Your Ultimate Guide to Next Generation Muscle Recovery Methods
For decades, exercise has helped people push their bodies to its limits, but the only tools for recovery were protein shakes, stretching, and ice. Today’s salvage industry comes in many forms.
CrossFit boxes and group fitness studios offer on-site services, and chains now offer compression-recovery boots, foam rolling workshops and other treatments in select locations. The home recovery market is also booming: Netflix-and-Pill your sore muscles in your own living room with magnesium, personal massage guns, vibrating foam rollers or electrostimulation units.
The problem: The road to optimal muscle recovery is not linear and certainly not easy to understand. The salvage industry is innovating faster than researchers can study. This does not prevent the shops from charging a lot of money. Do you really need all of this after a 20 minute run? Massage guns are great, but do they do something that a foam roller can’t? “The normal person doesn’t train hard enough to need all of these recovery strategies,” says muscle researcher Dr Brad Schoenfeld.
But even if you don’t hit your body like a professional athlete, you’re doing a lot to damage it, says Kara Shull of Movement2live in New York. And unlike a pro, you don’t get the recovery that comes with regular movement. “The average person who sits at a desk all day almost needs it more,” says Shull.
You are not beaten by two a day, but in an always active world, you are constantly littered with stressors that feed your sympathetic nervous system. This is a problem, because your body can only heal if you are in a parasympathetic state. (Roughly simplified, one state is alert, with your brain, heart, and internal organs optimized to fight or flee; the other is relaxed, with a slower heart rate and organs doing maintenance.)
But what will help you to heal? Experts preach mastery of the basics first. They make few broad statements about the next generation recovery revolution because what helps one body doesn’t work for another. So assess things yourself, using what Physiotherapist Kelly Starrett calls it the golden payback rule: performance is the judge. “Good recovery doesn’t depend on how you feel now,” he says. “It’s about how you feel the next time you work out. “
Not sure if your muscle optimization plan was effective? Track your performance during your next workout and make it your litmus test. “You know a treatment works for you if it allows you to do more work more often,” says Starrett.
Your ultimate guide to recovery treatments
Not all therapy will do this for you, but these strategies are a starting point for navigating an ever-changing (and sometimes over-exaggerated) recovery landscape.
Increase the electrostim pulse
Electrotherapy products can help athletes at all levels to optimize recovery and performance. Some of the potential benefits can include; improved recovery, improved endurance, decreased residual muscle tension, change in muscle fiber type, effective massage, pain relief, increased mobility, increased muscle contraction speed and reduction of some MSC abnormalities. Among his biggest fans? Professional and Olympian athletes including Melissa Wu, three-time Australian Olympian diver.
Go hard on cryotherapy if you do
Your average cryotherapy session takes you up to three minutes in a cabin cooled to around -160 degrees with nitrogen gas. Proponents claim that it improves sleep and boosts metabolism, and several small studies support it. An in-depth review of six studies involving 257 patients with rheumatoid arthritis also showed that it reduced pain. The trap ? Consistency: Studies have observed benefits after seven or more consecutive days of cryo. One session per week will not help. Can’t do it everyday? Find at least some regularity, going two or three times a week for three weeks.
Time your use of compression boots
Boots and sleeves with pneumatic compression like NormaTec’s zipper on your limbs, then use air pulses to push the fluids. In theory, this improves blood circulation, although a recent study of cyclists could not link the use of the boots to improved performance. Yet professional athletes love them, and Paul Winsper, Vice President of Athlete Performance at Under Armor, believes it too, as long as you don’t rush out of your sweaty session. Post-workout pain, he says, is essential for gains. This is when the body releases inflammatory cytokines, which repair tissue. “This is essential for stimulating positive adaptation to training,” says Winsper. Wait at least an hour after your workout to put on compression boots.
Be gentle with your massage gun
Who doesn’t love a pulsating massage gun digging into their sore quads and forearms, right? Sure, your foam roller can do the same for a fraction of the cost, but the thrust of the massage gun continues. If you are going to use one, don’t dig too much. Sticking the gun into your skin can cause bruising of the lymphatic vessels, which delays (not speeds up) recovery. “Float it,” Giordano said. “If you press, you’re already going too hard.” Just 120 seconds of gentle shooting will relax tense muscles. Hyperice hypervolt is your best option.