Your workout is coming to a close and you nailed it! You pushed yourself out of your comfort zone, and you feel sweaty but satisfied. So, what’s next? What comes after a workout matters. Once you’ve completed the last squat jump or deadlift, it’s time to recover. Unfortunately, we tend to underplay or skip this portion entirely.
Unfortunately, as we age, exercise recovery becomes even more important. As the years advance, our muscles and joints need more time to recuperate after a tough workout to reduce the risk of injury. So, make sure you’re giving your entire body the TLC and time it needs for a complete recovery. How can you do that? By not making any of these four exercise recovery mistakes.
Exercise Recovery Mistakes: You Do a Half-Baked Cooldown
You’ve probably seen people do their final burpee and then head for a chair or the kitchen for a bite to eat. These busy folks essentially do NO recovery. Why is this a problem? Your heart and blood vessels need to recoup immediately after a workout. During exercise, you shunt more than 80% of your blood to the muscles you’re working. To do this, your blood vessels have to dilate and your heart has to pump harder. If you jump up from the exercise mat without cooling down, your heart rate slows but your blood vessels are still open and blood can’t return to your heart or brain as quickly. So, you feel lightheaded or dizzy.
If you didn’t drink enough fluid before a workout, you’re even more likely to get unsteady or dizzy when you get up from a mat quickly. You can reduce the chance of this happening by gradually reducing the intensity of your workout with a slow cooldown. Cooling down is the first step in exercise recovery and one you shouldn’t skip.
If you did a high-intensity workout, a cool down also aids in removing hydrogen ions and lactate that build up during the anaerobic phases of your workout. By keeping those muscles moving, it aids in the removal of these metabolic products. Also, the cooldown brings your core body temperature down. The more intensely you exercise, the longer your cooldown should be. At a minimum, a five-minute cooldown is warranted.
There’s evidence that a cooldown reduces the risk of injury. For example, a study involving physical education students showed that cooling down was linked with a reduced risk of ankle injuries. What a cooldown doesn’t seem to reduce is delayed onset muscle soreness, the muscle aches, and stiffness you get a day or two after a hard workout.
Exercise Recovery Mistakes: You’re Don’t Rehydrate Enough
Even mild dehydration (5%) can zap your energy, productivity, and cloud your thinking. During an intense workout, especially in a warm environment, you can lose a significant amount of fluid. It’s tempting to blame the fatigue you feel afterward on the workout when dehydration may be the culprit. Plan how you’ll hydrate BEFORE you start a workout and start the process early.
How much should you drink? Sip 16 to 20 ounces of fluid 3 or 4 hours before working out. Then, down another 10 to 12 ounces 15 minutes beforehand. Also, drink 4 or 5 ounces every 20 minutes throughout your exercise session. Afterward, you’ll likely still have some catching up to do. Check the color of your urine. If you’re well hydrated, it should be pale yellow or almost clear. If not, help yourself to another glass of fluid. Skip the sports drinks unless you’re exercising for 90 minutes or more.
Exercise Recovery Mistakes: You Don’t Refuel Properly
After a workout is when your muscles are hungry for carbohydrates and protein. You should get both in about a three to one ratio. Carbohydrates are converted to glycogen, fuel your muscles need for contraction and protein helps your muscles repair and build new muscle tissue. This is the one time that simple carbohydrates are of benefit. When you consume protein with a simple carb, the simple carb triggers a significant insulin response. In turn, the insulin helps the amino acids from the protein you’re eating to get into muscle cells so they can use them for repair. So, don’t forget to eat a small meal or snack after a workout is over. It’s even more important if you do more than one workout a day.
Exercise Recovery Mistakes: You Skimp on the BIG Recovery
The ultimate recovery from exercise is a good night’s sleep. If you aren’t getting at least seven hours of sleep a night, your body isn’t getting the deeper recovery it needs to ace your next sweat session. Skimping on sleep is a form of stress that can send your body into a catabolic state – and you know what that means. You break down muscle tissue, thereby interfering with the gains you’re working toward. The catabolic state comes from the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. When your adrenal glands release too much cortisol, it increases insulin resistance and changes how your immune system function. You might find that you’re more susceptible to colds and other viruses.
Don’t forget that it’s during sleep that your body releases the most anabolic growth hormone. So, don’t underplay the importance of the BIG recovery, a good night’s sleep. Make sure the sleep you get is quality and the environment is right. Sleeping in a room with light, especially blue light from devices, suppresses melatonin, an antioxidant hormone you need for health and quality sleep.
The Bottom Line
If you’re getting fit for the long haul, it’s important to avoid injury Practicing appropriate recovery can help you do this and get even better results when you train. So, the workout isn’t over until you’ve cooled down. Then, it’s time to rehydrate, refuel, and plan for a good night’s sleep.
Recovery in Training: The Essential Ingredient. Jonathan N. Mike, M.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
Braz J Med Biol Res, October 1998, Volume 31(10) 1247-1255.
Goossens, L., Verrelst, R., Cardon, G., and De Clercq, D. (2014), Sports injuries in physical education teacher education students. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24: 683–691. doi:10.1111/sms.12054.