It’s one of the little ironies of life that by the time we truly appreciate our health and what our body is capable of on the trails, be that walking, running or cycling, we’re also becoming increasingly aware of its perceived limitations. Thankfully we don’t have to look far for reassurance that all is not lost as recent studies have revealed that it’s a sedentary lifestyle that generally leads to a reduction in athletic ability, not age itself. Every day we encounter inspirational humans who are still out on their bikes or hiking across the hills regardless of the birth certificate which suggests they should be tucked up in front of the fire with a blanket over their knees.
The key is to learn to work with our bodies to enable them to fulfil the long and active life required for all we have planned! With this in mind, we set about finding the best ways to recover post run or ride, in preparation for your next big adventure. This starts the minute you stop what you’re doing.
In order to get stronger your muscles are inherently damaged every time they are used. Equally to build stronger bones we have to put pressure on them. The essence of recovery is reducing swelling and repairing damage that is unavoidably caused through exercise.
Immediate recovery essentials…
We all know that staying well hydrated before, during and after activity is vital but the humble pint of milk is a surprise winner in the rehydration game. Containing calcium and protein it is an obvious choice for bone and muscle repair but it’s hidden supplies of potassium and other electrolytes are great for replenishing those lost by sweating. In addition the fat in it means that all the goodness is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream via the gut, enabling the body to make full use of the nutrients.
Plunging into the nearest water source
Professional athletes may take ice baths but we can chill our muscles in far more picturesque ways by taking a dip in the sea, rivers or a mountain lake after a day out adventuring. Immersing yourself in cold water slows down inflammation and decreases tissue damage by reducing blood flow to those areas. The benefits of a cold dip can last for up to 24 hours. Besides which it’s good fun to jump in the water and play after getting hot and sweaty all day!
There’s nothing more appealing than a warm bath
When you come in off the hillside or trail, sodden and frozen to the bone, especially in the depths of winter. The heat of the water increases blood flow around the body which in turn helps eliminate lactic acid buildup in our muscles. Bath salts like Epsom or Dead Sea Salts turn a relaxing and warming bath into a physically beneficial treatment, which is the best excuse we’ve ever heard for having a soak! These natural salts are packed full of magnesium and other minerals and enzymes that are needed for cell repair. As we lie in the tub reflecting on the fun we’ve just had they are being absorbed through our skin and starting the healing process. They contribute to hormone regulation and aid sleep and relaxation.
Paying it forward….
Think about your body as a ‘bank’ and every time you participate in a high intensity activity you are making a withdrawal from your account. Without replenishing the funds, you would soon become overdrawn and it’s the same with your body. A steady income and a bit of budgeting means that you have plenty of ‘cash’ available when you need it.
Complementary forms of exercise
Gentle walking, yoga, pilates or tai chi can help the body to stay strong and supple. Building core strength, muscle tone and bone density is vital to helping the body function correctly. A strong core provides balance and stability but it also means that we’re giving ourselves a better place to recover from as we’ll have more chance of staying injury free. Weight bearing exercise is particularly important for cyclists as we get older. Cycling is kind to joints but the flip side of the lack of impact is that it doesn’t build bone density in the same way that weight bearing sports do. As we get older bone density decreases so it’s important to include weight bearing activities in your repertoire.
It may appear unglamourous in comparison to pilates, tai chi or massage and is sometimes hard to achieve but a decent night’s sleep is one of the strongest tools in the recovery armoury. Rest is a vital part of recovery and we’re programmed to rest and recover through sleep. It’s thought that during the first part of sleep growth hormone is produced while during deep REM sleep our bodies get to work on repairing cells, our immune system and muscle growth. Properly rested our brain function is optimised and we’re at less risk of making mistakes and injuring ourselves. Struggling to sleep? Try snuggling down and listening to a soundtrack of rain falling on rooftops! Works every time for us, just search online and you’ll find plenty of free recordings.
They might not be everyone’s favourite but as a friend put it recently ‘you might think rest days are boring but the cells in your body don’t, they’re working their socks off!’. If you’re training at a high level it can be essential to have ‘rest’ or consolidation weeks too, where your muscles have a decent length of time to recover. In our experience it heightens the desire to get back out there too – absence makes the heart grow fonder after all!
Written by Vicky Balfour. You can find Vicky over on Instagram.