Everyone knows about doing a pre-workout warm-up, but did you know that it’s the warm down that decides whether you’ll recover in time for your next session? Read the new rules of recovery…
The Warm Up Happens Anyway
We know what you’re thinking: ‘I already do a warm-up, now I have to find time for a warm-down too? Well, the chances are you’re doubling up on the first part. ‘There’s mixed evidence for doing warm-ups before exercise, especially for things like stretching,’ Orthopedic Surgeon Dr Al-Amin Kassam tells RISING. ‘Stretching before exercise does not actually reduce the risk of injury,’ he adds. ‘People tend to warm-up well just as they start their exercise, because they start slowly and build up – that gets the blood supply going to the muscles and gets them loose.’
‘Warm downs can potentially improve your immune response after exercise’
2. Warm Downs Fast-Track Recovery
Re-investing some of your time into warming down may actually do more for injury prevention. ‘There’s good evidence that warming down in the form of five minutes of jogging or cycling, and five minutes of stretching the muscles actually helps recovery,’ says Dr Kassam. It gets your oxygen intake back to normal quicker, helping your muscles. ‘Active recovery, such as warming down, removes lactate from the blood more quickly than just doing stretching on its own.’
Your body temperature shoots up during exercise, and because warming down smooths the rate that it comes back down again, it guards against a surprising effect of stopping cold. ‘If you just stop immediately after exercising, that causes a massive drop in body temperature which can potentially reduce your immune response and increase your risk of getting infections.’
3. Sleep Is The Best Medicine
The other boost that a warm-down delivers is to your nervous system. ‘The warm down dampens down the activity of your nervous system – your brain and your nerves – and helps you to sleep better afterwards. Sleep is a really efficient way of getting oxygen to your muscles, which actually helps recovery,’ says Dr Kassam. Whenever we exercise we break down muscle tissue, so recovery is all about allowing more regeneration to occur than breakdown, to get stronger and fitter. ‘During sleep your hormone levels are getting back to normal and your body is starting to rebuild some of the muscle.’
4. Get The Refuelling Basics Right
Of course, post-workout nutrition is vital for good recovery. ‘The key thing is fluids and within 2-3 hours of your exercise getting food in.’ Water on it’s own won’t cut it though. ‘It will just pass through your system. A key component of your sweat is sodium and chlorine so you need those electrolytes in the water.’ Together with this you need carbs, and not just the sports drink kind. ‘You need a mixture of carbohydrates, both short acting and longer acting – fruit as well as flapjacks to get the complex carbs that really help with recovery. You need some protein as well because you need the essential amino acids to help start rebuilding some of the muscle.’
5. Injury Prevention Starts During The Workout
We know that becoming dehydrated impacts on performance, but not many of us connect the dots for the injury risk of this. ‘They did a study with tennis players and looked at their accuracy at hitting a target. One group they let drink water and electrolytes while they were playing for two hours and the other group didn’t drink. The first group were more accurate after two hours at hitting targets.’ And being more accurate in your movements means you are less likely to turn an ankle, or suffer from some other injurious misstep.
‘You’re still only at about 70-80% of your capacity at 48 hours after you have worked out’
6. Recovery Brings You Back Up To Capacity
Many of us cram workouts in on consecutive days to follow rigorous plans that we think are going to transform our performance or physiques. It’s good to be dedicated but without proper rest days we can actually end up going backwards, and risking disastrous injury. ‘If you really push the gym at the start of a year then your muscles get weaker and you lose your proprioception, so you are at an increased risk of ligament injuries because your muscles are so tired from rigorous workouts,’ says Kassam.
A classic error is to hit the gym every day but not switch things up. ‘If you’re at the gym every day and are exercising the same muscle groups then you are going to lose capacity, which is going to increase your risk of injury,’ says Kassam.
‘There is good evidence that even with a good warm down, good fluids and diet you are still only at about 70-80% of your capacity at 48 hours after you have worked out. You’re almost at 100% after 78 hours with good recovery.’ The medical message from this is that you need to either allow this full recovery period, or you need to exercise different muscle groups on different days so that you are not fatiguing.
7. Massage And Ice Baths Are Overrated
A nice massage can do wonders for your mood – an ice bath less so. But there’s good and bad news. ‘Massage does make you feel better but there is no actual evidence around it helping recovery. There’s also no real evidence behind ice baths or alternate hot and cold,’ says Kassam.
One thing you can do for yourself is maintain levels of iron in your diet, due to its role in muscle recovery. ‘Iron is useful because you lose a lot of iron in sweat and body functions. Iron is really important because it helps to make haemoglobin, which carries your oxygen around. You can get in the form of red meat in your protein intake after exercise, or iron supplementation can be useful.’
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Dr Al-Amin Kassam is Orthopedic Surgeon at Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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