But, according to expert trainers, that couldn’t be further from the truth. “When people (including athletes) think about ‘getting into shape,’ they think about the workouts, and possibly diet, but rarely consider the importance of rest and recovery,” explains Shana Verstegen, a TRX master trainer. It’s important to keep things in perspective: “A one-hour workout is only 4% of the 24 hours that is needed to focus on becoming healthier, stronger and fitter,” Verstegen points out. “The minute the exercise routine ends, the recovery before the next workout begins.”
That means you’ll want to do things immediately after your workout to help you recover, like foam rolling and hydrating. But you’ll also want to think long-term, prioritizing practices like getting enough sleep, eating well and having a solid mobility and flexibility routine.
What does that look like? Let’s dig a little deeper into why recovery is so important, plus how to put together a routine of your own.
WHY SHOULD YOU START A RECOVERY ROUTINE?
“I like to tell folks a recovery routine is like taking care of your car,” says Brian Nguyen, an Under Armour Performance trainer and CEO of Elementally Strong. “What we’re really talking about is prolonging the lifetime and capacities of our bodies.” Think about it: If you put your car through a lot of use, there’s wear and tear that comes along with that. But taking care of your car can make a difference in how it performs and how long it lasts, explains Nguyen.
So what kind of difference can a recovery routine actually make? Turns out, a pretty big one.
Better Performance … and Less Risk of Injury
“A solid recovery routine will help you become faster, stronger and help you perform better because — bottom line — you’ll have less pain,” says Nguyen. When you’re in pain, even just from muscle soreness, you’re more likely to compensate with your movement patterns, which could lead to injury. This is true both in exercise-related movement and in everyday life movement.
For those who have aesthetic goals like losing fat or gaining muscle, adequate recovery is especially important, particularly getting enough sleep. “Poor sleep quality can lead to both increased cortisol levels and decreased human growth hormone production,” says Michael Piercy, MS, owner and founder of The LAB. Both could impact your ability to lose fat and/or gain muscle.
“Recovery reduces inflammation, stressors and compensations which makes you feel better,” explains Nguyen. “If you feel better, you move better and, ultimately, move more.” And moving more leads to better health overall.
For overall health, prioritizing sleep in your recovery routine is especially key. “Sleep helps the body repair and recover, and the immune system is no exception,” says Verstegen. And that’s not all it does. “Adequate sleep improves mood, decreases blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain and diseases associated with these risk factors such as depression, diabetes and heart disease.”
HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN RECOVERY ROUTINE
“From the elite athlete to the average fitness enthusiast, I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of variation in techniques and routine,” says Piercy. Here’s what to focus on to get you started:
Trying to implement a completely new recovery routine all at once can be daunting, Verstegen says. “Take it one thing at a time, beginning with adequate sleep. Spend at least one week focusing on going to bed and getting up at the same time, achieving at least 7–9 hours of sleep.”
Drink Enough Water
Next up, getting enough hydration is crucial, according to Verstegen. “The average person needs 7–10 10-ounce glasses of water daily. Focus on drinking water upon waking, with each meal, before bed and throughout the day.” Having a reusable water bottle with you all day can help.
Focus on Nutrition
“Once proper amounts of sleep and hydration become routine, the next focus should be on eating five-a-day fruits and vegetables, along with a well-balanced diet,” Verstegen notes. “Tracking food intake on MyFitnessPal is a perfect tool for this.”
Incorporate Mobility Exercises and Self-Myofascial Release
Foam rolling, a form of self-myofascial release, is like brushing your teeth but for your muscles, says Nguyen. “Sore and tight spots in the muscles are like gunk between the teeth. The more you roll, the less ‘gunk’ your body will feel.” Aim for at least 10 minutes a day, particularly before and after workouts.
Incorporate Meditation or Mindfulness
Finally, this is one of the most researched ways to reduce your stress load, which can go a long way recovery-wise. “Disconnect for at least 10 minutes a day and empower yourself with better perspective,” says Nguyen. “I suggest starting out with a guided meditation practice if you’re a rookie.”