About five or six years ago when I first started taking fitness semi-seriously (and by seriously, I mean I signed up to a basic gym membership), I had NFI what I was doing. My usual routine involved punishing myself on the treadmill for 30—45 minutes, followed by bashing out a few reps on any machine that had instructions about how to use it printed on the side. I’d usually wake up the following morning in some kind of discomfort, ranging from mild pain to full-blown agony, partially because my form was terrible, but mostly because I skipped one of the most important aspects of a workout: Recovery.
Years later, with a personal training course and thousands of hours at the gym under my belt, I’m somewhat less naive about the importance of stretching post-workout and religiously carve out 15 minutes for a basic yoga sequence or some hefty stretching any time I work up a sweat–and I’ll let you in on a little secret: Those few minutes have completely changed the way I feel about exercise, and make the next workout considerably easier. Benefits I’ve noticed include; improved flexibility (you should see my back bend), and my next-day workouts are much more palatable (read: less painful)
I’m not alone in thinking this: Recovery is becoming a major focus at buzzy gyms around the country, including national chain, 24 Hour Fitness. Jill Miller, the qualified trainer who developed the gym’s new “Treat While You Train” program explained that in addition to basic stretching, you (and I!) should also be practicing self-myofascial massage (massage using foam rollers and special balls) to help muscles recover.
“Stretching and self-myofascial massage are a potent cocktail for post-exercise recovery. Together they help to decrease the inflammatory chemicals that are released from strenuous exercise. These same inflammatory chemicals make your muscles feel tender, sore and stiff, but with a conscious recovery approach, you will be less sore and your muscles will repair more quickly,” Miller said. In fact, a recent study shows that massage and stretching reduces pain and will promote recovery from exercise-induced injury.
Not only will this combination help you ease those day-after aches, post-workout, it can help you sleep, and promote toning and weight loss. “Stretching also cues your nervous system to tune down its overstimulation from exercise, it signals your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest/digest/repair system, to become dominant. This helps you to sleep more deeply and maintain mental calm. Stretching can be a helpful component of weight loss to keep you mobile, relaxed and supple.”
Rest your abdomen on a soft, inflated ball (like this) and breathe deeply into your belly while attempting to flatten the ball with each inhalation. Repeat for 10 breaths. Then begin to slowly move from side-to-side so that the ball massages into all the soft tissues at the front of the core. “This helps to stretch the layers of abdominal myofascial and puts you in touch with your breath muscles. It ultimately relaxes your nervous system,” explained Miller.
Place two grippy Yoga Tune Up Balls or tennis balls along the side of the spine in the upper back region. Breathe slowly into the ribs and rock from side-to-side and allow the balls to massage in towards the rib joints. Repeat this for one or two minutes minutes on left side of spine, then switch sides.Then, move the balls into the lower thoracic spine and ribs and repeat. “This frees up intercostal tension, mobilizes the spine and massages deep back musculature,” Miller said.
Coreso leg lifts
Lay on a yoga mat with a block or large book under your pelvis and engage the following actions: Reach the arms overhead and externally rotate them so that the hands hold on to the sides of the yoga mat and attempt to pull the mat apart. Stretch the right let towards the ceiling (if hamstrings are tight, bend the knee), lower the left leg towards the ground without touching the floor, but do not allow the spine to lose its stability or natural curves. Breathe for one full minute on each side while remaining stable.
“This pose lengthens the hip flexors while simultaneously giving you a gentle inversion. The inversion helps to slow down your physiology so that your heart rate slows down and you can breathe more deeply for relaxation,” explained Miller.
Place an alpha or plus ball just above your collar bone and lean into a corner as shown. Take five or 10 deep breaths and then make slow motion moves with your shoulder and head for anotherfive or 10 breaths. Then switch sides.
“Your anterior neck is one of the most tension ridden spots on the body because of computer and text use. This spot restores motion to these tissues and also deeply sedates your nervous system,” Miller said.
Courageous ball backbend
Lie down with a Courageous Ball behind your ribcage. Bend your knees to minimize back stress, then breathe in for a slow count of four. Breathe out for a slow count of eight. “This pose restores the resting length of the chest muscles that can get overworked from planks, presses and push-ups,” Miller said.