Given that many of us are now in lockdown, exercise has never been so important. Those moments that we carve out of the day to focus solely on ourselves and our health - both mental and physical - play a huge part in managing our stress levels which, given the uncertainty of this time, can’t be underestimated. But while the importance of exercise can’t be stressed enough, equally as important is the need to ensure we’re not going from zero to hero. If you’ve been in a lockdown rut and neglected your health, it’s easy to suddenly feel a need to get back into the swing of things with great gusto much like Bridget Jones's post-breakup. But while those first few workouts can have you running on an endorphin high, it’s just as easy to experience the crash that is overtraining and lack of recovery.
With most gyms closed and many of us choosing to spend our time either getting into jogging or doing the odd Zoom HIIT class or yoga session, it’s important to understand that these sessions do take a toll on the body, particularly if you’ve been inconsistent in the past and are jumping into things once again. And as for those who have been consistent, if lockdown is now providing an opportunity to increase mileage and build on your fitness, recovery still needs to be made a priority. Here are some easy ways to take your recovery to the next level to ensure you avoid injury and maximize your workouts.
Stick to a clear bedtime
If lockdown has seen your normally regimented bedtime go completely out the window, you’re not alone. It’s particularly prevalent for those who have traded an office for a makeshift workspace in the bedroom and now struggle to switch off when it comes to the evening. As many health officials will be quick to advise, keep the bedroom to the three S’s - sleep, sickness and, you guessed it, sex. Where you can, ensure that you’re not working in your bedroom so your brain doesn’t come to associate the space with work, going into over-drive exactly at the time you don’t want it to.
When it comes to recovery, sleep is critical and might just be the most important factor when combatting the stress of exercise. According to a 2019 research study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, skimping on sleep had a negative impact on runners’ speed, strength, muscle recovery, and even enthusiasm towards their sport. Another 2018 study showed that consistency is key when it comes to sleep. But while it might seem difficult to stick to a routine, if you can think of sleep as a commitment like punching into the office clock, then your recovery will improve greatly. Set a recurring alarm or calendar appointment to remind yourself it’s time to start your bedtime routine or turn to the settings on your phone so that some become inactive and encourage you to put the device away and wind down.
Make sure you do a cool-down
After exercise and a grueling workout, it’s easy to suddenly just flop onto the couch and do nothing. But while that’s certainly allowed after a shower, those first 20 minutes post-workout are actually pretty critical and should be spent doing some form of active recovery. A good rule of thumb is to do low- or moderate-intensity movements that target the same muscles utilized in the workout. For runners, that could include a couple of strides and then walking. If it was yoga or a gym session at home, consider doing a light yoga flow and stretching.
Have a hot soak
Lately, it seems all the rage is around cold showers, but it turns out a hot soak also does wonders for the body after a hard workout. As well as easing tight and sore muscles, it also helps to put you in a relaxed mental state. And for those struggling with their sleep commitment, know that according to a 2019 study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews, a hot soak 90 minutes before bed could also help you fall asleep faster.
As Runners World notes, the temperature is also important. “Bathe in hot water for 30 minutes, three days a week after moderate-intensity workouts, and you might also see improvements in your VO2 max, lactate threshold, and running economy, according to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology,” the publication suggests.
Foam Rolling and massage is key
If you’re someone who finishes a workout and just wants to roll over and sleep, you might be neglecting one of the most important parts of recovery: stretching. Stretching after a vigorous workout is one of the quickest ways to bring your heart rate down, keep you from stiffening up, and increase your mobility and flexibility. That said, these days there are some tools you can use that will assist in your cool down, like the Theragun or foam roller. According to a 2020 scientific review published in the Journal of Body Work & Movement Therapies, foam rolling reduces delayed onset muscle soreness. Just 60 seconds of foam rolling the lower back and hamstrings has been shown to significantly improve flexibility and range of motion in those areas, according to a 2019 research paper.
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