The Perfect Recovery Day Routine

You've been killing it in the gym and know that you need to take a day off. So what should you do? Here is an example of what a great recovery day might look like.

You didn’t know it at the time, but you sure do now. Your muscles are screaming. You overdid it with your workout. Now you need to know how to get past the pain. To determine what steps you should take, let’s begin with a detailed look at what’s going on in your body.

How Your Body Reacts to Exercise

When you work out, you’re actually causing muscle tissue damage. Tiny tears occur in muscle fibers which, in turn, triggers a reaction from your immune system. Your body will attempt to repair the damage through the inflammatory response. Common symptoms include swelling, redness, and warmth where the injury occurred. Then, of course, there is the telltale pain.

Your body reacts with these specific actions because it speeds healing. The swelling comes from the rush of fluids and white blood cells to the area. The redness and warmth help create an environment inhospitable to bacteria while hurrying the repair process. Some activities are more likely to trigger these responses. They include:

● Strength or weight training
● Jogging or running, especially downhill
● Step aerobics.

Working out also destroys red blood cells which transport oxygen. DOMS or delayed onset of muscle soreness occurs within a day or two of heavy exercise. It can happen to anyone no matter how fit. It is often a problem if you work out in a different manner without giving your body time to adjust to the new activity.

Parts of Your Recovery Routine

The essential thing to remember is that your body is reacting with an automatic response to injury. The goal is the quickest recovery. While you may feel miserable, your immune system is taking charge to make the downtime go by past. The trick with recovery is to balance giving your body the time and support it needs to heal while keeping you comfortable.

Rest or Activity Rest?

Your first instinct is probably to rest. After all, you’re sore and tired. Unfortunately, that’s one of the worst things you can do. It’ll lead to stiffness which can make the pain more intense. A wiser course of action is light activity. It will support the increased blood flow to the injury site. That will bring reinforcements with white blood cells while removing waste products from cell damage.

Your routine should include some active rest such as walking and stretching. Stick with light intensity to avoid further damage to muscle tissue. As always, listen to your body. Don’t force yourself to be active if you experience sharp pain.

To Ice or Not to Ice

Contrary to popular belief, ice might not be the best option for your recovery day routine, explains the American Physiological Society. There is no doubt that it will reduce swelling and inflammation. But that’s the problem. When you halt the immune response, you delay healing. That’s not to say you have to ditch the ice pack because it will also reduce pain.

Ice is best during the early onset of the process to keep you comfortable. Then, other options like massage and heat can provide further relief from the discomfort and stiffness. The same holds true for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin. Take what you need to manage your pain, but let your immune system take over.

If you do use ice, make sure and wrap the pack in a towel. Never put an ice pack directly on your skin. Keep it in place for short bouts of 20 minutes or less about three or more times a day as needed. Elevate your leg in a comfortable position whenever you use this treatment.

Putting on the Heat

Heat is another essential part of the recovery process. It will increase blood flow and thus, the healing of damaged muscle tissue. It will speed delivery of nutrients and other chemicals your body will need to begin the repair. Your body will lay down scar tissue over the damaged area to strengthen it. Heat will ensure a steady supply of the raw materials it needs.

The Ideal Routine

As you may guess, time is an important factor in the recovery process. The perfect routine depends on your stage of recovery and inflammation. The recommended actions differ and thus, your day, during the process. If DOMS has just started, incorporate the following things into your day for the first three days:

Initial Recovery Stages

  • A good night’s rest to put your body in the best state for healing
  • A healthy breakfast that includes nutrients that support tissue repair like foods rich in vitamin C and magnesium
  • A light session of activity around 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how you feel
  • Ice and NSAIDs as necessary to decrease pain
You’ll know that the inflammation is winding down when you notice the initial symptoms of swelling and redness abating. Remember, it has to run its course.

Post Inflammatory Stages

  • Emphasis on good sleep patterns continues
  • Healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables while avoiding greasy and fried foods
  • Multiple sessions of light activity
  • Heat application following ice recommendations

Once the inflammation has eased up, replace the ice sessions with heat application taking the same precautions. You can continue this plan until your injury or DOMS are fully resolved. As you move toward full activity, increase your light exercise gradually while cutting back on the ice, heat, and NSAIDs. Let your body be your guide. Usually, it takes about three to five days.

You should plan on resuming regular workouts only after your pain has ceased. If something still hurts, you may use an awkward stance that can worsen an existing injury. If you’re still experiencing issues after five days or more, consult your doctor.

Recovering from a strenuous workout depends on giving your body what it needs to follow its natural course of repair. You should limit pain management to what’s necessary to keep you comfortable during those first few days when DOMS has begun. Afterward, your routine should focus on the support your body needs for full recovery. With patience, you’ll be back in no time.

TFT Team

Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see “TFT Team” this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

You've been killing it in the gym and know that you need to take a day off. So what should you do? Here is an example of what a great recovery day might look like.