Whether you’re a bodybuilding enthusiast or an experienced lifter, you should consider recovery an essential part of your healthy lifestyle, because no amount of dieting and exercising can replace the role of recovery in sculpting a God-like physique. In fact, recovery must occur before progress can be made.
Do you often have days where no matter which way you move, you hurt? That’s great because it means you’ve really worked your ass off in the gym the other day, but on the other hand, you don’t need to suck it up and simply deal with the built-up fatigue and soreness – there are ways to help your body feel better, faster.
But first, you need to learn that training too often will stall your progress instead of accelerate it even further, primarily by increasing your risk of injury. The reality is that you can’t push hard and fast all the time – soreness and pain will only get worse if you don’t recover adequately between training sessions and soon enough your progress will hit a wall. On the other hand, allowing your body to properly recover between workouts will help you stay injury-free and reap the biggest gains possible from an effective, long-term training. So yeah, if you want to grow huge and strong muscles, you got no other choice but to take the time you need to rest.
There are many well-known ways to speed up recovery, though – getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, eating protein before bed, foam rolling, having a big, protein-rich post-workout meal, supplementing with creatine monohydrate, caffeine and multivitamins, etc. All of these offer great muscle building benefits, but sometimes they’re not enough for fighting off fatigue and pain and stimulating greater mass and strength gains. So is there something else that can be done?
Well, there is one particularly effective yet underused way to prevent fatigue, promote recovery and enhance training intensity and it’s something we bet you’ve never thought of before…
Cold water. More specifically, post-exercise cold-water baths.
Read the rest of this article to learn why and how to use this science-backed method to get more from all that hard work you’re putting in the iron game.
Studies have shown that taking a cold-water baths immediately or relatively soon after exercising helps reduce inflammation, muscle soreness and stiffness, while also improving recovery, promoting faster tissue healing and boosting energy levels. By causing rapid recovery of the cardiovascular and nervous systems, cold-water baths force your body to return to normal faster than it would if left to its own.
Here’s how it works. Exercise activates the sympathetic a.k.a. “fight or flight” nervous system, which in turn causes adrenaline levels to increase together with heart rate and blood pressure and directs blood flow to exercising muscles. The sympathetic nervous system can be seen as our emergency system – it helps prepare our bodies to put out energy and protect themselves from the effects of injury by shutting down the gut, making more glucose available in the blood for energy, dilating the pupils of the eyes and speeding up the heart.
But as we finish exercising, the body slowly returns to a resting mode by gradually reducing the activity of the sympathetic system while the parasympathetic division in our brains lights up. Its job is more of the housekeeping type, where it acts in the opposite way of the sympathetic system – it activates the gut for digestion, slows the heart rate, decreases blood pressure and many other functions which help the organism recover from intense activity.
This is where cold water immersion comes into play. Water puts pressure on the skin, which pushes blood toward the heart and increases the central blood volume. This accelerates the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes recovery by reducing heart rate and muscle blood flow and promotes normal resting metabolism. But that’s not all.
Separate studies by Australian and French scientists have that post-workout cold-water baths boosted strength and power on subsequent workouts, even when they were conducted on the same day, compared to passive methods of recovery and hot-water baths which did little to nothing to accelerate recovery and strength gains in athletes.
So how can you best implement this knowledge?
Start by making sure to slowly cool down after exercise by gradually reducing the intensity of physical activity. At the end of the workout, keep moving at a slow pace for a while, and move on to performing gentle static stretches to help your muscles relax and loosen up, which will reduce post-workout muscle soreness and pain. Then, as soon as possible, take a bath with cool water.
Immersion in excessively cold water can be dangerous for some people as they could cause a gasping response that leads to drowning or stimulate strong heart rhythm disturbances that can result in cardiac arrest. At the very least, very cold or ice water can produce exaggerated shivering and prompt muscle damage. But soaking in cool water (a shower provides a less potent effect) for no more than 15 minutes will help blood return to the heart and cause tissue compression that reduces inflammation, thereby improving recovery. You’ll feel the first wave of positive effects immediately, while the other will reveal itself the next time you step into the gym or go out into the field.
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