You're sweaty. You're red faced. You've been working out. You've had a tough workout.
You've pushed, pulled and squatted until your legs felt like jelly.
You feel good.
But what now?
Hit the shower and flop on the sofa?
Before you do that, there are some steps you should take to make sure you're getting the very most out of your workout. As strange as it may seem, what you do once you stop exercising is just as important to your weight loss, health or fitness goals as what you do during your workout.
Yep. It's all about recovery. Post workout recovery.
At a very basic level exercise is a stress. Yes, it's a good stress, but it's still a stress. And you need to recover from stress.
Optimal recovery will make sure you're feeling the full benefits of your healthy lifestyle. Optimal recovery will make sure you're on top form for your next workout. Optimal recovery will help you stay injury free.
So, how do you make sure you are recovering properly?
Well, there are a few steps you need to take.
Every workout you do should be followed by static stretching.
No excuses, no exceptions.
I know you're in a rush to get dinner done and the kids to bed. But, you definitely should not forgo your stretching.
Even if it means cutting your workout down slightly.
If you're really struggling for time, stretching doesn't have to be done immediately after your workout...although it is best.
Stretching helps get rid of that lactic acid build up. It loosens up your tight muscle tissue. Improves your posture, flexibility and range of motion. It helps prevent injury.
It is crucial.
How do you do it?
The most important thing is to make sure you're targeting the muscle groups you've been working. It won't do you any good to stretch your legs when you've been doing an upper body workout.
Getting to know a full body stretch is a great way around this. Let's face it, we've always got a bit tightness somewhere, haven't we?
This is a great full body stretch you can do after every workout.
Hold each pose for 30 - 90 seconds, moving with your breath.
Big breath in and as you breathe out move into the pose and hold. Once it starts to feel a bit easier, another big breath in and as you breathe out move deeper into the stretch. Please breathe in between as well.
This is the good part of working out right? Eating.
But what should you go for?
You fancy cake. A big slab of chocolate cake.
But you don't want to undo all of your hard work so, opt for something a bit healthier.
If you're already eating a healthy diet, where you're getting enough calories, you're half way there. But, choosing a healthy option after your workout will help proper recovery.
The important points to remember for post workout recovery are, have something soon, and make sure it covers all of the bases. Lean, high-quality protein, healthy fat and carbohydrates.
I really love to have a smoothie. Or protein shakes if I haven't had time to make a smoothie.
They are so convenient. You can have one straight after a workout and, they taste delicious.
A homemade favourite of mine is, protein powder (chocolate, of course), cocoa powder (to make it extra chocolatey), frozen raspberries, spinach, coconut oil, cinnamon, oats and almond milk.
It's like chocolate milk, only better. Yum.
Beetroot juice is also really good for recovery, and for your workout actually. It helps deliver oxygen to your muscles, helping them to work harder/recover better.
I would warn that it turns your mouth and your wee purple.
Personally, I love the taste and think it goes really well in the smoothie I mentioned above. It's definitely not for everyone though.
You know that ache that starts to set in about a day after you've exercised? DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). I quite like them.
Yes, I know I'm a bit of a weirdo, but when I can't sit down properly, brush my hair or walk up the stairs without saying ouch, it makes me laugh.
They are, actually, a really important part of your exercise session. It's muscle damage. Not damage in a bad way, like muscle strains, for example, it's small amounts of damage to your muscle fibres, the connective tissue. It's what enables muscle growth.
Your body says 'wow, that was an intense workout. It was tough. We're going to have to repair that muscle and make it even stronger'.
It's a good thing.
But sore muscles can be a pain in the posterior.
So, if you're not like me, and you don't find the next day funny, reducing the impact of delayed-onset muscle soreness should be high on your list of must dos as part of your post workout recovery.
How would you go about it?
There are a few things that can help.
Ice baths. Yeah. Jumping into a freezing bath is thought to constrict blood vessels, which could reduce the swelling and tissue breakdown.
It's called cold water immersion, cold therapy and it's becoming increasingly popular, especially with endurance athletes. But there is, actually, no conclusive evidence to suggest that cold temperatures are an effective way of helping with exercise recovery.
So, if you can't quite face it, you could try...
A hot bath with Epsom salts. Epsom slats are magnesium, and magnesium is essential to the proper functioning of muscles.
Foam rollers. Applying pressure to your muscles with a foam roller or ball can help improve blood circulation.
Sports massage. In a similar way to foam rolling, massage can help improve blood flow to your muscles, aiding the recovery process. They can be quite expensive though so I tend to leave them as a once a month treat.
This one may not be so simple for us mamas. But getting enough sleep, that means 7-9 hours of sleep a night, is crucial to recovering after an intense exercise session. Well, any exercise session really.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep enhances muscle protein synthesis. That's the process of muscle repair. Your body uses amino acids to repair your muscles and help them prepare for your next session.
But what do you do if your toddler won't let you sleep? Because we all have times like that. Don't we?
Well, if you're suffering from sleep deprivation you might want to ease up on the intense training sessions. Take it easy for a while. I'm not saying don't do anything, but try working out at a lower intensity. It's called active rest. Lots of walking. Maybe some yoga. Some dynamic stretching.
Stay away from the strenuous exercise. There will be time for that again. I promise.
It may seem a bit arse about face...make sure you have a good training program to make the most of your training.
But, a good training program will make sure that you're recovering properly. That you have sufficient recovery time.
Because it will schedule in rest days. It will make sure you're working different muscle groups on different days so they're not getting too tired.
A good training program will take a holistic approach to your fitness goals. Well, we're not just about our workouts are we?
We've got other shit going on.
Toddlers to care for. Babies to rock to sleep. Kids to run around after.
You can't blitz you're arms if you've got to pick up and carry your 18 kilo toddler.
And that's the thing, if you're giving your everything in your workout, and then you give your everything at home. You're going to burn out pretty quickly.
A good training program will allow for this.
It won't just look at how many days a week or how many hours per week you can dedicate to exercising. It will take into account your life as a whole. What you do for a living. What you do at home. What your whole week looks like. Not just what your training time will look like.
It will not only ensure you're recovering properly. It will make sure you're hitting your goals in a sustainable way. Because you've got to keep going with this workout stuff. It's not a got there and done thing. It's a for life thing.
Drink water. Not beer. Water.
You've probably heard it all before...drinking water is really important.
I mean for your overall health. Generally.
But proper hydration is never as important as during post workout recovery. Or when you're recovering from an injury. Or surgery.
It helps to transport all your waste products out of your body.
It helps transport nutrients to your muscles.
It helps keep your joints lubricated, which means they move better.
It actually helps you sleep.
How much is enough water? And can you have too much?
On average you should be having around two litres, that's 70 ounces of water, a day. Obviously that is a general amount and that would go up if you're exercising. On the days you are exercising you should be aiming for about 3 litres of water throughout the day. Making sure at least some of that is during your training session.
And I wouldn't worry too much about having too much water.
It is certainly possible. But, it is very rare. Just make sure that you're consuming your water throughout the day and not all at once. And don't exceed 3 litres a day on a regular basis. If you are that thirsty, you should speak to a doctor because there could be an underlying issue.
Ok, so this one isn't essential, but let's face it, we all want to see how we're improving. It's a great motivation tool.
Write down what you did. How long it took. How you felt.
Did you find the workout easy? If so, are your going to increase the intensity slightly?
Was it a tough week? Why? What else happened in your week? Are your stress levels higher than usual?
These are all good points to note down in your training journal. Don't let it be just a record of your sets and reps because it won't mean very much.
Other questions to ask yourself; What did you do well? What would you do differently? What gave you confidence?
You don't need any fancy training journals for this. A simple notepad will suffice. Although, if you're anything like me, you will relish the opportunity to buy some lovely new stationary.
If you want to get the most out of your workout, make sure you are prioritising your muscle recovery.
Finish your workout properly, don't just head to the sofa and flop. There will be time for that later, I promise.
Stretch, soothe and feed your muscles. They've done a hard job.
They deserve it. You deserve it.