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Are You Listening to Your Body?

The more you pay attention to getting back to normal after pushing your body through rigorous exercise, the stronger you'll become.

Lindsey Mills
August 28, 2019

Growing up, we were taught that the more something hurt, the more benefit we would see. This rule applies to most athletic pursuits. Muscles hurt? Good, they’re getting stronger. Out of breath? Great, your aerobic fitness will improve. Are you feeling sore after a game? That means you worked hard and working harder than everyone else is the goal.

Cue Kelly Clarkson and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” anthem that has helped many push through a workout or two. No pain, no gain, right? This mantra has become a staple for many scenarios, most notably in the exercise world. The idea promises excellent rewards at the expense of hard, and sometimes painful work.

A certain level of pain should be expected during strenuous activity, and soreness will likely follow exertion. Taking the proper steps to allow our body to recover faster can have long-lasting effects that help us become stronger in the long run.

It’s important to remember that when working to become fitter, pain is undoubtedly in the cards. It’s supposed to hurt. Beating up our bodies is how our physical fitness pushes past limits to reach new heights. This seems easy enough to remember. Likely, the familiarity with the discomfort of working out is actually what makes it hard to make it a habit to begin with. We recognize the pain, and while we know it leads to healthier bodies, the memory of the struggle is sometimes so great, it hinders us from getting back out there.

Here’s something we often forget: recovery is also how we get stronger. We usually either over-train and exert ourselves without taking the time to let our bodies recoup, or we allow the pain to keep us down rather than seeing it as a sign of success.

Pain is essential; it tests our limits, raises the bar of our capabilities, and makes us stronger. Getting back to no pain is also important; it allows for our bodies to rebuild, puts us in place to set new limits, and also makes us stronger.

If you’re interested in how you can maximize the benefits from your workouts, take a look at what you do after you exercise to help achieve optimal results. Following these strategies can help you increase the effectiveness of the post-workout recovery period.

You’ve heard this said a thousand times, and yet it’s still not enough to get you drinking as much H2O as you should. Drink more water — before, during, and after your workout. But remember, you often need more than just water (especially bottled water, which usually has zero electrolytes). Replacing electrolytes and even simple sugars are essential. Look for supplements made with natural ingredients that will help you replace what you lose when you sweat.

Active recovery
The same way you want to ease into your workout with some natural movements, you want to ease out of it, too. It is important to slowly lower your heart rate after exercise so that blood keeps flowing at a steady rate and doesn’t “pool” in certain areas due to lack of movement. The same can be said for the day(s) after strenuous activity. Try taking a short walk or very easy jog to circulate blood and get nutrients to those tired muscles.

Sounds simple, right? We know shallow breathing or holding your breath makes a workout even harder. Post-exercise, your body needs time to return to a resting state — and so does your breathing. Be extra mindful of the oxygen that is pumping through your system. Take your time and allow yourself to breathe deeply until it returns to normal.

Proteins are important for rebuilding muscles, which will help with the achiness you feel post-workout. The sooner you can take in quality protein after a workout (ideally within 30 minutes), the faster your body can recover. Enjoy a protein shake or make a post-run/ride/gym snack by scrambling eggs or munching on apples with peanut butter.

This one’s easy to accept. Your body does its most serious rebuilding when you sleep. It’s vital to get the right amount of quality sleep regularly. This is why pro athletes try to get eight to 10 hours of sleep each day and usually a nap. We don’t all have the luxury of training like a pro, but if we can take a few habits from them and tailor it to our schedules, our bodies will be all the better for it.

Opt for dairy
If you find yourself craving a bedtime snack, opt for some dairy like Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, which are both rich in slow-digesting casein protein. While you sleep, your body is fasting, but the right nutrients can keep your body fed with the nutrients it needs all night. Research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise suggests that consuming casein immediately before bed can increase your levels of circulating amino acids and your rate of muscle protein synthesis.

Take a cold one
Tough workouts don’t have to result in aching muscles. Immersing yourself in cold water immediately after intense exercise can reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by nearly half. That means a faster return to peak performance and a lower likelihood of missing your next workout. Fill your bathtub with 50-60 degree water (lukewarm tap water is usually cold enough) and soak in it for 5 to 12 minutes to reduce the inflammation that causes DOMS.

Know your limits
Perhaps one of the most important things you can do to help fuel your body to go longer, harder, and faster is knowing the difference between pain that is helping you grow and pain that is holding you back. Good pain is when your body is uncomfortable but will be able to recover. Bad pain is something that will make it harder and harder for you to bounce back. Be wary of the second kind of pain. When this sets in, stop pushing your limits and take every step to aid your recovery. Trust your body and define the difference in your pain levels. See your doctor when the pain is too much.

Roll with it
Here’s why you need a regular massage, or at least a foam roller. Both can help break up the scar tissue that’s a natural consequence of lifting. That not only speeds the repair process and reduces soreness but also improves range of motion. Spend five minutes using a foam roller on your quads, hams, glutes, hips, and lower back before a workout and before bed. If you can, also visit a massage therapist a couple of times a month.

Watch the booze
Some squeeze in a workout before a big night out, since they know they’ll be spending a few hours sitting, eating, and drinking. Nothing dehydrates the body like alcohol, so don’t let it be the first thing you reintroduce post-workout. Rehydrate with water, electrolytes, and a healthy whole-food snack before drinking. Alcohol makes you sweat more as your body tries to get rid of toxins. If you just had a rigorous (and sweaty) workout, that’s a double whammy on your body’s system. Wait until you’ve restored your body to its normal level of hydration before drinking. Then practice moderation: alternate between one drink and one glass of water throughout the night to ward off a hangover.