Muscle Recovery & Everything You Should Know About It

Download Our FREE
Spartan Race Training Plan
Our comprehensive training plan provides you with 30-days of exercises right up to race day!
Download e-Book

Do you know what it takes for your body to recover after a workout? Understanding body homeostasis is key to figuring out why it is important to let your muscles recover after you exercise. Homeostasis is your ability to keep the internal conditions stable in your body, such as your core body temperature or your blood pressure, even when environmental conditions change.

Stress, including physiological stress, can restrict your body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. When you work out, your muscles are under stress, which produces inflammation and micro-tears. As a result of the microtrauma, the muscle will then try to repair the damaged tissue. New, thicker protein strands are formed in greater numbers.

This recovery process is necessary to induce muscle growth as the muscle builds back stronger. When we rest and recover, protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown, and our muscles grow. With the help of recovery techniques, the process can be enhanced, and the recovery time reduced. The goal of post-workout recovery is to restore homeostasis, refuel, rehydrate, and rest and repair damaged muscle tissue. If your body’s stress is not followed up with recovery, your homeostasis and immune system may be compromised, increasing your chances of injuries or illness.

Factors That Affect Post-Workout Muscle Recover

Your post-workout recovery needs will depend on your fitness level, exercise intensity, physical and mental state. It’s important to listen to your body’s cues and understand how stress levels affect your performance in order to know what your recovery routine should look like.

If a warm-up session relieves your muscle soreness, then recovery may consist of a lighter version of your normal workout. But if you experience stiffness or limited mobility after your workout, then your recovery should include complete rest days until the soreness is gone.

Daily intense cardio workouts prevent your muscles from recovering and increase the risk of injury. Overtraining and focusing on the same muscles every day without rest micro-damages the muscle tissue without giving it time to repair itself. Therefore, it’s key to incorporate recovery into your workout routine.

There are many factors that can affect your recovery, and these should be considered to maximize the benefits of your recovery routine.

Sleep, or lack thereof, is one of the most important factors that can affect your recovery process. The amount of sleep you get will have a direct impact on your body’s ability to recover. 

Source: Liveli blog

Another important factor when it comes to sleep is your “circadian rhythm,” which is simply the 24-hour internal clock in everyone’s body. It’s very important to maintain this process since a better sleep consistency can lead to several benefits, including more rapid eye movement or “REM” sleep, a lower resting heart rate, and a higher heart rate variability or “HRV”.

When you sleep, your body can mainly focus on recovering and restoring your body’s homeostasis. During sleep, your body produces increased muscle-building hormones, testosterone, and Insulin Growth Factor. During sleep, your body also reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone that causes muscle breakdown.

Good nutrition and hydration practices are an important part of your overall health and directly affect the recovery process. To improve performance and gain strength, you need an adequate amount of calories to refuel your body. Inadequate caloric intake and intense exercise can lead to muscle atrophy and body fat retention, which will impair your recovery. Moreover, nutrient deficiencies can also affect your recovery.

Adequate water intake is also essential for everyday bodily functions, including recovery. Water plays a vital role in maintaining blood volume, regulating body temperature, and muscle contraction. Since exercise leads to loss of fluid, you need to make sure that it is replenished.

Mind and body are interrelated. Exercise is usually thought to be an emotional stress reliever but coupled with mental stresses of daily life, can slow your body’s recovery after a workout. Stress can lead to not focusing on what your body needs in order to recover: adequate sleep and healthy food. Also, stress is the underlying cause of elevated cortisol levels, which results in poor post-workout recovery.

How To Help Your Muscles Recover

Have you ever felt great after a workout, and other times, it hurts to barely move? This is because the type of recovery you choose to do can affect your body in several different ways and is just as significant as the workout itself. There are two main types of recovery: active and passive.

Active Recovery Techniques

Active recovery involves low-intensity movement like walking between intervals as well as actively trying to heal those areas of your body that need recovery. According to Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., a study author and assistant professor of exercise and sport science at WSCU, “an active recovery will facilitate better blood flow, and concomitantly bring lactate to these various tissues.” This type of recovery method has several more benefits, like reducing lactic acid buildup in muscles, eliminating toxins in the body, improving flexibility, and reducing soreness and inflammation. It’s also important to keep in mind that the benefits depend on the active recovery method you decide to do.

Here are some of the best active recovery techniques you can do.

Cooldown: A perfect recovery method after a high-intensity workout is a cool-down. Similar to a warm-up, you continue your workout, but slow the pace and lower the intensity of the exercises. A cool-down can help you recover faster and avoid injury. It can also provide regulation of blood flow as well as a gradual recovery of your heart rate and blood pressure.

Stretching: If you want your muscles to respond better during exercise or feel better after a workout, stretching can help since it promotes flexibility. It’s also a great way to reduce pain, stiffness, and tightness in your muscles since it can increase blood flow and circulation throughout. The best recommended time to stretch after a workout is 10 minutes.

If you’re unsure what stretches will work the best, call technology for help. The SWorkit app can teach you more about the topic of stretching and show you some effective moves.

How Technology Can Help With Muscle Recovery

Swimming: According to a study done by the International Journal of Sports Medicine, “a swimming-based recovery session enhanced the following day’s exercise performance.” Swimming can reduce muscle soreness as well as flush out the lactic acid in your body. It’s also a great recovery method since it allows your body to go through a controlled range of motion. It’s important to note that you should not push yourself too hard when doing this recovery technique!

Source: Hyperice

Foam rolling: Foam rolling can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), as well as decrements in terms of performance. Foam rolling is also a method that is very affordable, simple to do, and extremely time-efficient.

Massage: Alongside stretching, getting, or even giving yourself a massage can help improve the range of motion for your joints. Although it might not be the most soothing, a massage can decrease muscle soreness and improve blood circulation in your body. It’s important to note that you should have a massage as soon as possible after your workout. Furthermore, percussion therapy can also be a useful method. This type of therapy can be seen as a “mechanical high-intensity, high-powered massage” that can ease the muscles out of tension and provide relief.

Ice pack: Whenever you’re sore, the pain that comes with it means there is friction in your body. Since muscles all work in groups, the ideal state of a body is frictionless. A lot of people use icing to maintain the joints in their muscles after a workout. Whole-body cryotherapy, which means applying cold, is a great way to ease muscle pain and quicken recovery. It can reduce inflammation and swelling as well as treat existing injuries.

Recovery Tools: Companies, like Hyperice, have created highly-specialized equipment that will help to maximize your muscle recovery using cutting-edge technology. Listen to our interview with the Founder of Hyperice to learn about their products and how they can aid your post-workout recovery!

Passive Recovery Techniques

On the other hand, passive recovery involves no activity at all – just letting your body rest and taking a more holistic approach than focusing on specific body areas. Some argue that passive recovery is better since it reduces fatigue as well as the necessary time for muscles to recover, and therefore can enhance performance.

According to a study in the International Journal of Exercise Science, passive recovery results in a lower post-workout heart rate and quicker recovery time. This is because the body’s blood is in the same plane as the heart, allowing easier flow back to the heart. However, this does not result in better performance, which means that the heart rate recovery does not mean the recovery of metabolic systems for performance. It’s important to highlight here, that research shows no difference in power output after either recovery method after a mainly anaerobic workout.

Here are just a few of the many passive recovery methods you can try after a tiring workout!

Sleep: One of the best techniques to help your muscles recover is sleep. Sleep requirements can vary from person to person, but a good amount of sleep for healthy adults is around seven to nine hours. It can help you get back the energy you exerted from your workouts. 

Source: Nestmaven

When you sleep, “95% of growth hormone (a key building block in muscle recovery) is released, allowing you to ease those aches and pains and continue through the training.”

Hydration: Hydrating yourself after a workout is always a good idea since dehydration can remove toxins from your body. Dehydration can make you feel unwell, especially after a workout, but drinking water and other drinks can drastically speed up recovery. It can also allow your muscles to work properly. Coconut water is a great choice since it contains a lot of electrolytes as well as protein.

It’s also worth mentioning that alcohol on the other hand is a component that may impair muscle recovery. Alcohol can obstruct pathways that create muscle proteins that are very necessary for recovery from high-intensity training, which is triggered through exercise. This is called muscle-protein synthesis, or simply “MPS.”

Interview With The Founder of Hydrant

CBD: Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is a compound found in cannabis that can help the body maintain its health. Tests have proven that CBD’s antioxidant effects can decrease inflammation in the body and can also help in terms of recovery since it can reduce stiff muscles.

CBD is a great way to treat muscle soreness that comes in several different forms, such as creams and oils. You can also use other creams, such as Icy Hot that work by causing your skin to feel cold and then warm or hot, allowing your body to feel distracted from the painful aches you have in your muscles.

Sauna: There are several benefits of sitting in a sauna after a workout. It can relax your muscles and soothe aches in your joints. In a sauna, your body releases endorphins that can minimize arthritis pain. If you stay in a sauna for 30 minutes or so, it can “increase oxygen consumption and red blood cell production,” which can enhance your endurance.

Warning Signs of Under Recovery

You’re always sore: When you are sore, it’s your body’s way of telling you it needs time to recover before you workout again. DOMS is unavoidable. The best way to get rid of these effects is to use active recovery methods.

You don’t sleep well: When your body is still recovering from training, it sometimes makes it difficult to sleep well. This is because of an overactive nervous system that causes insomnia. If you normally sleep well, but you are now having trouble sleeping, it might be a sign your body is not recovering and unable to handle the stress of your exercise routines.

Your heart rate drastically changes: If you don’t recover from a workout, you might notice an increase in your heart rate. Physical stress also plays an important factor. Your heart rate might go down if this stress isn’t dealt with properly, using passive or active recovery methods. You can check and record your heart rate now and then compare it over time to see whether your body has recovered.

Your heart rate is measured in beats per minute and can be measured by placing two fingers on the inside of your opposite wrist and count how many beats of your pulse you feel in 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4. Usually, a low heart rate is associated with a body at rest, while a high heart rate corresponds with physical activity.

Source: WHOOP

Heart rate variability (HRV) measures in milliseconds the changes in time between heartbeats. Low HRV indicates that your body is under physical stress from exercise. Higher HVR means that your body is recovering from previous stress. Heart rate variability can be measured with monitors such as the Fitbit.

Why Your Muscles Are Not Recovering

Not enough sleep: Testosterone, the growth hormone responsible for muscle tissue repair, is produced during the REM cycle of sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, it will be harder for your muscles to fully repair. Sleep also helps your central nervous system recuperate and is responsible for triggering muscle contractions, reaction time, and response to pain.

You need to refuel: After a workout, your body needs carbs and protein to repair the micro-damage that exercise does to your muscles. If you don’t refuel properly after a workout, your body will start to break down muscle mass. Which means you may not be gaining mass, but rather losing it because fixing the micro-tears is how your body builds muscle. When you don’t eat or drink enough after a workout, you can feel you will not replace the electrolytes and minerals that our bodies need, leading to dehydration or low blood sugar.

Rest and recovery is a very important part of your workout routine. It can play an important role in terms of your fitness goals and performance and can influence how well you’re able to train. However, sometimes people don’t have a plan for after they exercise. Working out is a stressful process, so after you’re done, your body needs to adapt. If you neglect this recovery stage, it can lead to several negative effects.

What Happens When Your Muscles Don’t Recover

If exercise is not followed by recovery, your workout capacity will suffer, and it may take longer to get back on track. On the other hand, if you incorporate recovery into your workout, your tolerance for intense exercise will increase, and your workout will improve. It’s important to include recovery into your exercise regimen because not allowing your body to recover may have some negative side effects.

Injuries & Inflammation: Overusing your muscles causes constant inflammation of the joints and increases your chances of injuries. Intense exercise without recovery can also lead to adrenal fatigue and your body to produce an excess of cortisol, a fat-storing hormone. Increased cortisol and adrenaline suppress the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight illness.

Over-training syndrome: Over-training syndrome occurs when someone over-trains or exercises too much. However, without time for recovery, this type of workout can have a reverse effect since their performance can decrease. For a great training routine, there needs to be a balance between training and rest. Below are just some of the signs and symptoms of over-training syndrome.

How do you normally recover after a workout? Tell us in the comments section!

Download Our FREE
Spartan Race Training Plan
Our comprehensive training plan provides you with 30-days of exercises right up to race day!
Download e-Book

Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
Download Our FREE
Spartan Race Training Plan
Our comprehensive training plan provides you with 30-days of exercises right up to race day!
Download e-Book