important part of exercise, yet many people compromise recovery due to busy lives

  • Sleep and hydration are two key areas for recovery

  • Being mindful of what your body needs after exercise will help you reach new heights

Author of this article:
Kusal is an experienced physiotherapist who consults via his clinic, Elite Akademy Sports Medicine. He believes passionately that physiotherapy patients should see positive results in three sessions or less. Kusal has authored books including: Low Back Pain – 30 Days to Pain Free and 3 Minute Workouts, currently available via Wilkinson Publishing. When not consulting, Kusal is is a lecturer, author, consultant and mentor to thousands of physiotherapy students around the world.

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