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Recovery gains: Top tips for better exercise recovery

By Tim Stathers on 10th July 2021

If you’ve found yourself pounding the streets with ever-increasing determination over the last 12 months or so, you’re not alone. Data released by fitness tracker Strava has shown a huge increase in the numbers of people recording their walks, runs and cycle rides during the various lockdowns and this newfound love for hitting the streets shows no sign of slowing as life continues to normalise.

The uptick in activity is hardly surprising given the restrictions placed on us and the now widely recognised benefits of regular exercise for our mental health. But for many, myself included, this sudden increase in physical exertion can have a knock-on effect that rears its ugly head as soon as we clamber out of bed the following day.

Whether it’s your back, hips, knees, feet or all of the above, a significant increase in your training quota is likely to leave you with aches and pains that run the risk of derailing your new enthusiasm for exercise. Fortunately for you and me, there are measures we can take to help manage recovery and keep the momentum going.

From gentle warm-ups and post-workout stretches to proper hydration and nutrition, it’s important to give your body all the help it needs to recover before you go again. To that end, an emerging array of products are hitting the market as science finds new ways of actively aiding and enhancing your body’s ability to recover. And where better to start, than at the bottom with those oft-neglected, long-suffering feet.

Recovery footwear

Stuffed away for winter and only liberated when summer finally arrives through fleeting walks on soft sandy beaches and an occasional saltwater treatment in the sea, it’s easy to take our feet for granted. If you’re a runner and have experienced every runner’s nemesis, plantar fasciitis, you’ll know exactly how painful it can be when you start to overlook the impact that your long runs are having on these humble appendages. Step forward OOFOS, pioneers of the best recovery footwear designed to not only ease the strain on your feet but also your knees, hips and back as well.

By reducing energy exertion in your ankles by up to 20%, OOFOS shoes are scientifically proven to boost your post-walk, run or cycle recovery. With a bio-mechanically engineered foot bed, OOFOS shoes absorb nearly 40% more impact than traditional footwear foams. Cradling and supporting the arches while keeping softness in the heels and forefoot, these super supportive sliders, sandals, shoes and clogs lead to easier walking and faster recovery.

Full confession, when I first heard about it ‘recovery footwear’ I was every bit as sceptical as you may well be now. But then I got injured and decided I had nothing to lose by giving these funky looking sliders a try. I’d been suffering increasingly painful plantar fasciitis in the midsole of my left foot, to the point that I was feeling increasingly fed up as I hobbled up and down the stairs each day, trying to make a coffee during work breaks without the kids discovering I was out of the home office.

When my OOFOS recovery sandals arrived I must admit, for the first time in months, I was relieved to be working from home. Designed for maximum support and comfort, they’re not going to win any fashion awards, but who cares if they do the job right? And they really did! After six hours of wear that day, my feet felt infinitely better, to the extent I’ve worn them at my desk and around the house pretty much every day since. 

With my scepticism quelled and my interest piqued, I reached out to OOFOS for a little more detail on what makes their recovery footwear stand out in this rapidly emerging market. Here’s Giles Cundell, head of international at OOFOS’s explanation: “Our recovery footwear enables a more natural motion, supports tissue and unloads joints in the feet and lower legs so you can recover faster. Recovery is just as important as the workout or training itself and a really good, scientifically proven recovery shoe isn’t a luxury – it’s a kit essential”

LLM top recommendation: OOFOS – OOahh Slide

The OOahh Slide Sandal is a great choice for post-exercise recovery and is even more wearable during the summer. Slip them on, with or without a sock, and take it easy in style. An evolution of the brand’s go-to flip flop, the OOahh Slide features an agile OOfoam strap for additional support and comfort. RRP: £45 – visit oofos.co.uk.

Deep tissue massage guns

The Theragun Mini in action – Image credit: Theragun

Another recent development in sports recovery is the invention of the DIY deep tissue massage gun. Leading the way, Theragun has created a brilliant range of devices designed to help you recover faster through the benefits of a deep tissue massage. Administered at home, by you, whenever you need it. 

From stiff necks, tight shoulders and lower back pain to hamstrings IT bands and quads, these state of the art, versatile devices use smart technology that tailors each massage to your body’s real-time needs. Super quiet and incredibly effective, Theragun devices leave your muscles relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated – all without getting up from the sofa. Available in a range of sizes including the Theragun Mini which is perfect for at-the-desk muscle treatment and a personal favourite for getting stuck into that plantar fasciitis.

Theragun portable massage devices are available on the Theragun website from £175.

Lotions and potions

If you like to keep things more natural and tech-free, a high-quality massage balm or oil is the perfect way to indulge those tired legs and feet. Whether it’s on the yoga mat, first thing in the morning, or post-workout shower, a self-massage of those tight hamstrings, quads, calves and feet is a brilliant way to get back in touch with your body. You’ll also increase blood flow, release lactic acid from your muscles and aid their recovery as well.

If you’re looking for a luxurious range of recovery creams and ointments, Swiss wellness brand Kear have created a great collection of 100% natural, award-winning post-workout treatments, designed to help relieve aches and pains whilst strengthening circulation and aiding muscle recovery. Enriched with arnica, a long-celebrated herb that’s known the world over for its anti-inflammatory properties, Kear blend their body balm and recovery oils with beeswax, olive oil and sweet almond oil to create truly irresistible muscle rubs that revive and restore. 

A luxurious gift to yourself or the athlete in your life, Kear Soothing Body Balm and Calm and Revive Body Oil are available to buy online.

Tips for a quick workout recovery

To help keep you at the top of your game, there are five golden rules we recommend to maximise recovery and help you become a better athlete.

1. Train well

Most sports scientists and top athletes recognise that slow and steady is every bit as important as fast and furious. Gentle warm-ups and cool-downs are an essential part of every run or cycle, so give your body a chance to ease into things and make sure there’s plenty of time for going back down through the gears towards the end of your session.

2. Stretch and massage

During exercise, our muscles produce lactic acid which can lead to pain and tenderness if not properly flushed out of the body. A thorough stretch and some deep tissue massage at the end of your workout is the best way to encourage blood flow, release lactic acid and set revive those tired limbs.

3. Hydrate

Staying hydrated is a key part of your recovery. If possible be sure to drink before, during and after every workout. For longer runs or cycles, take special care to top up on quality electrolytes both pre and post-workout to keep your mineral levels up and your body hydrated.

4. Eat

After exercise, your muscles will be craving protein which is essential for helping them rebuild. Be sure to eat a healthy, protein-rich meal as soon as possible after your session. Include plenty of plant-based proteins that will also provide extra minerals and nutrients to help boost your recovery.

5. Rest

Give your body plenty of opportunities to rest after a long run or ride. Try to avoid training late in the day and stick to a low-key evening routine that sets you up for a great nights sleep. That way you’ll wake up raring to go again tomorrow.

It’s tempting to overlook recovery as a luxury part of your workout that we simply don’t have time for. However, if you want to build strength, speed and stamina, factoring time for stretching, massage, nutrition and hydration into your daily schedule is vital. As one PT told me recently, you’ll benefit more by cutting every session short to properly cool down, stretch and recover than you will from using that time for additional exercise – and after years of periodic injury setbacks, I think she has a point.