Stretching is an important part of recovery, but it rarely receives the time or attention it deserves. The purpose of stretching is to maintain the flexibility of tissues that are tight or stiff from an activity or prolonged position.
There are a variety of methods of stretching (using the hamstring muscle as an example):
Static/Isolated Stretching: Static, or isolated stretching is holding a stretch position for a long period. (Example: A static hamstring stretch would be when you sit on the ground with one leg pointing outward and you simply reach for your toes and hold for at least 30 seconds.)
Dynamic stretching: Dynamic stretching is using movement to combine muscle groups. (Example: A dynamic stretch for the hamstring would be walking toe touches, as you bend down and grab your toe with every step for 2 to 3 seconds.)
Foam Rolling: Foam rolling is a type of self-mobilization and massage. (Example: To foam-roll the hamstring muscle, you will simply put a foam roller under your legs and let your weight rest on top so the foam roller will push out any knots in your hamstring.)
A very general rule for stretching is dynamic stretching before exercise, static stretching after exercise, and foam rolling throughout. Utilizing various stretching strategies will allow you to maintain and improve your mobility.
2. Refueling—Nutrition and Hydration
Proper fueling before exercise is important to optimize performance, but nutrition for recovery from exercise is often overlooked. Our bodies rely upon a well-balanced array of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to aid in rebuilding the parts of our body that have been stressed during exercise. Refueling after a workout with a well-rounded set of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats will help your body reap the most benefit from your hard effort.
Water is also absolutely essential to overall health. In particular, following exercise, proper hydration is key to replace the fluids that you have lost during your activity. Water also helps regulate your temperature, maintain healthy joints, and eliminate wastes that build up in your system during activity. Pay special attention to your total water intake if you are exercising in extreme hot or cold climates or if you feel as though you may be getting sick. Make a habit of keeping a water bottle in your purse, gym bag, car, or workplace for easy, reliable access.
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. If you find yourself having pain or swelling following exercise, particularly in a joint like your knee, ankle, or shoulder, you may consider using this four-part strategy to decrease inflammation and pain. If you continue to have symptoms several days following a workout, it may be important to seek the advice of a healthcare provider to further examine your complaints.
4. Listen To Your Body
The only person who knows how your body feels after a workout is you. Allow yourself to listen to your body, and appropriately. This includes recognizing the signs of fatigue, pain or soreness and increasing recovery time between exercise bouts. This may also mean pushing yourself to work harder when you feel well. Don’t succumb to peer pressure at the gym. Trust yourself and what your body is telling you. When you are starting a new exercise program, don’t be afraid to ask your physical therapist for helpful hints on how your body may give you feedback after exercise, and how you should respond to that information.
5. Cross Training
Even if you love to run, your body may not like you running seven days a week. No matter what your exercise of choice may be (walking, running, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, yoga, recreational sports, etc.), you may benefit from finding another form of exercise.
Cross training is simply about challenging your body with different tasks so that certain tissues are not over-stressed, which often leads to overuse injuries. For example, a swimmer will benefit from strength training in addition to the hours spent in the pool in order to build different muscle groups and allow momentary rest for those that are used repetitively in the pool. Remember to do the exercises your body needs, not just the exercises you want to do.
Often taken for granted, sleep is your body’s prime opportunity to recover.
When the body is at rest, the repair of our muscular, cardiovascular, skeletal, and immune systems can go to work. The CDC recommends that, in general, teens have 9-10 hours and adults 7-8 hours of sleep each day. These guidelines are especially important if you are demanding more of your body through regular exercise or stressful daily activities.
To get the most out of your shut-eye, strive for consistent bedtimes, avoid stimulating activities in bed (like TV and electronic devices), and a comfortable environment. You may find that you sleep better on days that you exercise, and will definitely notice a more effective, pleasant exercise experience if you are giving your body the rest it needs and deserves.