While few things matter as much as getting your butt in the gym and working up a sweat, there are plenty of follow-up activities you can benefit from as your body recovers. After all, you don’t get stronger and healthier from breaking your body down; you get stronger and healthier when your body responds by healing back up, better than ever! So consider these gym follow-up habits that’ll give your body an extra edge on the comeback:
Your body needs protein to make the most of exercise—it’s crucial as a building block for your newly-improved muscles. If you’re not up for chowing down on chicken breast or tuna after a big workout, you can do quite well with the ever-popular protein shake. Just make sure you find one that matches your needs; if you’re lactose intolerant, chugging whey protein after you’ve stressed your body probably isn’t a good idea.
Deep tissue massage
Few things will keep the onset of muscle pain away more effectively than a nice, thorough deep tissue massage. Fortunately, you don’t need a masseuse at hand to get the benefits of a good massage; you can do the same job with a lot less finesse and style by working hard at your muscles with a tennis ball or, if you want to get fancy, once of the hundreds of massagers out there on the market. Work slow, work deep, get the blood flowing, and your muscles will thank you.
Two popular beliefs about stretching: You should do it before you exercise, and it’ll help with muscle pain. Both, unfortunately, are wrong—stretching early is actually dangerous for a few reasons, and it won’t do anything to get rid of the acids that make your muscles ache (use the deep tissue massage for that). What it will do is help you cool down at a nice rate, increase your flexibility safely, and help you relax.
If you can tough it out, a cold shower or bath is excellent for post-workout recovery. Inflammation comes with the damage of a workout, but it doesn’t offer any benefit to your gains—so getting it down ASAP is in your best interest. Ice packs, cold bathing, and anything else you can think of to take the edge off your inflammation post-workout is worth the investment.
Getting some rest
This may be very post-workout, depending on when you get your exercise into your day, but it’s vital: you need to sleep. When you work out hard and don’t get enough rest, your body doesn’t get stronger or healthier, it gets weak and sickly; you’re damaging it, then preventing it from recovering. Short yourself of post-workout rest and you risk illness, injury, mood swings, and worst of all, reduced gains! So get your eight hours.