Recovery is one of the most important aspects of training or an exercise program. Recovery allows the body time to rejuvenate and heal and prepare for the next session. Recovery days should be thought of as training days, improving performance and decreasing the chance of getting injured.

Recovering stretches

Here’s 5 tips you need to recover from exercise:

1. Get plenty of sleep.
There’s been a significant amount of research in recent years demonstrating negative impacts on speed, endurance, attention, memory, injury risk, illness and weight control with insufficient sleep.

To optimise recovery and athletic performance 7-9 hours is recommended for adults, and 8-10 hours for teenagers.

In general for athletes it’s good to think - the harder you train, the more you need. Plus naps throughout the day can supplement a poor night’s sleep if needed.

Whilst it’s easy to say ‘get enough sleep’, many don’t or can’t, so practicing good sleep hygiene and getting to bed on time is paramount. I recommend the 10-3-2-1-0 formula;

10 hours before bed: no more caffeine
3 hours before bed: no more food
2 hours before bed: no more work
1 hour before bed: no more screen time
0: the number of times you hit the snooze button in the morning

Keep your bedroom slightly cool (17-20°C) with heaters and air conditioners off if able, so you don’t dehydrate overnight.

2. Do an active recovery.
After an intense workout, plan an active recovery session within 24 hours. Most athletes will perform this immediately after competition and/or hard training, some the following day, but it’s a staple strategy of professional athletes and teams.

Typical active recovery activities include cycling, swimming, walking and stretching/yoga, and should be easy, light impact and take anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Your heart rate during recovery sessions should only be 30-60% of your maximum.

I’m an advocate for an active recovery session that involves getting outside in nature, and to unplug the tech for that session, except for knowing the time. Your brain is an organ that also needs to recover from the stress of intense activity, and nature is the ultimate healer. If you can, walk in the woods, swim in a lake, cycle along a river, or stretch in a park.

3. Massage will help.
A recent systematic review of recent scientific evidence concluded that massage will improve the perception of delayed onset muscle soreness and flexibility during recovery. Whilst the review found no evidence that massage will directly improve measures of performance (strength and endurance etc), many athletes of all levels swear by it and make it an essential part of their recovery routine.

There’s nothing better than an experienced set of hands and the right recovery massage cream such as the Premax Arnica Massage Cream, however you can do some self-massage techniques to key muscle groups such as the quads, calves, hamstrings and glutes. Massage strokes need to be long and sustained, and pressure needs to be moderately firm but not hard.

Charlotte Culver taking a rest

4. Refuel with real food.
This is a huge topic and area of expertise, so as a sports physiotherapist I’ll only cover the basics and stay in my lane, however eating good food and drinking the right fluids will help you bounce back quicker after exercise.

Taking in protein and carbohydrates soon after your session will help muscles repair and restore glycogen energy stores. My personal preference is for athletes to eat ‘real’ foods during recovery, and avoid the ultra-processed packaged stuff.

Water and chocolate milk, not sports or energy drinks are most often recommended by sports dieticians for recovery, however Sour (Tart) Cherry as well as some other fruits extracts have been shown to help accelerate muscular recovery after exercise.

5. Recondition your skin.
The skin takes a beating during sport and exercise, with the wind and sun causing surface level skin cell damage, as well as issues such as chafing, blisters, cuts and grazes that are common in many sports. If you don’t get on top of these issues quickly, it may negatively impact your next session (or longer).

Whilst sweating is generally regarded as good for the skin – sweat contains antimicrobial peptides which provide protection from infection from microbes and other harmful germs, if sweat sits on the skin for too long the sodium (salt) in the sweat can cause skin dehydration and ammonia and urea can cause irritation and inflammation.

To help your skin recover from exercise I recommend the following;

Wash sweat off your skin as soon as able after exercise
Drink plenty of water to help rehydrate the skin
Treat any cuts, grazes, chafing or blisters with an antibacterial preparation
Soothe and replenish any distressed skin with the sports specific Premax Recovery Cream.

There are of course other techniques that athletes use to boost recovery that there are some evidence for. An honourable mention should go to compression (clothing and compression cuffs), contrast water therapy (hot & cold baths and showers), cryotherapy and water immersion. Forget electrostimulation, magnets and hyperbaric therapy, there’s no evidence.