How do you help muscle recovery after exercise? Fitness trainers answer the most googled questions.
We spend so much time perfecting what we do in our training sessions. How many times we should go, how much we should lift, what exercises we should do… you know the drill. But what we do outside of the session is just as important.
It’s during the time out of the gym that we actually rebuild our muscles so that they grow back bigger, stronger and we’re able to smash our next workout. That is why recovery is so important to get right.
But with the sports medicine industry valued at $8.1 billion in 2019 and predicted to continue to grow hugely, what do you really need to do to recover well? Each week, we ask fitness trainers to answer the most googled questions about strength training for women, and this week Emma Obayuvana and Alice Miller, members of the Strong Women Collective, are explaining how to rebuild muscle properly.
HOW CAN YOU REBUILD MUSCLE AFTER EXERCISE?
“Plan your rest days the same way you plan your workouts. If your workouts are non negotiable, a rest day should be non negotiable because the rest allows your body to recover. I would say on those days you could do active recovery, like going for a walk or doing a stretch class, and that could definitely help you to recover faster.
“Other than that, just be smart. People think that the secret to recovery is in a pot of gold, but it is in the basics. For example, sleeping. Just getting enough hours of sleep a night will help to repair muscles. I always try to get as much sleep as I can before midnight to help with my recovery.
Eating well is important, too. You don’t have to eat a crazy combination of food, just eat a well balanced diet whatever your dietary requirements are. And drink a lot of water! Water is so important.
And then we have things like stretching and mobilising. We stretch to help with flexibility in the muscles, and we mobilise to improve the range of motion in our bodies. Both of these will help the body recover well from training and rebuild the muscles.
Other things that are questionable but you can try are things like ice baths, which have been shown in some studies to reduce muscle soreness. Sports massages are also good, but don’t need to be your first port of call.”
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“Number one is really structuring your workout schedule for optimal recovery. For example, if you know that you have a hard session coming up, schedule your workouts around that day to be more gentle on your body and allow it to recover better. It’s called periodized training.
The next is foam rolling. I personally notice a huge difference when I do this before and after a workout. When you roll over the muscles you increase blood flow to them and loosen the tissue meaning that your recovery can be much better.
We also need to think about what we’re eating. Getting enough protein is important, and it is something to be aware of. But it’s also about loading your plate up with wholesome food, including lots of vegetables, rather than relying on supplements. And eat carbs! You need carbs in your post-workout meal to help the muscles restore and repair.
Sleep is so important too. You need your body to calm down and reduce the stress of exercise in order to repair itself. And lastly, magnesium. Whether it’s a lotion, bath salts or a tablet, it has helped me recover so much better.”
WHY IS MUSCLE RECOVERY IMPORTANT?
“Because you won’t be able to rebuild the muscles from the damage you did in your workout! When we exercise we are tearing down our muscle fibres. If you don’t recover from that, whatever you did your muscles in that session will go to waste and you won’t be able to get the benefits with the workout. You won’t get stronger, faster, or better.
It can also really impact your mood and mental health. You will probably feel really tired and your hormones can fall out of balance.”
“Your body needs recovery to get stronger. Training is so demanding on your body and when we train hard we have to recover harder. You can’t drive a car without fuel, without servicing it, without having it cleaned. In the same way, we need to keep looking after our bodies in order for muscles to repair and for us to carry on training.”
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ARE SORE MUSCLES AFTER EXERCISE A GOOD SIGN?
“Having sore muscles isn’t a sign of a great workout, it is just a sign that we probably have some inflammation around the muscles that we used. Whether or not we get DOMS depends on the volume of work we do. My goal is strength right now, so I don’t necessarily get a lot of DOMS because of the volume of reps I do. Does that mean my workouts are bad or that I don’t need to recover from them? No.”
“Sometimes we might be sore because we haven’t performed that movement pattern in a while or we haven’t loaded our body with that weight before. But at the same time, being sore is not the only indication of a good workout. You need to recover from any stressful exercise, not just the ones that leave you sore.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).