The human body has a remarkable ability to repair and strengthen itself. If you are physically active, whether casually or competitively, you are probably well aware of the toll running, jumping, jogging, kicking, twisting, and throwing can have on your body. While your body is generally able to recover from this added stress, it does need some help. If you are experiencing aches and pains after a race or an intense workout, you may benefit from slower movements to help your body sufficiently recover.
How Do Slower Movements Promote Recovery?
Recovery through slower movements is referred to as active recovery. Slower-paced exercises can actually increase circulation and promote the healing of inflamed muscles, tendons, and ligaments. In turn, this contributes to less pain around joints. Ultimately, increased circulation leads to faster muscle recovery. There's also research suggesting low-intensity active recovery may reduce accumulated blood lactate. "Blood lactate" is the accumulation of lactic acid in certain areas. It suggests there is insufficient oxygen delivery to tissues.
Why Does the 'Cool Down' Matter?
The immediate cool down period after intense activity and low-intensity exercise between competitions or strenuous workouts is an equally important part of athletic recovery. What the cool down does is slow your heart rate to a normal level, which reduces strain on the heart muscle. Generally, you should spend about 5-10 minutes cooling down after strenuous activities. According to the American Heart Association, the average resting heart rate for well-trained athletes is 40-60 beats per minute. Cool down exercises can be as simple as:
• Doing gentle hamstring stretches (pulling your leg behind you)
• Jumping jacks
• Chest stretches (lacing your fingers behind your back while straightening your arms)
• Jogging in place
What Types of Gentle Exercise Might Help with Athletic Recovery?
Slower paced exercise can include gentle stretching. Activities such as yoga and Pilates can also promote better circulation and stimulate tissue healing. Part of the reason for this is because movements are slow and controlled, which reduces stress on recovering joints and muscles. Yoga, in particular, can also help maintain your flexibility and improve your muscle strength and tone. You may also benefit from the following gentle exercises with your athletic recovery:
• Walking: Walking for the sake of recovery from exercise recovery can be a done at a slow, controlled pace on a flat surface. You don't even have to worry about arm motions.
• Foam rolling: It's believed that foam rolling helps with athletic recovery by reducing muscle fatigue and soreness. Foam rolling exercises such as upper back, hamstring, and calf rolls can also help ease muscle stiffness and promote healing if you are recovering from an injury.
• Exercise mimicry: This just means you are performing the same exercises you were doing, but with less resistance. An example of this would be lightly kicking the ball around after playing soccer.
Finally, there's massage therapy. It's not technically "exercise" but it can have benefits similar to what you can get from other forms of athletic recovery. However, it's not recommended that you get a massage immediately after you get done with your activity. Do a few other cool down exercises first. What a massage does is improve circulation and get rid of the pooled blood that accumulated as your blood was pumping harder when you were exercising, working out, or playing your preferred sport.
These suggestions will help with your post work-out recovery. If you are looking for conditioning exercises to help heal from a sports injury we've provided valuable resources for: Knee Conditioning, Shoulder Conditioning, Hip Conditioning, and Plantar Fasciitis.