Recovery is such an important part of keeping your body healthy and happy. It can often be very confusing and daunting to work out what the best recovery methods are. To begin with, let’s start with, what does recovery mean?
Recovery is defined as:
“the act or process of getting better; improvement”
This is a generic definition, but if we make it more specific to health and fitness. Recovery is the improvement of muscle performance and reduction of pain after physical stress. However, it is important to consider that mental recovery is just as important as physical. If your head is not in the game, it’s also going to affect your physical performance.
There are lots of different physical recovery methods, in this blog we are going to dive into just a few and look at the scientific evidence to determine which one is the best.
A few different type of recovery methods include:
- Foam rolling
- Cold Water immersion
- Compression garments
Let’s start with foam rolling. First of all, what is a foam roller? A foam roller is a self-myofascial release (SMR) tool, which essentially means self-massage. The research has found that foam rolling immediately after exercise and every 24 hours post enhances recovery, reduces muscle soreness and improves performance (1). You should complete foam rolling for 45secs on, 15secs rest for each sore muscle group.
So, is foam rolling a good recovery method? Yes! If you want to reduce muscle pain and improve performance, foam rolling is such a great cheap option. You only have to spend money on the roller and then it is yours for life. Much cheaper than a massage! You can check out our 2 roller options here.
Cold Water Immersion
Cold water immersion, more commonly referred to as an ice bath, is another recovery method that is used, especially in the athletic population. A Cochrane Review (which is the highest level of scientific research) was completed to determine whether an ice bath improves muscle soreness (2). What did they find? It was determined that cold water immersion does indeed reduce muscle soreness but there was not enough research that recommended its safety or appropriate dosage.
Should you get in an ice bath for recovery? It will reduce muscle soreness, however, there is no current recommendations for how long, how cold or how often you should perform it and its not known if it is 100% safe. As a result, it’s an unnecessarily uncomfortable method of recovery and there are much easier, cheaper options to choose from.
A compression garment is athletic wear that has been designed to provide compression (pressure) to your muscles. For example, compression tights, are leggings that are tighter than normal. These are commonly used in the athletic population for recovery. So, should you use compression garments? Let’s look at the evidence. A randomised controlled trial was conducted and found that those who wore compression garments after eccentric exercise had significantly less muscle soreness than the group who did not (3). They also found that those wearing the garments had a significantly faster recovery in isometric strength.
So, this makes it sound like you should go out and buy a pair of compression garments, yes? No, not necessarily. Whilst this is an effective strategy for those who need to quickly recovery from muscle soreness and return to high level performance (i.e. athletes). It is not necessary if you are a recreational exerciser, it is an unnecessary cost and effort.
The most used recovery method is stretching, but is it good for reducing muscle soreness and improving performance? A Cochrane Review was completed to evaluate research that looked at stretching effectiveness to reduce muscle soreness (4). It was consistently found that stretching had little or no effect on muscle soreness a week after exercise. So, should you stretch when you’re sore? If you are trying to reduce the soreness, then there are more effective methods (as outlined above) to achieve this. If stretching makes you feel good and it is something you like to do, there is no harm. Listen to your body.
Based on the research outlined above, foam rolling is the most effective method to prevent and improve muscle soreness after physical exercise (4). However, there are many other forms of recovery that this blog does not go into, at the end of the day, if it feels good for you and it is not causing harm, use it. If you are struggling with specific soreness or injury, please reach out to your local physiotherapist for individualised advice.
Stay tuned for more blogs on recovery and other health related education.
- Pearcey, G. E., Bradbury-Squires, D. J., Kawamoto, J. E., Drinkwater, E. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2015). Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of athletic training, 50(1), 5-13.
- Bleakley, C., McDonough, S., Gardner, E., Baxter, G. D., Hopkins, J. T., & Davison, G. W. (2012). Cold‐water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2).
- Kim, J., Kim, J., & Lee, J. (2017). Effect of compression garments on delayed-onset muscle soreness and blood inflammatory markers after eccentric exercise: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of exercise rehabilitation, 13(5), 541.
- Herbert, R. D., de Noronha, M., & Kamper, S. J. (2011). Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (7).