Did you know that exercising does not make you fitter? It doesn’t. Instead, it is the recovery from exercising that allows the body to adapt to the stresses put upon it. When you exercise intensely, your muscles develop small tears called micro-tears. Whether you lift weights, swim, bike, run, or all of the above, you damage your tissues when you exert. These micro-tears as well as the buildup of lactic acid and cellular waste in your body after exertion are the primary cause of the ever-familiar next-day (or two) soreness. This soreness is known universally as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or D.O.M.S shorthand. D.O.M.S is a good thing to experience at low to moderate levels. It means you put in a true effort and got a good workout. However, there can be too much of a good thing. D.O.M.S is considered by some to actually be a low-grade injury that results from improper conditioning. I disagree to a point. D.O.M.S is a helpful indicator of effort up to the point that it actually hurts to go about your business in the days after a hard effort. If the D.O.M.S is at the point of pain, give yourself an extra day or two of rest and then dial the effort back a few clicks on your next session.
So, let’s say you wake up the day after a good effort and you’re comfortably sore. How do you bounce-back and get ready for the next effort quickly while giving your body the time it needs? There are a few great ways to do it and a lot of terrible ways. We will start with what not to do as tempting as dong them might be. Don’t sit and binge-watch your favorite shows or movies. Being stagnant after exercise is a sure-fire way to not recover well at all. This is because not moving fails to push fresh blood through tissues that are torn up and saturated with cellular waste. You may think as well that it’s okay to eat whatever after your workout because, well, you just worked out. But, when your body has been taxed to a high level, you may crave cake but cake doesn’t build up the kind of big calves that you want. While rewarding yourself for a good effort, consistency, and determination is totally okay to do, make sure to prioritize a healthy refueling before treating yourself.
There is a large group of people that believe that “active recovery” is one of the best things you can do for yourself after a heard effort. Active recovery is, for example, going for a short run the day after a hard run. Some say it’s great because it pumps blood through and oxygenates your tissues. The trouble comes when the “recovery run” exceeds a level of intensity that constitutes recovery and turns into another workout on damaged legs. Gauging this level of effort is very hard to do because you can’t really tell if you’re going too hard for recovery or not, and it is very easy to get carried away. This can lead to overtraining. Other examples of active recovery are great, like a short bicycle ride, swim, or walk. Doing yoga or other dynamic stretches is great as well. As long as you’re moving and utilizing your range of motion, active recovery is a great option
Foam rolling has become very popular in recent years and in my opinion, is a very effective method of keeping your tissues fresh and helping with soreness. Rollers come in a variety of sizes, hardness, and textures. Beginners should buy a softer foam roller with a smoother profile to avoid putting too much pressure on tissue that is not used to manipulation. It is important to learn proper rolling technique which can be easily found on the internet. Technique is important because a foam roller is designed to break up “knots” of tissue that build up over time and if a user is unfamiliar with technique, they could injure the place they were trying to help. The technical term for self-massage or foam rolling is “myofascial release.” It is also commonly known as “triggerpoint” therapy. These myofascia and triggerpoints are knots of tissue that build up after tissue is contracted repeatedly and can cause pain and loss of range of motion in parts of the body. Most of the people who practice foam rolling do so two to three times per day for twenty minutes or so. After your next big day training or racing, give some of these tips a try! And have that slice of cake, you probably earned it.