How to recover after workouts
There are few feelings so satisfying as the moment you finish an intense workout (especially if it occurred on a weekend morning after a particularly wild night).
Some self-proclaimed morning people complete their workouts before many of us even wake up; they claim it gives them more energy to get through the day. But working out often exhausts me, and if I work out too early, it only makes me more tired. What’s more, as I get older, workouts that are too intense can lead to achy muscles for days. That's the best-case scenario. Worst case? I tweak a muscle in my neck or lower back and am down for the count for a week. The best solution to “gym pains” is to pay close attention to form and not overdo it. Experts also recommend combatting the intensity of aggressive workout routines with regular sports massages. But there are plenty of alternatives to massages, with many of the same benefits that are growing in popularity and are often a fraction of the price.
Here are five treatments that can speed up the workout recovery process, address aches and pains (from the gym or sitting at a desk all day), and even help destress you.
The most common treatment on the list, acupuncture, is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that balances the flow of energy within your body (called qi) by sticking very thin needles in pressure points. Medical studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have shown acupuncture to be effective for treating various conditions. While acupuncture is most often used for pain management, it can target everything from digestive issues to anxiety. So, unlike most massages, it’s possible to treat lower back pain while helping manage your stress. While acupuncture can be as expensive as a massage, it is occasionally covered by insurance.
While many gyms provide access to hot saunas for post-workout recoveries, you have to seek out a cryosauna for a session. Cryosaunas expose the body to extremely cold temperatures for two to four minutes to catalyze “fight or flight mode” and generate many health benefits, including addressing nerve irritation and arthritic pain. It’s like an ice pack with superpowers. The biggest downside? It’s really, really cold.
It seems like you can’t go to the beach these days without seeing at least one person with a pattern of round, symmetrical bruises all over their back. These bruises are the consequence of cupping, which is the practice of placing small round cups all over the back and using suction to stimulate blood flow. The extra blood flow is thought to encourage quicker healing and reduce pain. While there is less scientific proof of the efficacy of cupping than there is massage and acupuncture, it’s safe to try and many professional athletes swear by it.
4. Infrared saunas
It’s been scientifically proven that heat is good for pain relief and combating inflammation (who doesn't have a heating pad in their closet?). Infrared saunas take heat-responsive therapy one step further than regular saunas by using infrared light, which heats the body from within and can better penetrate muscles and joints. Not only does the heat reduce aches and pains, but it can increase flexibility. Some studies have likened the effects to hot yoga, but in a quicker amount of time and without exertion. Infrared saunas are becoming increasingly popular and seem more accessible than cryosaunas (some have even installed them in their homes).
5. Sensory deprivation tanks
A sensory deprivation tank does exactly what you’d expect: it deprives all the senses to trigger extreme relaxation. It does this by allowing you to float in your back in a small amount of water in the dark. Like cupping, a few studies suggest there are benefits to sensory deprivation tanks that range from anxiety reduction to pain alleviation and physical recovery. Still, the studies are preliminary and less thorough than those of acupuncture and infrared. Another downside of sensory deprivation tanks is, given the uniqueness of the offering, they aren’t easy to come by outside of major cities.
Khalid El Khatib is a Brooklyn-based writer and marketer who tweets too much.