Do you sometimes feel like you’re spinning your wheels in the gym? Does it seem that no matter how hard you train or how long you spend in the gym, you just can’t make progress to your goals, whether it’s losing weight, building muscle or a combination of the two?
The problem could have more to do with what you’re doing after your workout than during it. Unless you know how to maximize your recovery in the time between workouts, you’ll never make progress.
In this article, we reveal five essential post workout hacks that will speed up your workout recovery and allow you to get the most out of your hard work in the gym.
It’s All about the Recovery
When you leave the gym after a hardcore workout, your body is in a pretty fragile state.
Your workout has made your muscles smaller and weaker. The stress of resistance training has actually caused micro tears in your muscle fiber and your body is teetering on the edge of a catabolic (muscle wasting) state. What you do in the hours after your workout will determine whether it stays that way or whether it gets better and stronger.
By properly feeding your damaged muscle fiber and providing a sufficient amount of time for recovery and repair to take place, your muscles will be able to repair themselves and overcompensate by getting that tiny bit bigger and stronger in order to cope with the next bout of stress that you put upon it.
Hack #1: Workout Spacing
Your body needs sufficient time to recover between workouts. If it doesn’t get it, your muscles will be unable to perform at their best; each workout, you'll be drifting further and further into an over trained state.
To avoid over training, you need to space your workouts so that you have the needed time for recovery between them. It takes between 48 and 72 hours for a trained muscle group to recover, repair and rebuild itself after a workout. That means that you need to space your body part workouts a minimum of three days apart. So, if you train your biceps on Tuesday, don’t hit them again until at least Friday.
When scheduling your workouts, you should work the larger muscle groups first. This makes sure that the smaller muscles won’t prevent you from fully working the larger ones. So, when training back and biceps together, for example, hit the back first so that the biceps are not fatigued when you do exercises like lat pulldowns.
As well as pairing back and biceps together, you should also train the chest and triceps and the glutes and hamstrings on the same day.
Hack #2: Take Sleep Seriously
A lot of people are quite happy to spend $100 or more per month on supplements that, at best, will assist their body composition goals by 5%. Yet they give absolutely no thought to a factor which is responsible for as much as 20% of their success. That factor is sleep.
It is when you are sleeping that the vast majority of your muscles recovery, recuperation and rebuilding takes place. In the middle of the night, your body releases the maximum amounts of its two key muscle building hormones:
- Human growth hormone
Unless you are getting 7 to 8 hours of consistent, quality sleep every single night, you will be wasting much of the effort that you have expended in the gym. To make that happen you need to do the following:
- Make your bedroom a technology free zone (that includes banning your smartphone).
- Ensure that your bedroom is as dark and quiet as possible.
- Do not have a heavy meal within two hours of going to bed.
- Don’t schedule workouts within three hours of sleep time.
- Maintain a regular pattern of when you go to bed and get up.
Hack #3: Active Recovery
You may have heard of the term active recovery before. It involves performing some low intensity exercise after a more intense training session. Such light activity as walking, playing Tennis or Swimming has been shown to keep blood circulating around your body and assists in muscle recovery. It will also reduce the build up of lactic acid, remove toxins and enhance flexibility.
You can make use of active recovery as part of your warm-down or on the day following your workout. An example of active recovery post workout would be to spend 5-10 minutes on an exercise bike at low speed. Next day active recovery could involve going for a 30 minute walk or taking a light yoga class.
Hack #4: Nutrient Timing
Ensuring that your body gets the right nutrients for recovery, repair and rebuilding is absolutely vital. Unless it has those tools, it will start to catabolize itself in order to do the job that it needs to do.
Contrary to what many people think, the body’s most urgent need after your workout is not for protein. If you have been taking a sufficient amount of protein into your body prior to your workout, it will have plenty of amino acids already. What it really needs immediately after the workout is carbohydrates.
We store carbs as glycogen and use it as our main energy source. However, the body can’t store very much glycogen so, by the end of your workout, its stores are depleted. You need to restore them.
The good news here is that you can get away with eating a portion of simple carbohydrate based food in order to restore those glycogen levels. That means that one cream doughnut immediately after a hard training session will not go to your waistline - it will be fully utilized in replenishing your muscles glycogen stores.
Once you have met your body's carbohydrate needs, you can then focus on the protein. Be sure to get around 25 g of whey protein isolate into your system within 2 to 3 hours of your workout. This will provide you with a very fast absorbing form of amino acids that your body will use to repair the damaged muscle fiber.
Hack #5: Foam Rolling
Imagine what it would be like to get a sports massage after every workout? You’d feel amazing, right? Well, with a foam roller, you can, and without the price tag!
By getting into the habit of spending a few minutes using a foam roller after your workout you will be able to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, while also speeding up blood flow to the worked muscle. Foam Rolling is a form of myofascial release where you use a cylindrical device that is made of a heavy plastic material to massage your muscles. The foam roller gets placed between your muscle and the floor and you stretch up and down along its length.
There are all types of rollers that come in different configurations and sizes. Some of them will have tiny protrusions to allow you to get into areas of specific muscular pain.
Foam Rolling has been shown to have many benefits that directly relates to muscle recovery. It will soften the fascia that surrounds your muscle tissue so that it becomes more fluid. This will help to reduce pain in the area. It will also target your pain hotspots in order to release tension and inflammation. Regular post workout myofascial release will also break up minor scar tissue which can lead to ongoing muscle soreness.
Hack #6: Drink Water
Sometimes we tend to focus on the intricacies of training supplementation so much that we forget the basics. The most basic of all is to stay hydrated. This is true during your workout but it is also true in the post workout recovery period. Your body will be far more efficient when it is well hydrated, allowing the vital muscle building nutrients to get to the site of muscle damage faster.
How do you know if you’re drinking enough water? Simply look down into the toilet bowl. If your urine is clear or very nearly clear, then you are doing well. The more yellow it is, the more water you need to drink. Set your target to consume half a gallon of water per day.
Making progress is all about consistency. Your consistency in the gym needs to be matched by consistency in applying our five key recovery enhancement hacks. Put each of these into practice on a daily basis and you will reap maximum reward for the sweat equity that you’re expending on the gym floor.