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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

Beyond the Cool-Down: Exploring Holistic Exercise Recovery Techniques


Approaching fitness with a mindful, personal, and functional mindset can help us maintain our health and mobility while promoting longevity, rather than the “no pain, no gain” mentality that often prevails. By prioritizing a balanced and sustainable approach to exercise, we can better listen to our bodies and make informed choices that support overall well-being. However, even with the best intentions to tune into our bodies' needs during physical activity, it is inevitable that muscle soreness and fatigue will occasionally arise as a natural response to exertion.


Fortunately, in today's wellness landscape, there exists an array of exceptional holistic recovery tools and methods designed to aid the body's rejuvenation and replenishment. These tools and techniques serve as valuable assets in our pursuit of optimal recovery, allowing us to bounce back faster and more efficiently from intense workouts or demanding physical endeavors. With that in mind, this post will delve into some of the most effective fitness recovery tools that I personally recommend, empowering individuals to embrace the healing process and optimize their fitness journeys.


"Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live." - Jim Rohn



 


TABLE OF CONTENTS


 

PERCUSSIVE MASSAGE WITH A THERAPY GUN FOR MUSCLE RECOVERY


1. WHAT IS A THERAPY MASSAGE GUN?


In recent years, the use of handheld percussive massage treatment has become increasingly popular and for good reason. Various manufacturers offer percussion devices that can be used for self-massage or by a therapist, with the ability to vibrate at frequencies of up to 53 Hz. These devices come with multiple attachments that cater to different areas of the body that require massage. Some of the popular models include Hypervolt and Theragun. Personally, I own a Hypervolt and use it regularly to alleviate muscle tension and prevent soreness.


percussion massage gun
Percussive Massager

2. DO PERCUSSIVE MASSAGERS WORK? MASSAGE GUNS BENEFITS.

Research suggests that incorporating therapy guns into your exercise routine can provide significant benefits in terms of:

  • Reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

  • Enhancing range of motion (ROM)

These innovative devices, designed to deliver percussive massage therapy, have been shown to effectively alleviate muscle tension and promote faster recovery without compromising strength. By integrating a therapy gun massage into either your pre-workout warm-up regimen or post-workout recovery routine, you can harness its potential to optimize your overall exercise experience. Whether you use it to prepare your muscles for activity or to aid in their recovery afterward, a therapy gun can serve as a valuable addition to your fitness toolkit, helping you achieve better results and maintain a healthy exercise regimen.

3. HOW DO THERAPY MASSAGE GUNS WORK?

  1. The percussive massage increases blood flow to the tissue which helps minimize lactic acid buildup.

  2. Percussion in massage reduces pain perception due to the vibration therapy, which stimulates different pain receptors and interrupts the pain pathway.

  3. Utilizing a therapy gun applies pressure and friction to the treated muscle, skin, and fascia, resulting in decreased resistance to movement of the tissue.

  4. Less muscle knots and tension in the body mean better lymphatic drainage allowing your body to excrete toxins and waste more effectively.


 

COLD WATER IMMERSION/COLD-PLUNGE FOR RECOVERY


Ice Bath tub
Home Cold Plunge

One of the most popular methods gaining traction among athletes and fitness enthusiasts is cold water immersion. This technique involves immersing your body in cold water after exercise to promote muscle recovery and reduce inflammation. While it may sound daunting, cold water immersion has been shown to have several benefits for post-workout recovery. I'm a convert and have a cold-plunge in my garage. I LOVE IT!


1. WHAT IS COLD WATER IMMERSION?


Cold water immersion (CWI) is a form of hydrotherapy that involves exposing your body to cold water for a short period of time. The temperature of the water can vary depending on your preference and tolerance, but the temperature for ice bath is usually below 15°C (59°F). As a point of reference, my home cold plunge is currently set at 44°F (which feels pretty chilly!) and I have been working my way down to this temperature. You can immerse yourself in cold water by taking a shower, bath, or dip in a natural or artificial body of water. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • You can start with contrast showers, which involve alternating between hot and cold water for several cycles.

  • Gradually lower the temperature of your shower or bath until you reach the coldest setting. This can help you acclimate to colder temperatures and build up your resilience.

  • You can try ice baths, which involve filling a tub with ice and water and submerging yourself up to your neck for a brief period of time. How long to cold plunge is up to you. I started out with only seconds and have increased my time as I became more resilient. Generally, it is recommended to keep your time UNDER 10 minutes.

  • Make sure you breathe to calm your nervous system down. The cold water will trigger your sympathetic nervous system, AKA the flight-or-flight response. Breathing and learning to calm your nervous system can help your body become more resilient to stress.


2. HOW DOES COLD WATER IMMERSION WORK & WHAT ARE COLD PLUNGE BENEFITS?


Taking a cold plunge has so many health benefits beyond muscle and exercise recovery including reduced stress, weight management, increased metabolism, and improved insulin sensitivity. But here are some of the benefits specifically related to exercise recovery:

  1. Cold water causes vasoconstriction of your blood vessels which can decrease the amount of lactic acid that accumulates in the muscles after exercise.

  2. Vasoconstriction of the blood vessels will also decrease inflammation and swelling in the body by reducing blood flow to the affected area. Additionally, the numbing process from the cold provides pain relief, which can also decrease inflammation and accelerate the healing process.

  3. Cold water immersion can facilitate the removal of waste products from the muscles by promoting blood flow and circulation. After your blood vessels vasoconstrict, they will then vasodilate, increasing blood flow to the tissue to flush out the waste products.

 

SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE (SMR) AND TRIGGER POINT THERAPY FOR MUSCLE RECOVERY


WHAT IS MYOFASCIAL RELEASE?


Myofascial release is a manual therapy technique that involves applying sustained pressure to the myofascial connective tissue to alleviate pain and tension in the body. Myofascial refers to the muscles (myo) and the fascia, which is a thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds and supports the muscles, bones, and organs. When there is tension or restriction in the fascia, it can cause pain and discomfort in the body.


foam rollers
My home recovery tools! Cat included!

Numerous tools are available in the market for myofascial self release, including foam rollers and massage balls (The above picture is a sampling of the tools I own and use). Among these tools, foam rollers have gained popularity for their ease of use and effectiveness in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), increasing range of motion, and promoting post-exercise recovery. Foam rolling describes a form of self-massage that uses body weight in conjunction with a device like a foam roller to apply pressure to tight tissues.


2. WHY DO FOAM ROLLERS AND TRIGGER POINT THERAPY WORK?


There are many proposed mechanisms of action allowing myofascial release to achieve its effect. Without getting into too much detail, some of these mechanisms are:

  • ALTERING CONNCECTIVE TISSUE PROPERTIES

  • IMPROVED NEUROMUSCLUAR AND ARTERIAL FUNCTION

  • AUTONOMIC NERVIOUS SYSTEM STIUMULATION

  • INCREASED HYDRATION OF THE TISSUE


3. BENEFTIS OF FOAM ROLLERS AND SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE

  1. DECREASED DOMS: SMR is suggested to promote recovery and optimize performance after DOMS by influencing the damaged connective tissues through increasing blood flow, which in turn promotes blood lactate removal, edema reduction, and tissue healing and oxygen delivery to the muscle.

  2. IMPROVED ROM AND FLEXIBILITY: SMR alters connective tissue properties and increasing tissue hydration which in turn promotes improved movement of the tissue.

  3. ENHANCED MUSCLE PERFORMANCE & RECOVERY: SMR stimulates the autonomic nervous system, reducing muscle fatigue and soreness, and attenuating exercise-induced decreases in sprint and strength performance.

  4. STRESS REDUCTION: SMR activates the parasympathetic nervous system and lowers cortisol levels, which are beneficial with stress reduction.


 

Taking a holistic approach to fitness and recovery can greatly benefit our overall health and well-being. By incorporating mindful and functional exercises into our routines and utilizing effective recovery tools, we can maintain our mobility and promote longevity in a sustainable and healthy way.


So, let's prioritize our bodies' recovery needs and invest in the right tools and methods to achieve optimal results in our fitness journeys.


Remember, the path to success in fitness is not just about pushing ourselves to the limit but also about taking care of ourselves along the way.










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REFERENCES

1. Bleakley CM, Davison GW. What is the biochemical and physiological rationale for using cold-water immersion in sports recovery? A systematic review. Br J Sports Med 44: 79–187, 2010

2. Cole, Gibwa. (2018). The Evidence Behind Foam Rolling: A Review. 3. 194-206.

3. Higgins, Trevor R.1,2; Greene, David A.1; Baker, Michael K.1. Effects of Cold Water Immersion and Contrast Water Therapy for Recovery From Team Sport: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31(5):p 1443-1460, May 2017. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001559

4. Konrad A, Glashüttner C, Reiner MM, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles' Range of Motion and Performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Nov 19;19(4):690-694. PMID: 33239942; PMCID: PMC7675623.

5. Okamoto, Takanobu1; Masuhara, Mitsuhiko2; Ikuta, Komei3. Acute Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28(1):p 69-73, January 2014. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31829480f5



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