A doctor will tell you pain is an indication that something is wrong. A hardcore strength athlete will tell you pain is something that keeps weak-minded people out of the gym. We see both sides of the debate. A certain amount of achiness is a fact of life and an occupational hazard of working out. If these stressors build up, though, they can keep you out of the weight room and even lead to injury by forcing you into compensatory movement patterns that degrade mobility and joint health over time. It’s imperative, then, that part of your training include some basic self-maintenance. A diet centered on whole foods, plenty of sleep, proper hydration and regular self-myofascial release (foam rolling) are the foundation, but the following five strategies can be huge during periods of increased training intensity.
1. Compression Garments
Compression gear can make you feel stronger, safer and more stable, and they look cool, besides (at least they do on LeBron James). A study published last year in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that trained men who wore compression garments after lifting weights experienced significantly faster recovery. Specifically, they were able to hit their one-rep maximum in the bench press much sooner after a strenuous training session than those who wore normal clothing after the initial workout.
2. Fish Oil
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are a potent anti-inflammatory and help fight enzymes that degrade cartilage. A study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found that taking fish oil reduced symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness in the 48 hours after a hard workout. Other research shows that an equitable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids supports collagen production, an important structural protein in connective tissue. Flip to page 59 for even more benefits.
3. Kinesiology Tape
Originally a tool for physical therapists, kinesiology tape (commonly called k-tape) is now used by athletes to continue training and competing pain-free and with a full range of motion. This lightweight elastic tape facilitates healing by lifting skin away from soft tissue to promote greater blood flow to minor injuries for faster recovery. A study in the Journal of Physiotherapy found that subjects who applied kinesiology tape to nonspecific lumbar back pain experienced significantly greater improvement in disability, better trunk endurance and decreased pain compared to those who did not use the tape.
4. Contrast Shower
Exposing your body to intermittent bouts of heat and cold causes the lymph system to expand and contract, pushing metabolic waste out of cells and reducing inflammation. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that this type of water therapy helped subjects quickly regain full muscle function after a brutal, soreness-inducing workout. The easiest way to accomplish this is with a simple contrast shower, alternating hot and cold water. Use a 3:1 ratio of duration for hot to cold, with temperature extremes that are just barely tolerable, and always end the shower on cold.
5. Epsom Salt Bath
One of the cheapest and easiest recovery strategies around is also one of the oldest. Adding Epsom salts (aka magnesium sulfate) to a warm bath helps reduce inflammation, regulate electrolytes and improve nerve, muscle and enzyme functioning. Research shows that active populations are chronically low in magnesium, and since magnesium is one of the few nutrients that can be absorbed through the skin, an Epsom salt bath can help restore optimal levels of this valuable mineral.