October 4, 2022

In today’s fitness realm, there’s a cornucopia of products out there solely designed to help you recover from your workouts. This abundance of devices, from the simple to the space-age, show how far science and technology have come in the field. We’re no longer relying on Epsom salt baths to help flush out lactic acid — which, we now know, is not the cause of muscle soreness. Now, we have devices to help us cool down, heat up, pound out muscle knots, refuel our bodies and more. If we’re being honest, it can be a lot to digest, especially if you haven’t given your recovery the respect it deserves.

If you’re one of those athletes that’s still searching for a proper recovery routine — or just now realized that “No Pain, No Gain,” is a myth — don’t fret. We spoke with Gaetano Sanchioli, UPMC Sports Medicine athletic trainer for Pittsburgh Public Schools, to outline some common tactics you can use to boost your recovery sessions post-workout. We also included a few product recommendations on our favorite picks for well-rounded relief, gathered both from researching previous buying guides as well as our personal regimens.

Refueling Relief

A good analogy to use in trying to think about recovery is to imagine your body as a car. Now, we’re not talking about the routine maintenance you need to schedule for your SUV in this instance, but think about this: if you don’t fill up your car with fuel, how much progress are you going to make down the road? Well, that same logic can be applied to your body. You’re not going to get very far with a depleted gas tank, so it can be good practice to “fill up” post-workout, according to Sanchioli.

As soon as you complete a training session, Sanchioli recommends getting some sort of food into your system. “Just something to put some fuel back in the body,” he says. “The body, at that point, is looking for some carbs, looking for some protein. It kind of needs a little bit of both, and doesn’t need a lot. It just needs enough to kind of kickstart the engine and get some energy back.”

For simplicity and availability, we recommend refueling with a protein powder, like Myprotein’s Whey Forward. This animal-free option has been a favorite of ours since its recent release, and we also appreciate the convenient tub size that fits easily into our gym bag for on-the-go consumption.

Naturally, there are other products you can consume post-training that are designed to help you replenish fuel levels, everything from BCAA powders and protein bars to gummy bears (no, seriously). Whichever you choose is up to you, just don’t think you need to order a four-course meal after every session to get back that spent energy.

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Activate Some Active Recovery

You may have heard the term, “active recovery,” before but not quite understood its origins. Well, to boil it down, active recovery is the beneficial process of staying active after you’ve completed your training, albeit at a less intense frequency. In essence, partaking in active recovery means you’re doing something to promote recovery, and that something can take many different forms.

One of the most popular forms of active recovery is through the employment of massage guns. These motorized tools use percussive therapy to improve blood flow in a targeted area and, according to a 2017 review of several studies, have proven to be fantastic defense mechanisms against Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. Sanchioli notes that he’s become a fan of massage guns over the years for their ease of use and versatility across multiple muscle areas. You don’t have to go crazy with it, but it is nice to be able to focus on a specific area that’s a little tender or sore,” he says.

There’s plenty of massage guns on the market, with recognizable brands like Therabody and Hyperice immediately coming to mind. While we don’t dislike these premium options, we’re more attracted to the Sonic X from lesser-known Lifepro. An ergonomic handle fits easily in the hands, and the 1,400–3,200 speed range provides plenty of power to massage away any knots or twinges we may be dealing with. Plus, Intelligent Pressure Sensor LEDs at the top of the gun give a visual cue to how much pressure you’re actually putting on the muscle, which is a nice feature if you’re following a set regimen or really trying to test the full 56 pounds of stall force.

Still, while massage guns can provide plenty of DOMS-busting power, they can still be a little intense for some. Fear, not though, as products like foam rollers and single-ball rollers can provide a similar massaging effect, without the powerful motor. Plus, you can cater your equipment to how technical you want to get. There’s the bare bones style, like Rollga’s Everyday Foam Roller with its medium firmness and contoured profile for better muscle targeting, to Therabody’s Wave Solo offering up Bluetooth connectivity, three vibration speeds and a plethora of routines through the brand’s companion app. Just choose your desired features and roll into relief, “From the heels of your feet to the top of your head,” as Sanchioli puts it.

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If you’re not interested in massages or tech-heavy gadgets, you can also stretch as part of a proper active recovery routine. We, along with Sanchioli, like to add resistance bands to any stretching session, as they can provide enough tension that engages the muscles without feeling too strenuous. Plus, especially when stretching out your lower body, resistance bands can easily wrap around your foot or ankle to give you a lever to pull on, allowing for a deeper stretch that can help enhance mobility. For these types of movements, we really like the Theraband Resistance Bands Set. The simple ribbon style can be tied easily to a joint or structure, and the lightweight build folds up nicely for convenient storage in a gym bag or closet.

Still haven’t found the active recovery routine for you? Well, that’s the beauty of active recovery — it can be anything you desire. Take a walk in a comfortable pair of cushioned running shoes. Unravel your yoga mat and get lost in a flow from time to time. Take your bike for a quick cruise across town. The main point of active recovery is to keep the body moving, but Sanchioli does state, however, that your rest days shouldn’t double down on the stress you placed on a body part in training. “If you’re, say, a runner who does a lot of running […] then maybe going for a long walk might not be the best way of doing an active recovery, because you’re still weight-bearing, you’re still beating up your legs,” he says. “You’re cross-training in a sort of way, but resting while you cross-train.”

Passive Recovery Tips

Okay, so active recovery gets a lot of attention because there’s so much you can do within that space, but oftentimes, the best thing for getting a full recovery is actually relaxing. In contrast to active recovery, passive recovery is inactivity to allow the body to rejuvenate itself in terms of healing and energy stores.

Now, don’t think that hitting the pause button on training is something you’ll spend weeks on. The American Council on Exercise recommends just one day of recovery for every seven to 10 days of high-intensity training. That’s just one day sacrificed — your progress will be fine. Even if you need an extra day or two to feel like your energy is restored, that’s fine as well. Sanchioli says it’s all about listening to your body and determining what’s right for your needs.

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One of the better ways to ensure proper passive recovery is to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep. In actuality, sleep is one of the best recovery tools, regardless of when you’re doing passive, active or in-training methods. This is our body’s time to recharge fully without any intrusions, and thankfully, there’s a lot things you can do to make sweet slumber more achievable.

If you’re one that has troubling turning in when it comes time to shut the lights off, consider taking a CBD or sleep supplement. We’re big fans of FOCL’s Night formula, combining both the relaxing power of CBD with a clean-burning, organic, cruelty-free makeup. We’ve taken this product routinely for a while now, and our increased sleep scores definitely showcase its staying power. If you’re more on the CBD side of things without the extra ingredients, FOCL also has a great Full Spectrum CBD Oil that can be taken day or night.

Supplements aside, changing your sleeping environment can also be a convenient way to boost ZzZs. For example, maybe your mattress is due for a change-up (hint: it probably is), but these luxe house items can get expensive, quick. To provide some relief without the added cost, consider adding a mattress topper to your bed, like our go-to Slumbercloud Performance Mattress Pad, that regulates temperature and wicks away moisture for a more comfortable night time atmosphere. Changes to bedding, bedroom blinds and other factors can also be a good way to mix up arrangements. Whichever works for your budget and needs can be a step in the right direction.

While the above changes and additions to your sleep can be beneficial, the cheapest and possibly most effective way to get a better night’s sleep, according to Sanchioli, is developing a manageable sleep routine, and sticking to it. “I think getting to bed at the same time every night, getting up at the same time every morning, can allow your body to stay in that cycle, because your energy levels fluctuate and they have to sync up with your sleep cycle. That’s what’s going to help the most, in my opinion,” he states.

Recovery doesn’t have to be this intimidating factor in your fitness regimen. Use these tips and kickstart your routine. Trust us, your training progress will appreciate the time without tension.