There is nothing more rewarding than the feeling you have after putting in a tough workout, but the recovery is often a reminder that our bodies are not invincible! How you approach your post-workout recovery can really make a difference in how quickly your recover and keep your body healthy for the long term.
Please note – I am not a doctor, however the following are things that as an athlete, coach and a sports mom, I have found to work the best for post workout recovery. Also, this post contains affiliate links which means I will earn a small commission if you purchase via my links at no additional cost to you.
STRETCHING/ROLLING OUT MUSCLES
Foam rollers are now common place in most gyms and gym bags thanks to their ease of use and portability. While we have our gymnasts use foam rollers before practice to get the soft tissues in their legs, arms and back warmed up, we also use them to help increase long muscle flexibility. Rollers like the TheraBand Roller Massager are just as important post-workout as its use can aid in myofascial release to help relieve soreness and pain that may be experienced after a tough workout. If you don't have a roller, at least do some tried and true stretches.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from my athletes and their parents is when to ice vs. when to apply heat. My first response is always, when in doubt, get it checked out by a doctor. Following that, the general rule that I have been taught is this – if the injury is new – like a bruise, possible sprain or possible inflammation – use ice. Apply ice or an ice pack for 20 minutes then remove. Repeat as necessary as the ice will help with pain and swelling. Heat should be used on sore muscles/soft tissue injuries that are more than a day old. The heat will help ease pain and stiffness.
TheraPearl has some really great re-usable heat/ice packs that I love. I like the sport strap version shown above as you can heat it quickly in the microwave or pop it in the freezer to be used as an ice pack when needed. The strap helps keep the heat/cold directly over the affected area, too. They also have kid-friendly TheraPearl Pals – one is a frog and the other is pig shaped – both guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of a child – or grown up. Keep one in the freezer for quick relief for boo-boos and keep the other one at the ready for a quick warm up in the microwave for sore shoulders and such.
Many doctors will tell you to take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen to manage the pain associated with minor injuries. I personally prefer to use a topical pain reliever like Biofreeze. Biofreeze is a non-addictive, topical pain reliever that offers a safer alternative to oral pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin. It is non-systemic, contains no NSAIDs, propylene glycol free, and it is paraben-free. Biofreeze comes in a variety of forms – a roll-on, gel and my personal favorite – the 360 spray. The 360 spray is great for getting to hard to reach spots and you don't need to touch it or rub it in.
Always supervise children when using pain relievers – topical or otherwise.
Following a workout, tough or not, athletes need to refuel in order to give their bodies the nutrients to start the recovery process. Since every athlete is different – different sport, different age, different size – don't get hung up on the amount of protein your athlete eats after practice, just get some in them. For example, a post-workout meal for my 5′ 1″ gymnast was definitely different from what my 5″10″ swimmer needed, but they both needed something post-workout.
This may be obvious, but hydrating after practice is just as important as hydrating before practice. Again, the level and type of hydration will vary based on the age and activity, but fluids help get those nutrients to the muscles and joints the most efficiently. High intensity workouts – like running, swimming, or field sports may require more than just water to replace electrolytes that your athlete has sweat out – think Gatorade's G2 or similar.
What other tips have you found that help you or your athletes recovery effectively from a tough workout? Feel free to share them in the comments below.