Muscle Recovery

By Dr. Michael Gray

Recovering from strenuous exercise can be an elusive task.  Here are some recommendations that will help our muscles recover from heavy exercise situations.

Self-Myofascial Release – a.k.a. “Rolling”

You can massage away tight muscles and shorten recovery time by using a technique called “self-myofascial release” (a.k.a. “rolling”). Using your own body weight, you will learn how to leverage yourself to target sore areas while rolling on a PVC pipe or foam roller. You can do these exercises at home in just 5-10 minutes a day. Rolling out different areas of your body will get rid of (and prevent) any nagging injuries and help you get back to your workouts faster. 

How Rolling Helps Your Muscles Recover Faster

Most people think that muscle soreness is caused by lactic acid build up…but that’s not totally true. The truth is muscle soreness is caused by muscle fiber damage. This is a normal process that occurs when you workout and build muscle. In the course of building lean muscle, your muscle fiber goes through a repeated process of breakdown and repair.

When muscle fiber breaks down, it stimulates a cascade of physiological processes to repair the muscle fibers. The faster your muscles can repair themselves, the quicker you’ll recover and the faster you’ll get rid of your soreness. One key factor in accelerating the repair process is blood flow. Increased blood flow pumps all the tools needed to quickly repair your muscle damage. So, more blood flow means quicker repair and faster recovery, which is why these muscle rolling technique are so effective. Each exercise helps pump more blood into the targeted area, accelerating recovery time and minimizing soreness. 

When To Roll Out Your Muscles

The best time to roll out your muscles is just prior to your warm-up and immediately after your workout. Rolling before your warm-up helps prime your muscles for optimum performance. After your workout, your muscles are “torn up” and rolling them out will help accelerate the repairing process.

Static Stretching for Faster Recovery

Static stretching is also great for muscle recovery, especially when combined with rolling. All passive stretches should be performed after a workout session, preferably after rolling out your muscles. You can look at stretching as “re-lengthening” your muscle fibers back to their normal size. After a workout session, your muscle fibers are damaged and shortened in length, so you want to lengthen them back out to their normal length. Properly lengthened muscle also promotes increased blood flow, improving the overall health of your muscles and maximizing muscle recovery.

Don’t Stretch Before You Workout!

Stretching before a workout as part of your warm-up is another common mistake that even the pros make! Static stretching actually hinders your muscular performance. It diminishes your ability to recruit all of the muscle fibers, thereby decreasing your strength and speed, which is definitely not what you want before a workout or an event. Stick to stretching only after a workout or a competition. 

Reduce Lower Back Pain with Simple Stretches

Lower back pain is a very broad topic that warrants its own book. However, in many cases lower back pain is caused by bad posture and muscular imbalance. The muscles that cause the majority of problems are your hip flexors. It’s actually not your lower back muscles at all! Your hip flexors are located deep within your core and originate along the sides of your lower back vertebral joints (spine), span across your body, and attach onto the upper portions of your leg bone (just past your hip joints). As the name suggests, your hip flexor muscles flex your hip joints.

Anytime you bring your knees up towards your chest or bend your torso over from your hips, you’re activating your hip flexor muscles. This is where the problem starts…your body is in positions that activate your hip flexors much more often than positions that stimulate the opposing muscle groups. This causes a muscle imbalance and results in excessive compressive pressure on your vertebral joints, eventually leading to joint irritation and pain. Since your hip flexors are constantly active, these muscles eventually tighten up and shorten in length. This further adds to the imbalance and puts more consistent pressure on your lower back. The solution? Take the pressure off your lower back joints by “deactivating” and lengthening your hip flexor muscles back to their normal length by stretching your hip flexors and quads. If you have any lower back pain, perform these stretches as often as possible, except for the time just prior to your workout.

Foam Roller Vs. PVC Roller

Most foam rollers, if used daily as recommended, will last approximately 2-4 months. Beyond that timeframe, the foam roller will likely lose its smooth round shape and stiffness. This will compromise the effectiveness of the roller. Most foam rollers are sold for $20 to $25 dollars each. However, instead of having to buy a new foam roller every few months, I recommend that you buy a PVC pipe from your local hardware store. They’re sold for around $4 and you’ll never have to buy another roller again. You can also have it cut to your desired length. I recommend 1.5 to 2 feet in length and 4.5 inches in diameter. Now go exercise and stretch and roll your muscles away after each exercise and enjoy healthy pain free muscles.