Podcast Notes: Muscle Recovery, Part 1
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You may recall that I underwent inguinal hernia surgery in mid-December 2019. Looking back, I'm very appreciative of this experience, because I grew mentally and physically from it. I decided to take a deeper dive into some of the things I did to facilitate recovery and how I'm able to re-grow muscle quickly to HELP YOU recover better and faster and see the results you want ASAP.
As I've mentioned in many posts and articles, under-recovery sabotages athletes and fitness enthusiasts daily. And still, 9/10 people I meet are still more focused on their exercise selection (which is very important as well) than what they do afterward. If I had a dollar for every time I watched someone enter a gym and immediately start lifting weights without a warmup, and then walk right out afterward without stretching or a cool-down, my graduate school tuition would be paid multiple times over.
I also advocate for recovery since I was once one of the people who knew nothing about its importance. When I began lifting weights, my coaches and trainers did not emphasize recovery whatsoever. Thankfully, I've been able to reverse a lot of the damages I did due to my evolving knowledge in Physical Therapy.
So, here's my deep dive on the best ways to recover after exercise. Note: this is for educational use, and I strongly encourage you to consult with your primary care provider before making any of the changes listed below in your own life.
1. Sleep like your life depends on it
Ah sleep, isn't it great? Americans have struggled greatly with sleep, as almost half of Americans report having at least one night per week of such bad sleep, it impacts them greatly the next day. Research also shows that up to 1 in 4 American adults could be living with sleep apnea. These statistics are rather alarming, especially since sleep is linked with overall health - sleep is the time for the body to strengthen its immune system, improve mood, repair muscle and damaged tissue, and more.
I strive to get 7.5 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. While recovering from surgery, I was closer to 8 or 8.5 hours per night. To help you sleep better tonight, and every night going forward, try some of my strategies to push plenty of Z's.
- Set a bedtime and a wake-up time, and stick to them. Your body functions on a cycle, its circadian rhythm. Staying consistent helps your body get in a routine of producing hormones at night to put you to sleep (such as melatonin) and hormones in the morning to wake you up. I try to fall asleep at 9 PM every night and wake up at 4:45 every morning. Since I've started doing this, I notice that I start to feel "tired" around 8:30, and tend to wake up shortly before my alarm goes off. I feel more focused and energetic throughout my day while on this schedule!
- Mouth breather like me? Talk with your doctor about mouth taping. Yeah, you read that right, I tape my mouth shut at night. I have a bad habit of breathing through my mouth, instead of my nose. In children, mouth breathing is linked to limited growth and abnormal facial structure (including changing the alignment of teeth). In adults, mouth breathing is linked with gum disease and chronic bad breath. Doesn't that sound fun? Breathing through the nose provides an additional filter to the air you breathe in, warms the air before it gets to your lungs, moisturizes air to prevent lung irritation, and increases oxygen uptake. When you breathe through your mouth all night, your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, which is activated by stress and will rob your sleep of its restorative quality.
Needless to say, I noticed some amazing changes in my sleep and overall health once I began taping my mouth at night. I no longer woke up with a dry mouth, I was able to start getting my dark circles under my eyes to disappear, and I began to feel more awake and refreshed when I woke up.
Again, this is something I would consult your healthcare provider about BEFORE trying it out. I use a micropore tape, which will permit air to flow through my mouth if needed.
- Keep your room cool: not too hot, but not too cold. Optimal sleeping temperature varies for most people. For me, I like 66-68 degrees. Play around and find what works best for you! According to sleep.org, the optimal temperature for most fall between 60-67 degrees, if you're looking for a starting place.
- Leverage white noise. You can run a fan in the background, white noises from a phone app or speaker, or even design your own thanks to some programs. Research has shown white noise helps put newborns to sleep and has shown the same benefits in a variety of populations, such as patients in a coronary critical care unit and ICU patients and beyond. Personally, the sound of the air conditioner in my room running at night is often enough for me.
- Get rid of the cell phone, tv, and any other screens 1-2 hours before bed. I know, it's really difficult to do (especially when you're busy checking out the @brawnbody Instagram page right?). The key is avoiding blue light, a type of light that inhibits melatonin production. Melatonin is vital for putting the body to sleep and maintaining circadian rhythm. If you're a graduate student like me or someone who can't take 1-2 hours away from the screens, I HIGHLY recommend wearing blue light blocking glasses. I've spent a great deal of time searching for the best blue light blocking glasses and looked at dozens of products. I've found Swanwick's Night Swannies are INCREDIBLE! I love my Swannies and wear them every night, typically about 90 minutes before bed. When my head hits the pillow at night, I'm asleep within minutes. The Swannies are stylish and have a darker tint than other Bluelight glasses I looked into. If you'd like to give them a try, click here!
2. Work your soft tissues
The body's soft tissues refer to the underlying muscles and connective tissues. From tight muscles to trigger points, soft tissue dysfunction can have a variety of negative effects on your health and recovery. Some of these impacts (which I'm seeing often as a student physical therapist) include GAIT (walking) dysfunction, postural abnormalities, limited range of motion, pain, and more. Here's some solutions to solve these soft tissue issues for good.
- Foam Roll. I love my foam roller. Studies have shown foam rolling can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, which is the pain you may feel 24-48 hours after a hard workout. Foam rolling can also increase joint range of motion, making it a great tool for pre-exercise warmups. I always foam roll as part of my warmup and my cooldown. I foam roll my upper back (shoulder blades to the last rib), quads and hamstrings (front & back of the thigh), and calves, and notice great results from it!
- Massage/Massage Gun. We’re working on the Brawn Body online store, which will include massage guns! These percussive devices are a fantastic way to break up scar tissue, perform myofascial release, and more!
-CTM Band! Click here if you’re interested in purchasing one, and use the coupon code “Brawn10” for 10% off! This band performs a deep myofascial release through a combination of compression, tension and movement! I love my CTM band and have had amazing results using it.
I also leverage Scraping and Cupping, two forms of Chinese medicine.
3. Change the temperature
I believe I'm part of a small percentage of people who enjoy extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. I've been skiing in -40 degree wind chills and spent half an hour in a 200-degree sauna, and would do both again. The ability to adapt to temperature stresses and continue to perform at a high level is a key aspect of advanced human performance. You can "hack" temperature to facilitate better recovery.
My college has a dry sauna in the sports center, which I like to use. Dry saunas heat the air to high temperatures, typically around 200 degrees. Let me tell you - you can sweat buckets just sitting in one of these long enough. Research links dry sauna use to lower rates of all-cause mortality, among countless other benefits, such as reduced inflammation and oxidative stress, increased nitric oxide and insulin sensitivity, and overall better exercise performance. As always, consult your healthcare provider before climbing into one of these (you're roasting at 200 degrees after all).
Heat is great, but sometimes you need to chill. I try to take cold showers daily. Cold showers are linked to improved metabolism, circulation, and immune functioning. Improved metabolism will help improve body composition, which is associated with a host of benefits in itself. Enhanced circulation (more blood flow) will help with recovery after exercise - again, muscles need nutrients, and the nutrients need to be able to get to the muscle. Improved functioning of the immune system means less time fighting off disease and more time training and more nutrients for muscles. Nobody likes getting sick, and being sick can have a substantial impact on your physical performance!
A LOT of recent news I've seen is focused on red light. I do not currently use red light for any purposes. I'm aware of research articles claiming countless benefits to it, however, I've also noted that most of the research articles use high powered red light devices, whereas most consumer devices are low-powered lights meant to be used as plant growing lamps. I'm diving into this deeper and will eventually try it and note its effects. For now, I'm saving my money and using it on what I know will work!
Don't you love that feeling of laying on the couch and doing nothing after a long, hard workout? You just lay down and don't feel like moving, so you don't. Although this might feel good at the time, in reality, it's sabotaging your recovery from exercise and stealing some of the progress you could have.
Per my exercise physiology class in my undergraduate days, light exercise at 20-30% VO2 max facilitates recovery. Light exercise at this intensity slightly elevates the heart rate and enhances blood flow across the body. On my rest days when I don't lift weights, I like to take recovery walks for this purpose. Walking throughout the day has countless of other benefits, some of which you can find on my first blog post here. My exercise physiology class and the information I have from it was in line with Power's Exercise Physiology textbook, which you can find on Amazon here.
Guess what? It’s important, so important that I’m dedicating a full episode to it! Stay tuned!
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Information in this post is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Consult your primary care provider prior to making any changes in your diet or lifestyle habits as discussed.