Enhancing Muscle Recovery

Enhancing the ability of your muscles to recover better is a popular topic these days.  Here is my advice for anyone wanting to ensure they are recovering properly:  


 - Sleep is quite possibly the most effective tool for recovery from any stress.  Sleep is the only time that your muscles totally relax, which I believe is essential in order for blood to properly circulate and for your connective tissues to heal and get stronger for the next day.  Your body instigates many anabolic (tissue healing and growth promoting) processes once you are asleep, and your hormones shift to reflect this process.  After falling asleep, your body produces Growth Hormone, a hormone essential for growth and repair as well as combating normal processes of aging and degeneration.  Some athletes try to nap several times per day in order to increase their growth hormone secretion and promote a state of increased healing and repair.  The position of sleep – lying down – is also healing in itself.

- Improving sleep is simple for some people and not so simple for others.  Ensuring someone has proper sleep hygiene is essential: keep constant wake times, take an hour to relax before bed, avoid stimulants such as caffeine, a noise free environment, temperature that is not too hot or cold, etc.  Some people may have underlying medical causes of their


Muscle Tension Prevents Healing

- If your muscles have excess tension, they aren’t healing as well as they could if they were relaxed.  Causes of muscle tension include poor posture, repetitive activities (like running or biking), stress, inflammation, or general overuse.

- Regular massage therapy and other self massage therapy techniques likely increase circulation and decrease the amount of ‘strain’ that is happening through your muscles and joints.  The key point is regular here

- Stretching works to reduce muscle tension, the problem is that people often don’t know how to stretch properly on their own, and often put their body out of balance with poor selection of the types of stretches they perform.

- Heat (hot tubs, saunas, contrast therapy, etc) is an effective way to promote muscle relaxation, this is an evidence based method of enhancing recovery that is underutilized and sometimes forgotten because of its simplicity.


Stop Stressing and Take breaks in your day

- Our nervous system and hormones are probably designed to deal with stress in short bouts, after which we would experience a period of time to allow for rest from that stress.  The classic example of having to escape a predator applies here; 1- get scared, 2- run away from the animal for an hour or so, 3- Lick your wounds and have a nap in a safe place.  Our bodies are well adapted for this type of stress, but not the ‘all-day-long’ type of stress that many people put themselves through.  Chronic stress prevents your body from going into a rest and repair mode and your muscles and other tissues will slowly break down.

- Not working too much or taking on too much responsibility at one time is the most obvious measure you can take to prevent chronic stress.  Build breaks into your day in which you do relaxing things like taking a quick walk, exercising, talking to friends or family, laying down, listening to music or meditating.  Try to make these breaks every 90 minutes or less in frequency.

- Some people can’t seem to relax no matter how hard they try.  Addressing the underlying cause of this inability to relax is very important for proper recovery; sometimes this might involve changing how someone things through self help or cognitive behavior therapy is often helpful, or perhaps an underlying medical condition needs to be addressed and supplements or medications might help.


Change your body positions

- Standing around for long periods during the day, and generally staying in the same position for long periods of time is also hard on the body’s tissues; the more you can vary your positions while at work or even during exercise, the better.  For instance, while you are resting during an exercise session – sit down with a good posture, or even lay on your back to rest your tissues that always have to work while you are standing.


Periodize your exercise


- Taking a scientific approach that systematically overloads your tissues and them provides a proper rest period is the best way to train and avoid injury.  For instance, in our group exercise sessions, we progressively increasing the volume and/ or intensity of exercises throughout the month, and then provide a week at the end of the month or start of the following month for rest.   Different components of exercise require different amounts of rest, and following a well planned exercise plan allows you to make the most of your time and get the most ‘bang for your buck’ when exercising.


Active Recover

- Your muscles will heal better, and will also develop a better ability to recover long term if you incorporate low intensity movement into your rest time.


Pay attention – you can tell if you are recovering well:

- Measuring how well you are recovering is difficult – you might want to experiment by using a journal to track your body for signs of overtraining:

- Morning heart rate elevations

- Grip strength

- Resting Lactate elevations

- Monitor sleep quality, body pain, moods, skin health, and other signs that the body is becoming taxed.



- The way you eat can certainly affect how you recover.  The first step is ensuring you have adequate nutrients.  Because most people are omnivores that typically eat too much food in general, true nutrient deficiencies are quite rare.  However, conditional deficiencies are probably more common; these are nutrients that are considered non-essential, but when under stress they can become depleted.  Examples include amino acids like arginine or glutamine and supplementing with these when ‘the going gets tough’ probably makes sense.   Glutamine is also essential for making the hormone GABA, which is an essential neurotransmitter in the brain for relaxation.

- Many of the body’s water soluble vitamins can become taxed with high stress, including ascorbic acid, folic acid, B12, pantothenic acid, or pyridoxine.  Fat-soluble vitamins like the carotenoids and minerals like magnesium or calcium are probably important to add.  If you prefer to stick with food for your essential nutrients, then doing things to enhance your body’s digestion with the use of bitter herbs or digestive enzymes should be helpful when you are having to eat high amounts of calories and your digestive capabilities are being overloaded.


Tweak your hormones

- Your hormones are your body’s chemical signals to repair and recover.  Stress, medications, certain diseases, toxins, and normal aging can throw them out of balance.  Combining a good medical history along with some blood work can help shed light on possible excesses or deficiencies that might help your body recover better.  Salivary cortisol testing is cheap and easy to do, and it can often shed light on why people are not sleeping or recovering very well, and can help give people another encouragement to follow through more rigorously with their exercise routine.

- Anabolic hormones like testosterone or growth hormone can be modulated with the types of exercises used, certain supplements (albeit very slightly), and of course with the use of exogenous hormones themselves when medically required.




Here is a summary of the various recommendations you could try to enhance your ability to recover:



- >7 hours for the average adult

- >8 hours/ night for adults that exercise >250 minutes/ week.

- >9 hours/night for active adolescents


Stress Reduction

- Time management

- Breaks in your day – every 90 minutes.

- Relaxation – meditation, yoga, walking, progressive relaxation exercises, social time, etc.

- Cognitive, “change how you think” exercises. (CBT)


Self Monitoring for Burnout/ Overtraining

- Morning heart rate elevations

- Grip strength

- Resting Lactate elevations

- Monitor sleep quality, body pain, moods, skin health, and other signs that the body is becoming taxed


Adequate Nutrition/ Supplements

- Omnivorous diet, high vegetable content.

- Possible supplements:

- B-Vitamins, Carotenoids, Magnesium, Amino acids, Essential Fatty Acids, digestive enzymes, anti-inflammatory herbs, digestive and relaxing herbs.


Balance Hormones

- Stress hormones

- Anabolic hormones


Periodized Exercise:  Scientific approach to progressing your exercise program.


Other Regeneration activities (to be done 3-5 times/ week):

 - Active Recovery – 30 minutes or more

- This is any rhythmic exercise like spinning on a bike, swimming, hiking, or any other continuous type of activity that keeps your heart rate around 50-60% of max (100-120 bpm) for a sustained period.

- This type of exercise is best if performed immediately after strenuous exercise.

- Massage – 30 minutes or more

- This can be self-massage or massage from a professional.  Professional massage is almost always better, but it has cost limitations and you can’t always have your massage therapist with you when you are traveling the world skiing!

- Self-massage can be performed with various types of small balls or rolling devices.

- Thermotherapy (Heat) – 15-30 minutes

- Warm therapies should not be used in excess!  Start with small amounts of time (10 minutes) and work up (30 minutes max).  Too much heat can also be stressful to the body.

- Hot therapies are not recommended prior to exercise.  Always be sure not to burn yourself.

- Examples

- Saunas

- Regular doses of 30 minutes in a humid sauna at 90 degrees Celsius can aid recovery after hard workouts.

- Warm or Hot Water Baths

- 15 minutes at roughly 38 degrees is a typical recommendation.

- Too much time in the hot tub can cause the body to be too relaxed.  Contrast hydrotherapy is probably better than warm baths alone.

- Steam Rooms

- Cryotherapy (Cold) – 30 minutes

- Cold therapies can be used after exercise to limit inflammation and enhance recovery.  Usually, cold therapies are used on specific body parts to help injuries heal or prevent old injuries from coming back.

- Do not use cold therapies prior to exercise.  Do not lie on cold applications and be careful not to put ice directly on skin because it can cause frostbite.

- Apply Cold to the desired body parts for 10 minutes, then remove for 10 minutes, then place back on for another 10 minutes.

- Body parts – Legs only, knees only, arms only, etc.

- Cold packs, bags of ice, cold water baths

- Whole body immersion for 10-20 minutes after exercise can be done (12-18 degrees), but it must be used with caution, as it causes stress to your heart and has caused fainting in some individuals.  Start with warmer temperatures and go colder with each session.

- Contrast Therapy (Hot/ Cold) – 20-30 minutes

- Hot therapies relax muscles and increase blood flow.  Cold therapies contract muscles, decrease blood flow, and limit inflammation.  The combination to the two probably leads to a ‘pumping’ effect of fluids, thus enhancing the rate of circulation and enhancing recovery from exercise and injury.

- Any combination of hot and cold is reasonable:

- Hot therapies – 37-44 degrees

- Cold therapies – 7-20 degrees

-A common recommendation is 4 minutes hot and 1 minute cold X 5 (20 minutes).

- Examples

- Hot bath: Cold Shower

- Sauna: cold bath (legs only)

- Hot Tub: Ice knees (5 minutes: 5 minutes X 3)

- Hot bath: Cold Bath (advanced – start slow!)

- Hot shower: Cold water hose (outside?)