This question will have different answers, depending on who you ask, and how you intend to speed up recovery. If you’re an enthusiastic bodybuilder or a veteran athlete, you have probably answered this question for yourself already.
For those who are newer to exercise, fitness, or sports, and especially for people in less formal training contexts, there are many factors in everyday life that could slow your recovery down and cause frustration, or speed up recovery and improve motivation.
So, to answer the first question: Can you speed up exercise recovery? Yes.
To answer the second: Should you? Probably, but it depends on how you go about it.
Let’s look at some simple, natural methods that you should be using to speed up recovery itself, and a few ways to help deal with sore and stiff muscles.
Numerous studies over the decades have shown that most people don’t get enough sleep, and this can seriously limit your recovery speed. During a good night’s sleep, your pituitary gland secretes growth hormone, which tells your muscles to start rebuilding.
Lack of sleep can prevent this process from happening to the required extent, which will lead to fatigue, and will definitely slow down your recovery. Conversely, getting a really deep, restful night of sleep is recognized as one of the best ways to speed up your recovery naturally.
Eating and drinking correctly will have a huge impact on your recovery after a workout, and on your performance in general.
Hydration is a big concern when you’re training, as your body will need more water to build strength and to deal with the added hormones and metabolic waste from a hard workout.
It’s possible to lose several litres of water per hour on a hot day, so it’s vital to replace the water lost to exercising.
Alcohol can also impair recovery by dehydrating parts of your body. It has also been proven to lower testosterone levels, which makes recovering and gaining muscle harder.
So, on the whole, keeping good hydration levels is recommended for speeding up recovery.
When it comes to food, quality really does matter. Fresh, whole foods will provide the right molecular compounds for muscles to rebuild, while cheap, processed foods will make you feel full, but that’s about it. Consuming protein within 20 to 30 minutes of training has been proven to help with recovery. The same is true for protein before bedtime if you’ve worked hard.
Energy used must be replaced, so it’s vital to make sure you’re getting the right amount of calories per day.
Supplements play a role in recovery, but they should be used in addition to a well-balanced diet and with the guidance of an experienced coach/trainer or nutritionist.
These are ways in which you can and should be speeding up your recovery process.
PLANNING AND ACTIVE RECOVERY
Your workout should be planned to give you enough time to rest and recover between sessions to avoid overtraining. Overtraining is when your body works hard but does not get a chance to rebuild itself and becomes weaker as a result.
Active recovery can play a big role as well. Active recovery is when your rest day is not simply sitting on the couch, but rather a more gentle workout. For example, a heavy leg day could be followed by a low to medium intensity cycle the next day. This helps to deal with lactic acid buildup and provides an opportunity for cardio training at the same time.
Making time to rest is another way you should be speeding up your recovery.
DEALING WITH THE SYMPTOMS
Proper diet, sleep, and rest will go a long way, but sometimes it is great to leave the gym behind and just enjoy a real rest day, without the second day’s stiffness. There are a number of external or mechanical methods to help speed up your recovery, and this is where you have to decide for yourself what is best for your body and your goals.
Massage of some sort usually helps to reduce the stiffness by working the muscles externally, and it’s relaxing.
Myofascial release is a technique that increases blood flow to the fascia that encases muscles, tendons, and ligaments and can help to deal with more persistent pains.
If you’re brave enough, cold exposure, like a cold shower/bath or an ice bath, can remove some of the immediate pains by forcing freshly-oxygenated blood to the extremities, thus squeezing away the lactic acid which causes stiffness.
There are also a number of therapies using electrical stimuli to remove lactic acid in the same way.
Serious athletes will agree that the process of post-training recovery can and should be sped up. It’s up to you to decide what methods you should use to achieve this, and you should never be shy to ask for help.