I was recently splayed out on my bed in a hotel room in Lynwood, WA, my entire body throbbing and aching from having just surged across the finish line of a Spartan Super obstacle race: 9.8 miles of stumbling through Pacific Northwest rainforest while hoisting sandbags, clambering over logs and rocks, swinging from monkey bars, hauling buckets full of weight, crawling through barbwire and high-stepping through mud and bogs.
On my hotel room TV was the first movie I’ve watched in a long time: “Logan”—the icing on the cake of the Marvel Comics “Avengers” Wolverine series—which, of course, features the single most fast-recovering superhero on the face of the planet. And while you certainly can’t expect to get punched ten times in the face by a muscle-bound cyborg and expect your broken and smashed cheekbones and nose to magically regenerate, you certainly can bounce back from many workouts, races, injuries or surgeries far faster than modern sports medicine and orthopedics would have you to believe.
Now, I’ll admit it: I used to be pretty old-school and simple when it came to recovery. A postworkout shake. Maybe a little stretching or time with the foam roller. And if things got really bad, some ice massage or a cold bath.
Not that there’s anything wrong with simplicity. After all, it’s easy to get so carried away with new gadgets, toys, and recovery tools that you forget to take time to enjoy a glass of wine while taking in the sunset at the end of the day.
But I remember when I shared an office with a sports medicine doctor. All day long, marathoners, triathletes, cyclists, and weekend warriors came through the door complaining of chronic aches, pains, and injuries that they’d been fighting for weeks, months, and even years. With just a few of the recovery tips I’m about to share with you, those folks could have easily saved themselves a lot of pain and frustration, not to mention money on doctor’s visits and operations.
So I would be remiss if I didn’t equip you with every possible technique I know to keep your body in pristine shape, especially if you’re laying down some serious damage by being more than a weekend warrior.
In this two-part article, I’m about to give you the lowdown on just a few of my favorite 13 recovery techniques. Yes, I have mentioned some of these suggestions before in previous articles, but here they are all assembled into one mighty resource that will have you bouncing back from muscle and body damage just like Wolverine, or at least far faster than a human body would normally recover.
How Fast Should the Body Recover?
So how fast should you recover from, say, a marathon? Research indicates that the muscle damage from running a marathon can last up to two weeks, and also indicates that soreness is not a good indicator of muscular healing. In other words, just because you aren’t sore anymore doesn’t mean that you are fully healed. This is the danger for marathon runners: post-marathon muscular soreness fades after a few days but submicroscopic damage within the muscle cells remains for at least a couple weeks.
How about an Ironman? Probably because the non-weight bearing nature of cycling and swimming allow for faster recovery from those events, recovery from an Ironman is not much different than recovery from a marathon – anywhere from 8 to 19 days, depending on the athlete and the research you’re looking at.
A Crossfit WOD (Workout Of The Day)? It appears most folks need at least 2-3 days of recovery to bounce back from the immune system and nervous system damage that can occur from just one of these hardcore 20-60 minute sessions (although, tragically, many Crossfitters will do back-to-back sessions 5-6 days a week!). Using Heart Rate Variability testing, I’ve found that some people bounce back in as little as a day, and some take several days, so it can vary quite a bit from person to person.
A hike? OK, OK, now we’re getting more reasonable. It really only takes a day or so to bounce back from a reasonable multi-hour afternoon hike, but even a smattering of the recovery tactics you’re about to discover can speed that up and allow you to, for example, go for a hard run the day after a hike—without heavy legs that feel like bricks are attached to the bottom of your shoes.
So, for the human body’s recovery functions such as restoration of white blood cells and red blood cells, to repairing of muscle fibers, to restoration of hormones and neurotransmitters, to repletion of minerals, to a healing of tiny nerves and blood vessels, here’s a full list of tactics you can use to enhance the healing process.
How to Get the Body to Heal Faster
Many of the tactics you’re about to discover may seem fringe or strange, but there’s a definite physiological or biological mechanism via which they work.
Take acupuncture, for example. For over 5,000 years, Eastern medicine practitioners have utilized acupuncture as a method of correcting the body’s flow of Qi (pronounced “chee”) in order to improve health and eliminate disease. While Western medicine practitioners may not agree with the means by which acupuncture works, they are finally recognizing that acupuncture does work for conditions from depression, chronic pain, allergies, and headaches.
There are many theories on how acupuncture works. The ancient Chinese explanation is that acupuncture corrects the flow of Qi, our vital energy or “life force.” The Western explanation is that acupuncture stimulates blood flow, the release of endorphins, and other physiological processes that temporarily relieve pain. An acupuncture procedure involves inserting hair-thin needles into certain points along your meridian, the path through which your Qi runs. Needling these points stimulates the body’s own natural healing mechanisms.
I’ll admit that it may seem odd and a bit excessive to include acupuncture as a convenient recovery method, but as a coach and athlete I’ve found the occasional acupuncture session to be incredibly useful for everything from nagging aches and pains to full-blown adrenal fatigue. And it’s not like you have to duck down back alleys to get treatment: You can find licensed acupuncturists operating out of pristine medical clinics throughout the United States through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
OK, OK, so acupuncture is just a single example.
On the second part of this two-part article, I will give you the details of my favorite recovery techniques.