Top 10 Moves to Help You Recover From Your Workout
When you’re trying to get in shape, a day off usually seems like the last thing you need. However, the most important days are the days you take for recovery. While we gym rats might fear a day away from the weight rack, our muscles grow the most when recovering. Active recovery helps repair, restore and revitalize your muscles, so here are 10 dynamic exercises for muscle recovery. By incorporating these active-recovery techniques into your next day-off routine, you are repairing and restoring the damage and breakdown that takes place in the muscles when you exercise. Working out every day can lead to overtraining, which can have an extremely negative effect on the body. But if you are proactive with your training and, more importantly, your rest, you will be unstoppable.
1. Foam Rolling
The foam roller may look like something from “American Gladiators,” but this tool, used in self-myofascial release (a fancy way of saying you’re forcing your muscles to stretch, relax and recover), is one of the best (and cheapest) ways of massaging your muscles. On your day off, use the foam roller by rolling out your muscles in a back-and-forth fashion, using your body weight to aid in the process. Roll out the kinks in your glutes, quads, hips, calves, chest, back and whatever else feels tight. If you find a knot, stay on it and hang out there -- rock back and forth, work it out -- and don’t forget to breathe! The goal is to boost circulation and break apart knots formed from working out.
2. Tempo Runs
When you are taking an active recovery day, you should focus on getting blood to the muscles to aid the recovery process. That’s where tempo runs come in. Similar to an interval, these runs are used for training as well as recovery. For a recovery tempo run, run at about 60 percent of your max speed for 100 meters. Then walk 50 meters and repeat. You can do this on a bike, treadmill or elliptical if needed. Your heart rate and breathing should increase, but you should not feel like you just pushed yourself to your max. Remember, this is a recovery run to get the body moving and blood flowing.
3. Walking Toe Touches
Wonderful for the posterior chain (i.e., your backside), you’ll start this move standing up with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step forward with your right leg and kick your left leg up in front of you, touching your left toe with your right hand. Then step forward with your left leg and kick your right leg up, touching your right toe with your left hand. Step and repeat as you travel the length of the room.
4. Walk-Out Planks
Walking planks are great for recovery because you are activating your core, arms and posterior chain while moving them in a gentle, mobile manner. Start standing up. Bend at the waist and place your hands on the floor. Walk your hands out to a plank so that your hands are directly underneath your shoulders. You should feel your core engage while you are in the plank. Then walk your feet step by step up to your hands. Stand up and repeat.
5. World’s Greatest Stretch
One of my favorite stretches for mobility, this movement opens up the thoracic spine (the part of your spine opposite your chest), hip flexors, hamstrings, shoulders and glutes. Start in a lunge position with your right leg forward and left leg extended behind you. Place your left hand on the ground and twist your body toward your right leg. Your right arm points toward the sky while your gaze is on your hand. Breathe out and place your right hand back on the ground next to your right foot. Then lift your left arm to the sky, turning away from your leg. Switch legs and repeat.
6. Leg Swings
Stand next to a wall or a solid pole that you can hold for stability. With the wall on your right side, stand on your left leg and swing your right leg up in front of you and touch your left hand to it. Bring your leg up to your hand, not your hand down to your leg. Then swing it back behind you, opening up your hip flexor. Repeat this several times. To further open the hip, stand facing the wall with your hands on it. Stand on your right leg and swing your left leg up and across your body to the right as far as your hip will go. Then swing the left leg back to the left side and raise it up as high as it will go. Do this fluidly so that you’re not recruiting muscles, but rather working with gravity to open up the hip joint.
Bootstrappers are incredible for opening up the groin and posterior chain. Place your body in a deep squat position, with a proud chest and a flat back. Place your hands on top of your feet -- right hand on top of your right foot and left hand on top of your left foot. Hold onto the top of your feet as you raise your glutes to the sky, feeling an incredible stretch down the back of your legs. Hang out there if you feel like you need it. Then squat back down to the starting position. Repeat this movement.
8. Bird Dog
This is a wonderful movement for the abs, back and shoulders. Start on all fours -- knees directly under your hips and hands directly under your shoulders. Reach one arm toward the wall in front of you while the opposite leg extends toward the wall behind you. Make sure not to reach up toward the ceiling, but instead reach out, keeping your arm, spine and leg in a single line. Return back to all fours and switch sides.
9. Sun Salutations
A favorite of the yogis, this dynamic movement is usually seen in Vinyasa yoga, but you can adopt it for your recovery workout. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your weight evenly distributed between them. Inhale as you reach your arms up to the sky. Exhale and fold forward to touch the ground. Inhale and raise your head up so that your back is parallel to the ground, placing your hands on your shins if needed. Exhale and bend back down to the ground. Step back into a plank pose and exhale as you lower your body to the ground, keeping your elbows in by your sides. Inhale to lift your chest off the ground into upward-facing dog. Then exhale into downward-facing dog. Lift the head and step or jump your feet forward to your hands. Inhale and reach your arms upward to the sky. Exhale and bring your hands down.
10. Lateral Hurdle Walk Over/Walk Under
Imagine there is a hurdle next to you (or place a hurdle there if you have one) that you’re going to step over then walk under. Stand so that the hurdle is next to you at your hip. With your lead leg, step over the hurdle and follow it with your trailing leg. Think of staying tall like a ballerina, and don’t let your butt sink down. Then pretend you’re stepping under a hurdle by placing your lead leg further than shoulder-width apart away so that your body drops into a side-lunge position. Shift your weight from your left leg to your right leg into a side-lunge position on the other side. Repeat.
What Do YOU Think?
Which of these moves are your favorites? Do you swear by the foam roller? Do you have a favorite stretch for tight hamstrings or sore pecs? What are some of your other favorite techniques for recovery?
Collette Stohler is the author of Passport to Fitness. She is also the creative director and co-founder of the travel blog, Roamaroo. She was an All-American Track and Field athlete & Olympic trials qualifier in Olympic Weightlifting. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and received a master's degree from the University of Miami.