The results you get from your workouts are highly impacted by what you do while you’re not working out. Proper recovery from training sessions is necessary to build muscle, burn fat and see the results you work for.
To optimize your training experience, there are simple exercises that you can implement several times a day to help improve recovery, body positioning, stress levels, and movement. But before you add these changes to your regimen, we need to take a look at what is commonly practiced, why it might not be the best option, and how you can build on what you’re already doing.
Today’s Post-Workout Practices
Unfortunately, recovery techniques take the back seat in most people’s training program. Most people are the type to finish a workout, walk to the locker room still gasping for air after their last set and slam a protein shake. Then you take a hot shower and rush off to work, sweating through your work clothes for the next 2-3 hours.
That’s the most common “recovery” method we see today. Or something close to it. Maybe some stretching or foam rolling after a workout here and there, but you get the idea.
Doing this, or a slightly less exaggerated version, can set you up for a long day of stress – both physically and mentally. This stress can lead to poor breathing, dangerous structural alignment, and delayed recovery. Not to mention, it can also take you off your A-game during your daily activities and responsibilities. You don’t notice these negative factors because it is so normal and your body is trained to adapt – but they are happening.
You’re probably thinking, “What’s so bad about what I’m doing now? I feel fine and healthy.” This may be absolutely true. You may be incredibly healthy, but are you as healthy as you can be? I’m not the type of person to ridicule anyone’s procedures in the gym, I just want to suggest subtle tweaks that I know can take you to the next level. These tweaks are the game changers for your current and future health.
Tomorrow’s Post-Workout Practices
This is the one thing you need to do before you leave the gym every day. Breathe, consciously and correctly. You take about 23,000 breaths a day, but none are more important than the breaths you take after a training session. I’ll get into specifics soon, but first – nerd talk.
The human body is so smart. We have a sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and a parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is our fight or flight system. It is catabolic and acts in a mode of crisis when it’s turned on. The PNS is our rest and digest system. It is anabolic, and we are designed to spend most of our time in this state of mind – but we don’t.
When you work out, your SNS is turned up to the max. This can heighten your blood pressure, increase heart rate, decrease your digestive function and constrict the blood vessels. Most of this is helpful when you’re pumping iron, however, since our SNS was designed for actual life-threatening situations, you can see how repeatedly or continuously activating the SNS can lead to some damaging effects over time.
When you finish your workout and rush to your next task, you’re putting yourself at a huge disadvantage because you leave your SNS on and super active. It’s taxing on your body – inside and out – and can be counterproductive to your goals and slowly break you down.
So how do you fix this? Let’s talk about breathing.
Take a Breather
Your number one goal after a workout should be to turn the SNS off. You need to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system to fully recover, build that new muscle, digest that protein shake, etc.
By getting yourself back to a parasympathetic state, you’re kick-starting the recovery process and giving yourself a better chance at optimal recovery – which we know can lead to strength, power, speed and size.
Here’s what you do:
At the very least, perform a cool down. Take yourself down a couple notches. Walk around the gym, catch your breath and maybe even incorporate some light mobility work to cap off the workout. This is something you must do. Failing to do so is going to eventually be your demise.
As of late, stretching has come under a lot of scrutiny in the fitness industry. I am in support of a post-workout stretch release. I feel that this is a great way to help expedite the recovery process. The typical arm circles and toe touches aren’t going to cut it here though. You need to stretch thoughtfully, based on what areas are still active after your workout. Don’t hold your stretches for time, hold them for breaths. Breathe deep in and out during the stretch to help relax those muscles that won’t “turn off.” I typically go for 5-7 breaths on each hold.
This is a combination of exercises that I’ve been taught by a host of different health professionals and blended it into my own little daily exercise. I didn’t invent this, just put my own little spin on existing practices.
4-6-8 breathing is a very simple exercise that will really help you get yourself back to a relaxed state of mind, not only in the gym, but in stressful life situations as well. If you can’t perform it correctly, it can also be telling of some of your structural imbalances that need to be addressed.
Lying down on your back, start with a full exhale. Then you simply inhale a deep, diaphragmatic breath for 4-seconds, hold your breath with a relaxed face for 6-seconds (show no signs up stress or strain), then exhale through pursed lips for 8-seconds (control your airflow). Repeat that 4 times in a row. When you feel comfortable, you can repeat it for 6 times and then eventually 8 times in a row. 4-6-8, get it?
Here are a couple of tips for proper breathing.
- Exhale first, then start your conscious breathing.
- Breathe in through your nose, into your diaphragm.
- Your breath should expand your core in three dimensions (front, sides and back).
- Try to control what your pelvic floor and rib cage are doing. Keep them facing each other.
Do this up to 4 times a day, every day. One of those times being after a workout. This will help you fall asleep, relief stress, avoid your cravings, tune out your annoying boss, refrain from honking at the idiot teenager texting and driving, etc. Trust me. This is your ticket to a happier life in literally less than 3 minutes a day.
Additional avenues that you can explore are meditation, massage, and hypnosis. Yes, I’ve tried all three. Yes, I have been hypnotized. Yes, it was awesome. Try it out! Although they aren’t going to be immediately after your workout, it’s still great to get away using these methods and just give yourself a little you time.
Get to the gym 5 minutes earlier and start to utilize some of all of these methods and I guarantee you’ll start to notice you are recovering faster, training more effectively and living a more stress-free life!
About Justin Ochoa
Justin Ochoa is the head personal trainer & gym manager at 1 & Only Fitness (Fishers, Indiana). A NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Group Training Specialist, Fitness Nutrition Specialist and TRX Level 1 Coach, he works with a wide variety of clients ranging from professional athletes to rehabilitation patients. Besides lifting heavy objects and stuffing his face with reheated chicken breasts, Justin enjoys spending his time with his wife, son, and dog. Follow him on Twitter,Instagram and Facebook today.