Friday, September 16, 2011

After your workout: A 3-part plan (plus a bonus step).

I was at the gym Monday, and after our workout, one of my colleagues asked "so, what should I be doing now?"
What a simple question.  What a tremendously important question.  I have a 3-part plan for you, beginning from just after your workout through the rest of the day.  This plan will address clearing metabolic waste, and addressing the resting length (or tension) of muscles.
In my last post, I addressed the importance of removing metabolic waste from muscles. If a muscle is holding too much tension, it is like holding a squeezed sponge-you can't get any more old stuff out, or any fresh new stuff in.  So, we need to get the muscles to stop holding on to their tension to allow for better circulation (muscle tension holding patterns create countless other postural and systemic problems, but I'm solely focusing on recovery right now).  Your 3-part plan, post workout:

1. Cool Down - Do a little cool down...jog a little, do some air squats, go through some lift movements with a PVC pipe.  Don't work hard...just keep the muscles lightly working for, say 5-7
without a load so they can clear the waste faster than they are creating it.  Then they have more of building blocks for recovery.  Some examples: 30 seconds of air squats, 30 seconds of "presses" with PVC, dynamic stretches.  Just try to pick something that mimics some of the movements in your workout.

2. Stretch - Once you've cooled down for a little bit, stretch.  Right after a workout, the muscles are warm and pliable, making it a perfect opportunity to stretch!  But let me give you just a little "why" to stretch after a workout. The purpose of stretching here is for muscle reeducation. As we workout, muscles contract and shorten.  The muscles get used to this shortening and begin to think that the shortened position is where they are "supposed" to be when resting.  When a muscle is too short or holding too much tension, it's like the aforementioned sponge - limiting circulation.  Additionally, think of it like a rubber band that's all the way shortened.  In order for the muscle to do work, it must shorten further.  But if it's already as short as it gets, then there's nowhere to go, and the muscle can't perform.  Stretching right after a workout will help to get the muscle to rest at a longer length.  Ultimately this can increase range of motion, and muscle performance (read: strength).

3. Home Care - This one has its own 3 sub-parts: continued stretching, icing and self-massage.
3a. Keep stretching a few times throughout the day.  This will just help to reinforce the proprioceptive reeducation and maintain or increase your range of motion.
3b. If you are particularly sore somewhere, or have a minor, acute injury, you can use ice to further knock down any inflammation and make room for my favorite - increased circulation.  It also relieves pain, and that's a good thing when you're sore, right?
3c. Self massage is completely something you can do yourself, and I've just discovered this nice little collection of videos to help you address some of your own body:

Bonus Step  - Take recovery days!  I'm enjoying one right now.  I was tempted to run or do something today, but I know I need a recovery day. On a recovery day, don't be completely sedentary, walk, stretch - just kick up some circulation.  A yoga class would have been a wonderful recovery activity for me today (just avoid the "power" classes on recovery days).