STRETCHING AND RECOVERY
You have to stretch after training because… You have to, right?
Stretching after training is good – that’s common sense. Everybody knows that. Why should we stretch? Because it helps recovery and decreases muscle soreness. Well, let’s take a look at that.
First of all, when we emphasize the eccetric (a.k.a. negative) phase of a lift (like lowering the bench press to your chest slowly, or slowly bending over during a stiff-legged deadlift), that leads to increased muscle soreness the next day. If you have ever done that, you know it exactly. The eccentric phase of a lift causes more damage and microtears in the muscle than the concentric part. This is because only half of the muscle fibers used during the concentric phase work during the eccentric phase. If you lifted the weight with 100 muscle fibers, only 50 will be working when you lower it. So stretching under load causes your muscles a lot of damage (that will lead to further growth). From a recovery standpoint, why would stretching without a weight be any different? People get sore after yoga classes – although all they did there was stretching.
Stretching is working your muscles. Your muscles try to stop you from moving at certain joint angles that your body deems dangerous, and to stop you from hurting yourself your muscles tense up. It’s quiet hard to imagine that putting in extra muscle work at the end of training will lead to less pain and fatigue the next day.
Stretching is not the best way to facilitate recovery and more advanced stretching routines should be viewed as separate workouts.
How to facilitate recovery then?
Well, recovery, by definition, is returning to our baseline performance. If you run 2000 meters as fast as you can, and you record your time and when you are done you try to run it again – your time will be worse. But, after some rest and maybe 1-2 meals, you can run 2000 meters in the same time – that means that you have recovered. Fatigue and the decrease is performance is caused by multiple factors – some of them are local (like the decrease in glycogen stores and the increased acidity of the muscles) and some are central (like the tiredness of your central nervous system). Central fatigue is best decreased by rest – sleep well, eat well and decrease your workload.
Local factors like the decrease in your muscles’ glycogen stores can be solved with proper nutrition. Though low-carb diets are the hype today, but there is hardly anything more powerful in muscle recovery than replenishing glycogen stores post-workout.
Increasing the blood flow of the muscle can further facilitate muscle recovery. Increased blood flow provides the muscles with oxigen and nutrients (like amino acids, carbs and fatty acids) – all necessary for proper recovery.
How to increase blood flow?
One of the best ways is light cardio, which is not even cardio but aerob training, where intensity stays under 70 %. You might work up a little sweat but you are breathing normally – that’s the perfect tempo.
An other great option is sauna. Finnish or infra – both are great for health and increasing blood flow. Saunas carry some extra benefit apart from the increase in blood flow. For example due to the high temperature our bodies start to produce heat shock proteins. Heat shock proteins promote muscle protein synthesis and proper recovery.
So, if you want to promote recovery after a heavy workout (or multiple weeks of hard training): eat well, sleep well, go to the sauna and maybe do some easy aerob training.