Gains are not made in the gym. Gains are made hours after the gym, when your body is in recovery mode, refueled and rested for optimal adaptation. So many athletes focus on training harder but never take into account how their bodies will recover from these sessions, and end up leaving potential gains on the table.
This easy post-workout routine will kickstart your recovery and stimulate the adaptation process, where all of your gym gains are consolidated.
Working out is stressful. The purpose of exercise is to place certain amounts of targeted stress on the body, to force the body to adapt to that stress and come back stronger the next time (called super compensation). The problem is, the body does not know the difference between workout stress, work stress, relationship stress or any other type. Stress is stress, and when we have too much, we cannot adapt, which leads to decreases in performance, illness and possible injury.
With this three-minute post-workout routine, you can take your body out of our stress mode (called a sympathetic nervous system response) and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, or rest and recover mode.
This will serve as a cooldown to cap off the hard work you just put in and reset your body into recovery mode so you can begin the recovery and rebuilding process before you even leave the gym.
Follow these simple steps after every intense workout, or even just in times of high stress, and watch how much better you feel immediately and hours later.
- Allow your breathing to come back to a normal level before beginning this drill, and set a timer for 3 minutes (you can build up to 5-plus minutes but set 3 as the minimum).
- Find a place on the floor, preferably somewhere quiet, where you won't be interrupted.
- Lie on your back in a comfortable position, with your feet up on a wall, box or bench. Knees and hips should be bent at 90 degrees, and low back should be flat (neutral). Elevate your hips slightly above your heart by placing a yoga block or pillow under your tailbone. Eyes should be closed; place a towel or shirt over your eyes if it helps you keep them closed and relaxed.
- Take a long, slow, deep breath through your nose. Focus on filling up your midsection with air first. Feel your lower ribs expanding, your belly lifting, and your lower back filling up with air. Notice if you feel like your breaths are shallow, getting stuck in your chest. If so, take some time to work on pulling the air down to fill your belly, and not expanding or elevating your chest.
- When you have filled your lungs from the bottom up, gently hold the air at the top for a few seconds. You should be nice and relaxed, not struggling or straining to hold the air in.
- After a few seconds, release the air by hissing through your teeth. Focus on slow, gradual exhalation, and make the hissing audible and with purpose.
- On the next inhale, count slowly, seeing how long it takes you to finish that breath. Hold gently for a few seconds, then release the air, hissing as you exhale and counting the duration of the exhale.
- As you continue this breathing, see if you can expand the length of your inhales and exhales. In particular, focus on lengthening the exhales as long as possible.
- Repeat this breathing practice for the allotted time, staying focused on the deep inhale into your belly and lengthening your exhale each time.
When the timer goes off, open your eyes and get up slowly. If you did it right, you should feel very relaxed, with your mind open and clear, and your body feeling relaxed, like you are ready to take a nap.
This little hack allows you take advantage of a few processes in the body, from optimizing parasympathetic nervous system (rest and recover) stimulation with body positions and breathing tricks, to relaxing your brain with a simple mindfulness of the breath (counting) drill. Staying focused on the counting of each breath, and where you feel that breath in your body, keeps your mind on the breath (termed mindfulness). This does not allow your mind to wander onto all the other things in your life or your day that may cause anxiety, worry, and stress, but instead keeps you centered in the moment of recovery.
All of these little tricks are commonly used in peaceful practices such as yoga, breathing workshops, and meditation, but they can be simplified and shortened for athletes in this super simple and effective post-workout routine. Try it out and hack your recovery to maximize your gains!