Tools of the Recovery Trade

The number of tools for recovery has exploded, from vibrating foam rollers and massage balls to compression therapy and electric stimulation. Don't get too excited, no adult content here. What ever happened to the Stick? Or the blue styrofoam roller? Not to mention the simple and still best recovery method "RICE" (rest, ice, compression, elevation). I'll explain the benefits of a few recovery tools and offer a guide for how you can recover from your runs.

I always tell my athletes to recover as hard as you train. Recovery lets your energy, strength, and immune system return to optimal levels for performance. We all want to recover faster so we can make improvements in our fitness. End each run with active recovery or a slower walk or jog, instead of abruptly coming to a stop. This allows your heart rate to gradually come down and prevent your blood from pooling in your lower body, which can cause dizziness or faintness from insufficient blood flow to the heart and brain. 

Static stretching after your cool down will improve your flexibility and lengthen key muscle groups such as the lower back, hamstrings, and hip flexors that get tight from running. Make sure you consistently give your body some loving stretches after your run. It's easy to say but hard to commit to doing!

Foam rolling, a technique for self-myofascial release, enhances stretching by breaking up muscle tension and pushing new blood to fatigued muscle tissues or fascia. Foam roll on longer muscle groups like IT bands and calves. The more you foam roll, the more your muscles respond to it. And foam rolling should not be a race - take longer, more measured rolls with deep breaths to help your muscles relax and recover.

Complement rolling by using a hard ball to loosen localized and deeper soreness, with a golf ball for your feet or a lacrosse ball for your glutes. My favorite way to roll the plantar fascia is actually with a frozen water bottle, which has the double benefit of reducing inflammation and stretching muscle tissue.

So is it worth it to add the allure of vibration to your foam rollers or massage balls? Vibration therapy adds power to the myofascial release, relaxing muscles at lower speeds and breaking down scar tissue at higher speeds. But research on incremental benefits of vibration therapy is still mixed. Since it simulates the effects of mild exercise, it has been shown to help increase range of motion before activity. And as a product tester myself of the Hypervolt, I find its hand-held portability and quietness to be efficient but more of a nice to have than a necessity.

Finally, compression therapy like NormaTec recovery boots, an advanced form of compression clothing, has evolved into a truly social experience with runners relaxing in lounge chairs in big, black puffy boots, sipping green tea and discussing their mile splits. Recovery boots provide massage and push lactic acid out of the limbs to re-create the feeling of "fresh legs" though research on compression therapy mostly finds its benefits to be no better than active recovery and massage.

While there will continue to be sexier ways to recover, research also reveals that your expectations play a large factor in your perceived recovery. So simply believing that foam rolling, massage or ice baths work will help you recover better! Develop a recovery routine that works for you. And you can never go wrong with a Stick, golf ball and a little bit of RICE.

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