Recovery, recovery, recovery!
Being under-recovered is just as bad as being under-trained; being under-recovered leads to exhaustion, lethargy, muscle aches, trigger points, and stiffness, and left long enough it will lead to injury. Recovery allows the body to become stronger, leaner, and generally healthier; it puts that extra little energetic pep in one's step. It is not something "extra" you do when time allows.
Exercise stresses the body. It is only a positive stress if you give your body the ingredients it needs to recover properly.
Now, don't get too excited; I'm not giving you the "OK" to sit on the sofa and eat chips. A good recovery process compliments a workout -- versus eating chips, which for the most part will negate any activity done. Recovery ensures that your workouts will actually help you achieve your goals.
There are three key elements of recovery: sleep, consuming a nutritionally dense diet, and body work such as massage.
Sleep and diet
Your body recovers while you sleep, and a healthy diet helps your muscles and connective tissue repair and become stronger. Need another reason to prioritize your sleep? A good night's rest helps control your weight. The less you sleep, the more ghrelin hormone your body produces, which means your appetite will increase. You will also produce less leptin, which is the hormone that helps your body feel satiated.
Even if you can afford to see a massage therapist regularly, most of us need daily self-care. You didn't become chronically stiff and uncomfortable overnight. Like drops in a bucket, small amounts of self-care add up.
I have always loved and relied on the foam roller. (You have probably seen a roller -- a long, cylindrical foam tube. There are many variations on the market, including my favourite: a vibrating roll called the VYPER.) Recently I have also started using small balls for self-massage. I use yoga tune-up balls -- they are made specifically for self-massage. You can also use a lacrosse ball, or if you find lacrosse balls too hard, a tennis ball.
Here are a few of my favourite self-massage combinations.
Lower-leg relief: a must-do for runners and walkers!
A. Put two tennis or lacrosse balls in a stocking, or use the yoga tune-up balls in their small mesh bag.
Place the balls on a yoga block or a book. The block should be on the floor, placed in its shortest configuration. Come down onto your hands and knees with one shin on the balls so that the balls are hugging either side of your main lower leg bone. Now move your body forward and backwards over the balls so they roll along your leg and provide a massage. When you find a trigger spot, press gently down into the spot and wave your foot from side to side. For more pressure, lift the other knee off of the ground.
B. Sit on the floor with the foam roller under your calves, perpendicular to your body. Lift your bum slightly off the ground. Roll yourself forward and backward so the roller moves up and down your lower legs. Experiment. Rotate your legs side to side slightly as you move. This is called cross-fibering. Pinpoint a few trigger points. Once you have found your trigger points, place a small ball on a book or yoga block. Place the trigger point on top of the ball. Put pressure into the ball. Massage out the spot by moving your leg up and down and side to side.
Treat your feet
Place a ball under the ball of the little toe. Roll it lengthwise up and down the outside of your foot between the little toe and the heel. Now, move it under the ball of the big toe. Roll it lengthwise up and down the inside of your foot between the big toe and the heel. Finally, curl all your toes around the ball. Release and spread your toes.
Upper-back, chest, shoulder, and neck relief
Start on the floor with your bum on the ground and the foam roller under your upper back, perpendicular to your body, head resting in your hands. Lift your hips up. Roll your body forward and backward so the roller moves up and down your back. Keep your core engaged. Now, turn your body sideways as you move so that the roll massages under your armpit and down the side of your body.
Next, lie on your back lengthwise on the roller. Let your arms fall out to the side so your body makes a t shape. Hold for 30 seconds. Then hug yourself. Repeat 10 times.
Finish by moving your body up the roller so that the edge of the roller sits on your occipitals (the muscles at the junction of you head and your spine). Turn your head side to side like you are saying "no." Then nod your head and say "yes." This should feel amazing!
A few things to keep in mind:
Expect to feel sensations as the roller or ball uncovers adhesions and possibly scar tissue. I call this "positive pain." Never roll though "negative pain." Your body shouldn't hurt more after you roll; the pain should never take your breath away or feel like electricity or numbness.
Don't be too aggressive. "Romance" versus "attack" your issues.
For all exercises, when you find a trigger point, stop and put gentle pressure down into the tissue. Repeat all motions five times.
Being in pain is mentally and physically exhausting. Too often it feeds into a vicious cycle; you don't move because you are uncomfortable and stiff, but being sedentary decreases your strength and lowers your mood, which in turn makes it even harder to be active. Take control, massage out your body daily, but also break the cycle by analyzing why you are chronically stiff.
Main takeaway: Don't just pay lip service to recovery -- prioritize it!