The Olympics are truly a showcase of the world’s top athletes. From running and jumping to soccer and volleyball, the greatest the planet has to offer get the opportunity, once every four years, to display their magnificent athletic abilities while the rest of us watch in awe. The amount of time and effort these Olympians put in to reach the pinnacle of their craft is inconceivable to most observers — as are the exercise routines, post-workout rituals, and eating habits. Just thinking about the muscle recovery process alone is enough to convince most people to never attempt an Olympic appearance.
As it turns out, the post-workout recovery is much more than simple stretches and cool down laps. Some of the world’s Olympians go above and beyond traditional muscle recovery tools and methods to make sure they’re ready to go the next day.
Matthew Reicher, an exercise scientist and head trainer at Sports Science Lab, has developed a handful of muscle recovery and post-workout techniques that help athletes get back on their feet fast. Reicher has worked with many Olympians using these techniques, and when used in conjunction with proper nutrition and sleep, you too can adopt them into your routine. Here are his five ways to from your workouts like an Olympic athlete.
1. Foam rolling
Ever rolled foam? It may be new to you, but if you get the chance, try it out after your workout to help your muscles recover and avoiding cramping. It isn’t necessarily fun, though. “I tell my athletes to swipe a few times to discover the most tender area,” said Reicher. “Once this is achieved hold over that area for 30 seconds. Foam rolling should not be comfortable, in fact, it will be quite painful if the muscles are full of adhesions.”
2. Static stretching/band-assisted mobilization
Stretching, especially with the use of bands, can help increase flexibility and encourage muscle growth. Reicher has several specific stretches that he outlines, including the wall adductor stretch, hip flexor lunge, anterior and lateral hip distractions, and ankle band stretch.
“Most athletes have very limited hip and ankle mobility due to the constant wear and tear on the joints. Opening the joint capsule will help to prevent injury and can improve performance,” Reicher said. “Soft tissue needs 1 to 2 minutes to elongate. Holding the pose for 20 to 30 seconds won’t have much benefit. The goal is to hold each pose for 2 minutes.”
3. Lower body compression massage
Massages don’t simply have to be for pleasure. They’re actually quite beneficial in terms of muscle recovery, and many high-level athletes use them to quickly regain their edge. If you’ve ever had a tough day on the squat rack, you know the next day can be pretty sore. Lower body massages can help. “Following the principles of massage, the pneumatic compression device sequential inflates pumping metabolic waste and byproducts of exercise out of the legs and back to the heart. The result is less leg soreness,” Reicher said.
4. Low-level electrical muscle stimulation
Yes, big-time athletes go Frankenstein from time to time. And evidently, it helps. By using small levels of electricity to contract the muscles and flush out metabolic waste, electrical stimulation can help you recover faster. “I like to use this on areas that the pneumatic compression massage cant reach such as the low back and neck areas,” Reicher said.
Finally, cryotherapy. It doesn’t look fun, but the benefits are pretty clear: Your body will go into response mode that sends blood to your extremities, helping flush out lactic acids that can create soreness and fatigue. You’ve seen professional athletes get in ice tubs? It’s basically the same thing.
“With only a 3-minute session WBC surrounds the body with -300 degree Fahrenheit nitrogen, causing a fight or flight response that ultimately sends nutrient-rich blood back to the arms and legs,” Reicher said.
Check out more science behind workout recovery at Sports Science Lab.