Hard work doesn’t end when you leave the gym. The hardest part is often the next 72 hours after a workout. Your muscles are sore. You don’t feel like moving. And you’re itching to get back in the gym so you can do it all over again. Fortunately, there are a number of steps anyone can take to accelerate the time it takes to get back to 100% after a workout. And, in fact, you’ll actually be at more than 100% since your body will have adapted to your last workout.
1. Do Cardio
My high school soccer coach always used to prescribe cardio for muscle soreness. I know a lot of people today who swear by cardio for faster recovery. They do cardio whether the initial workout responsible for muscle soreness was aerobic or anaerobic. The logic is that cardio gets blood and nutrients flowing to the muscles thereby decreasing the time it takes to heal. And it might be dead on.
Researchers at California State University ran a study on 26 women and found that those who performed moderate-intensity cardio immediately after a strength workout returned to greater than full strength a day sooner than those who did light cardio or no cardio at all. Moderate activity may ironically help you recover faster than passively waiting for your body to recover (Don’t just sit there, do something!)
2. Get Better Sleep
Sleep is when the body does the majority of its recovery. Sleep is the best way to optimize hormone levels and give the body adequate time to recover from exercise. And sleep is about depth as well as length. If you’ve worked out for any length of time, you’ve probably already noticed that quality of sleep correlates with recovery time and athletic performance.
A study of 10,125 Chinese universities students found that men who slept at least 7-8 hours had more muscle strength than those who slept less than 6 hours (this same difference was not observed in women). Another study detected a 10-15% decline in daytime testosterone levels in test subjects whose sleep was restricted to no more than 5 hours. This decline was after just one week of sleep deprivation.
Check out my article on 8 Natural Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep. They are 1) exercise; 2) reduce stress; 3) get light exposure during the day; 4) eliminate blue light exposure at night; 5) install blackout shades; 6) use white noise to drown out sound pollution; 7) practice meditation before bed; 8) take a Zinc or Magnesium supplement.
3. Optimize Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is the king of testosterone. I like to call Vitamin D steroids from God owing to research that discovered double and triple increases in testosterone upon male exposure to UV light. Another study observed a 20% decrease in stress fractures in female Navy recruits who supplemented Vitamin D.
Vitamin D plays a vital role in overall health in both males and females. It is important for mood, energy, protein synthesis, and muscle recovery. It follows that optimizing Vitamin D levels may be the easiest and most powerful way to accelerate workout recovery time and maximize gains. Some things in life are free, and energy from the sun is chief among them.
4. Supplement Zinc or Magnesium
Researchers have observed increases in testosterone after Zinc and Magnesium supplementation. In a study conducted on ZMA supplementation (Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin B-6), men who took 30 mg of Zinc and 450 mg of Magnesium over an 8-week period observed a 25% increase in free testosterone levels. More testosterone=faster recovery. This is why bodybuilders on steroids can workout 4 hours a day and be ready to go the next morning. Unlike steroids, which can absolutely wreck health and lead to premature disease and death, Zinc and Magnesium are natural alternatives.
Another 12-week study on elderly women found that 12-weeks of Magnesium supplementation increased physical performance. Magnesium supplementation is commonly recommended to reduce recovery time in both men and women.
For more on Zinc, Magnesium, and ZMA, check out 4 Researched Benefits of Supplementing Zinc and 4 Researched Benefits of Supplementing Magnesium.
5. Take a Cold Shower
Researchers conducted a study in which they discovered that cold hydrotherapy reduced delayed onset muscle soreness after a workout. (Note: Caution is advised due to the possible safety risks of cold water exposure.)
The authors included 17 small trials involving 366 people in their review. Participants were asked to get into a bath or container of cold water after running, cycling or resistance training. In most trials, participants spent five to 24 minutes in water that was between 10ºC and 15ºC, although in some cases lower temperatures were used or participants were asked to get in and out of the water at set times. In the studies that compared cold water immersion to resting or no intervention, there was a significant reduction in soreness one to four days after exercise.Source: ScienceDaily
Cold showers are a personal favorite. I have taken cold showers for almost two years now. In another article, I documented 7 benefits of the discipline. One benefit that I didn’t document is decreased muscle soreness. As soon as I enter the cold water, the last thing on my mind is how sore my muscle’s feel from yesterday’s workout. And, based on research and personal experience, cold showers can have a more lasting effect on muscle recovery.
A hard workout is not a sentence to multiple days of pain and inactivity. In addition to getting in better overall shape, there are simple steps anyone can take to reduce muscle recovery time.