Importance of Recovery After Exercise

We know that to get gains there must be pains. That to get better at a sport, or to enhance our personal fitness, we need to expose our body to stresses.

Whether we’re running, doing a hit workout or lifting weights, during exercise we breakdown our muscles so they repair stronger. The problem is, most of us don’t understand this is a two-stage process – the workout + the recovery. In order to get stronger, we have to allow an adequate time for the repair process.

Athletes training for an event, through sheer will power alone, can often ignore the messages their bodies are sending them and try to squeeze in another training session that week, rather than rest.

Ignoring the signals can often be seen as a badge of honour. However, it’s a false suggestion that based on this, somehow the individual will perform better during the actual event because they’ve squeezed in an extra training session. That by doing this, their mind is stronger and that will translate into increased performance on the day. Not so says elite Mixed Martial Arts Trainer Firas Zahabi.

“I’m a big believer in never being sore. When you train, you should wake up the next day feeling GOOD! This applies to everyone. Even the person who is doing their first workout ever! Outside of competition, we should never wake up sore or tight from our training.”

Insert confused face emoji here? Not to fear though folks. What Zahabi is trying to illuminate to us, is the concept of consistency over intensity. Meaning, getting high performance out of the human body for the longest possible time. Zahabi uses the example of one of the most dominant Olympic programs of all time – the Russian Wrestling program.

“The Russians are the Michael Jordans of the sport, and what’s more, there are so many of them. They train long, consistent practices, whereas the Americans train Monday, Wednesday, Friday hard! They kill themselves in those practices and then rest Tuesday, Thursday.”

“Why is it better to be consistent? Well, if I train every day without breaking my body down and you train three days a week super hard, by the end of the week, I have much more hours of practise than you. Meaning by the end of the year, I have trained much more than you.”

The concept is how much volume can you expose your athlete to without breaking their body down before the competition. We have to recognise that results take longer than we think, and that the intensity of our workouts doesn’t then equal intense benefits to our bodies. The harder we exercise, the more time we need to dedicate to recovery.

Zahabi’s notion is beautiful in its simplicity – intense workouts have their place, but not every day. That by going hard every workout, in the long run, we’ll overtax our bodies and eventually breakdown.

So, what are some of the things we can do to ensure we’re not ignoring the art of recovery and thus, get the most out of bodies during our next workout?


Rest:Now we are talking about actual rest, and by that we mean sleep people. Our muscles need this to get enter the recovery process and get stronger. Lying on the couch doesn’t mean sleep. Science has proven that actual sleep is when our bodies recover from the physical and mental demands of hard training.

Stretching: It’s important to dedicate time to this post exercise. David Goggins, an ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete and former world record holder for the most pull-ups done in 24 hours, says stretching is one of the most important aspects of his training.

“I never used to stretch after my workouts. It was all about how many workouts I could do and how intensely I could do them. Recovery was something that pussies did. I thought I didn’t have time to stretch. Long story short, I am in the best shape of my life right now from stretching out.”

Hydration and eating:One of the most vital aspects of both training and recovery is being properly hydrated and nourished. Notorious food helps our body’s energy supply and sends the right fuel to the right muscles. Eat good healthy options at the right time to enhance your performance and recovery.

Massages/foam rolling: The rubbing of muscles, whether it’s through massage or using rollers or physio balls, will loosen up muscles, as well as increase oxygen and blood flow. Not only that, but you’ll remove lactic acid, the compound that makes you feel ‘sore’.

Light Movement: Movement is often the best way to remove lactic soreness. If you wake up sore from a big leg workout, instead of doing nothing, go for a light walk for 30-45 minutes. The movement will gently push blood into your muscles, helping to remove lactic build-up. Similarly for your upper body, if your shoulders are sore from lifting weights the day before, use some exercise bands with light resistance to mobilise your shoulders and send blood to that area.

 Contrast therapy:For athletes this will probably be very familiar to you. It is the process of cooling and then heating the body in order to increase blood flow to the muscles and speed up the removal of lactic acid. The easiest way to do this is to go from an ice bath to a hot shower. You want to be sure to start and end with the cold part. Jump in the ice bath for about 45 seconds and then into the hot shower for 3 to 4 minutes. Repeat this about three times for maximum results.

Icing:Ice application to a particular part of the body, or an ice bath itself, causes the blood vessels of the body to constrict, pushing the blood away from the muscle because of the cool temperature. Once you are done and start to warm up, the vessels open up and allow blood flow back into the muscle, bringing with it more oxygen to help you recover.

Heating:Increasing blood flow to a particular area is more important if a muscle is injured. However, it can also be an easy way to stimulate blood flow to a particular area. Apply a heat pack for 20 minutes to muscles and repeat throughout the day if possible. You should feel the area loosen up. If not, be sure to visit your physio.

Recovery will benefit your performance in significant ways for the long term. And that’s the goal isn’t it? To be able to do what we’re doing for as long as we can? Stop thinking 12 week challenges and being ‘tough’ when it comes to exercise, and start considering the science behind how your body works. Start listening to the messages your body sends you after exercise. It may save you both money and time, and allow you to keep moving as you were designed to for a lot longer.