Recovery is one of the essential parts of training. It's also one of the most overlooked. Whether gearing up to run your next marathon or work out at the gym a few times a week, you want to recover like an athlete for total body wellness and fitness.
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You don't have to be training for a once-in-a-lifetime event to learn from and apply the training and recovery techniques elite athletes use. For starters, they understand that training and recovery are a package deal. They also know that skipping recovery won't just limit your results; it will increase your risk of injury.
We want you to love your fitness routine. With that in mind, here are five ways to recover from every workout and training session like a high-caliber athlete.
According to Harvard Health, stretching is essential for maximizing your workouts and ensuring muscle recovery, and for total body wellness. And it's not just something elite runners or gymnasts do.
"A lot of people don't understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily," says David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. When you stretch regularly, you keep your muscles flexible so you can stay limber and mobile. Plus, you help the muscles handle exercise better so that exertion "won't put too much force on the muscle itself," Nolan adds.
The cool-down period after a workout does more than bring your body temperature back to normal, especially if you're running or performing aerobic activity under higher temperatures or humid conditions. It also allows for your heart rate, circulation, and blood pressure to stabilize back to your normal resting state. Many athletes swear by an ice bath after a training session, but a cold shower or swim also works well.
Taking a few minutes to stretch and breathe are also important factors in the cool-down process after a training session.
What you don't do while you're training can be just as important as what you do. Although it may sound counterintuitive, taking breaks and critical recovery days minimizes your risk of exhaustion, burnout and injuries during training. And as any elite athlete will tell you, rest days are as important as the time you spend in the gym.
To keep your body balanced, try a blend of cross-training and alternating between low/moderate and high-intensity training. What does this mean? Slip in a day or two of yoga or meditation in between your weekly cardio and weight training.
But even with these lower-impact days, you still need to take an entire day off every seven to ten days to give your muscles and joints time to recover and reap the benefits of all your hard work. If you push yourself too hard, you might set yourself back later on.
Water is the primary way to hydrate before, during, and after a workout. You also need to replenish your electrolytes depending on the intensity and duration of your workout or training session. If you're not necessarily a fan of sports drinks (which can be high in sugar), there are other options to help you hydrate and replenish your electrolytes and carbohydrates:
If you really want to treat yourself, get your electrolyte and carb fix with a post-run or workout beer (yes, really). As with most things, be sure to practice moderation.
Unless you're training for multi-sport or ultra endurance event, you probably don't need to consume the same amount of calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrates as someone like Michael Phelps or Simone Biles. But refueling your body with a well-balanced diet before and after workouts is the key to long-term training.
If possible, consult with a nutritionist, physician, or personal trainer to design the plan that works best for you — on your training days and your rest days.