How to Reduce Your Exercise Recovery Time
Your rest days are just as critical as your exercise sessions. Surprised? Many athletes feel that they shouldn't take a break, but those breaks are vital to recovery and performance.
And they're not just for athletes. Anyone who commits to a regular exercise program should include rest days for optimal results. The goal is to use your recovery time to allow your muscles to grow and gain strength.
But how long should recovery last? And are there ways to speed it up so that you can get back to your exercise regimen more quickly?
Here's everything you need to know to make the most of your off days.
Why Muscle Recovery Is Important
It's easier to commit to a muscle recovery program when you know how it helps. Understanding the benefits is a necessary part of creating an exercise routine that works best for your goals.
Recovery is important because it boosts your body's resiliency. This cuts down on the risk of being injured in subsequent sessions but also improves your performance in the future.
When you work out, you are causing tiny bits of damage to your muscle fibers. This causes muscle inflammation as your body attempts to heal that damage. As a result, you will feel soreness in your muscles after you exercise.
Called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, this natural response by your body typically appears in the 24 hours after you complete your workout. It tells you that you need to rest before exercising again.
A rest day also helps you combat adaptation and prevents the risks that go with overtraining.
How Long Should Recovery Time Be?
The general recommendation is to allow for 48 hours between strength training sessions. This allows your muscles to heal and keeps soreness from affecting your performance during your future sessions.
There are a few other factors that should also be considered. Age is one of them. Younger people may bounce back more quickly. Older people may need closer to 72 hours to fully recover from a workout.
Lifestyle also plays a role, particularly when it comes to stress. A higher stress load can slow recovery in much the same way that age can. The key is to listen to your body and avoid overdoing it.
The intensity of your exercise is another consideration. Some athletes take up to a week of recovery time after an intense session or event, such as a marathon or bodybuilding competition.
For consistent cardio schedules, a good rule of thumb is to include a rest day for every seven to ten active days.
Keep reading for some ideas on how to reduce your recovery time and get back to your exercise routine more quickly.
Try Active Recovery
Active recovery is ideal for individuals who don't want to slow down or stop completely. It's a way to stay active while also allowing the muscles time to recover.
This is generally a lighter form of movement that still works the muscles but at a much lower intensity. Swimming, yoga, low-intensity biking, and walking are ideal choices.
Planning this kind of movement on your rest days can speed recovery and keep you from having to sit it out entirely.
Get Enough Sleep
It might feel counterintuitive to sleep when you're trying to gain endurance, speed, or muscle size. Most growth hormones are released during sleep, so it makes sense that you can gain muscle mass by clocking more of it.
Adequate sleep also lowers the risk of injury so it's a good way to protect yourself once you're recovered and ready to get back to your workout routine.
Incorporate a Cool-Down Period
A proper exercise session should always start with a warm-up period and finish with a cool-down period. Not only does this reduce the risk of injury, but it can also boost recovery times.
During your cool-down, you allow your body's metabolism and cardiovascular function to return to normal levels. It also reduces the acidity in the muscles, which speeds recovery.
The ideal cool-down session should last for five to ten minutes and should be done as you finish your workout.
Add Stretching to Your Routine
Stretching helps relieves any tightness that arises during your exercise session. It can also keep the muscles flexible enough to cut down on post-exercise soreness.
A simple stretching routine can be done on both active days and rest days. Many athletes include stretching as part of their cool-down routine, but you can also stretch on off days to keep muscles flexible.
Stretches should incorporate movement with each of your body's major muscle groups for the most benefit. You shouldn't feel any pain, however. If it hurts, stop and contact your doctor for advice.
Eat the Right Foods
Your body needs certain nutrients for exercise recovery. It also relies on calories to grow and repair muscles. For that reason, diet is vitally important after a workout.
Protein is essential for healthy muscles, so refueling after exercise helps with recovery. The best sources are lean meats, fish, beans, nuts, and eggs.
Calories should come from healthy food sources, such as lean meat, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. You want to eat enough quality calories to replace what you burn during exercise.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also important because they help control muscle inflammation. Salmon and olive oil are two prime sources of the nutrient.
You also need to replenish your glycogen stores. Complex carbohydrates are the best way to do this. Get them from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Milk and yogurt are other good sources of healthy carbs.
With all of the proven benefits of recovery time, your exercise goals can certainly be enhanced by adding it to your routine.
There are many ways to speed recovery, so try some of them out to see what works best for you. A combination of methods is ideal so you get the most out of your rest days.
Before you go, check out all of the ways we can help you exercise to your full potential and look and feel your best.