Recovery is increasingly becoming a hot topic in the fitness community. For decades, lifters have been going to the gym straight from work or school, doing a couple of static stretches and jumping into their workouts, only to zip out of the gym in time to make it home for Monday Night Football. But finally, lifters are beginning to understand how important recovery is.
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Most supplement companies now sell products specifically designed to help you recover. Movement experts like Kelly Starrett are convincing people to take the time to perform basic maintenance on themselves to stay active and injury-free.
All this craze around recovery is great. Recovery is just as important as exercise. You can’t have one without the other. The only problem is that most people think of recovery as a long-term thing. It happens in the hours after your workout, and they change their habits around that. Most avid lifters make sure to drink a protein shake after their workouts, but the recovery process often ends there. They are missing the biggest window of opportunity to help their bodies grow.
During and immediately after a workout, catabolic hormones are at their highest, and testosterone secretion is actually suppressed. This spike in cortisol is important to facilitate the breakdown and subsequent building up of muscle tissue. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol are associated with low levels of testosterone, fatigue and overtraining. Your goal, then, should be to make the most of this acute spike in catabolic hormones, then return to an anabolic state as quickly as possible.
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This means you shouldn’t just go right from the gym to cooking dinner at home or lying down and watching a high-stakes football game. You need to seize the opportunity right after you train to do what you can to get a head start on lowering those catabolic hormones as fast as possible. You can do this through downregulation: a conscious calming of the body after you train that returns you to your baseline level of arousal. Just taking a few minutes after a workout to calm your body down is a step in the right direction for long-term health and continued growth.
15-Minute Downregulation Routine
Dynamic Cooldown (2 minutes)
A dynamic cooldown is similar to a dynamic warm-up, but with a greater focus on the mind-body connection and calming the body. It can be something as simple as a few Lunges and stretches, to something slightly more complicated like a few rounds of a yoga sequence. The goal is to cool down the body while working to build mind-muscle connection when the body is still warm. This is a great time to feel your body out and take note of anything that may feel strained or tight after your workout. The more you tune into your mind-body connection, the stronger your body becomes and the better you get at knowing when it may be a good time to take a break from training to avoid injury.
Dead Hang (1 minute)
Many of the movements we do in the gym involve loading the axial skeleton and flexion/extension of the spine under load. This heavy repetitive movement contributes to compression in the spine and sometimes causes low back pain. Taking the time to hang limp from a pull-up bar for 60 seconds can be a great way to open up both the back and the shoulders. This isn’t a cure to serious back issues, but it’s a great way to stay loose after a workout. Let gravity do the work and get a forearm workout at the same time.
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Static Stretching (6 minutes)
If flexibility is something you want to work on, throw in a simple static stretching series during downregulation, as long as it isn’t too taxing or difficult. Remember, you are trying to get to a point of calm and quiet, not revving your body back up. The purpose of dynamic stretching during a warm-up is to regain lost range of motion before exercise. If you increase your range of motion beyond the safe range before you lift, you risk putting yourself in an unsafe position while exercising that could cause injury. For this reason, the best time to work on mobility and static stretching is after a workout, when your body is still warm.
Feet-Elevated Breathing (6 minutes)
The most impactful thing you can do to influence your body’s production of catabolic and anabolic hormones is to control your breathing. Your breath is linked to many systems in your body.
There are many techniques you can use to work on controlling your breath. You can start by simply focusing on taking deeper breaths, or work on slowly increasing the length of your exhales. You can get a bit more advanced by performing sets of box breathing, where the breath is taken in, held at the top, exhaled, and held at the bottom for the same amount of time. Elevating the feet also takes some hard work off the heart, allowing it to recover to a resting rate more quickly.
Drink a Protein Shake
Although the theory of the “anabolic window” is far from proven, it’s still a good idea to consume a protein shake or a small meal after you exercise. Protein and amino acids are the building blocks for muscles. Part of good post-workout nutrition is getting in enough macronutrients to replace the ones your body used during exercise. Adding a post-workout shake to your gym routine is an easy way to create a habit and make sure that you are getting all the nutrients that you need.