Exciting new equipment can take your fitness to the next level.
You make your health and fitness a priority. You hit the gym nearly every day, and even schedule your week around your favorite workouts. But are you really using everything available to knock your fitness goals out of the park?
Check out these tools below to challenge your body and improve your recovery.
You may have noticed people at the gym wearing knee-high socks, full-length tights or sleeves over their calves or arms. Most of the time, these pieces are compression garments.
Wearing compression clothing before and after a tough workout is a relatively new form of treatment that research demonstrates is an effective recovery tool. The pressure from the tight clothing can improve circulation, specifically the venous return of blood back to the heart, which helps remove metabolic waste from muscles and promotes the flow of oxygenated blood to help repair and rebuild the tissue.
In a recent study, researchers were able to measure metabolic by-products from exercise, such as creatine kinase (also known as CK, a marker of muscle damage resulting from a workout). They found that subjects who wore compression clothing after strenuous exercise had lower CK levels than subjects who performed the same workout but did not wear compression clothing.
You’ve also probably seen people walking around with pieces of colored tape stuck to various parts of their body. This is “stretch tape,” and it can make a big difference if you’re injured or returning to exercise after an injury has healed. There are different brands with their own unique features, but most stretch tape is latex-free elastic, which won’t irritate the skin. The tape works by applying pressure on the skin to pull it away from the muscle tissue. This separation creates a slight vacuum effect, which draws more blood and lymph fluid to that spot. If a muscle is injured and healing, this lymphatic fluid can help speed up the recovery process.
Stretch tape can also help hold joints in proper alignment, avoiding “subluxation.” Subluxation is the condition in which a joint does not track properly through its complete range-of-motion — like a drawer that sticks on its runners. If a joint is injured or the connective tissue around the joint is strained, the proper application of stretch tape can help joint structures re-align themselves to allow a complete range of motion, which can minimize the risk of any further injury.
In addition, stretch tape can help reduce pain and promote the natural healing process, which allows you to get back to your training program in a shorter period of time. For best results, stretch tape should be applied by a properly trained professional like a physical therapist, athletic trainer or chiropractor.
Foam rollers, compression balls and rolling sticks
You see them at the gym and in most sports stores: foam rollers, compressions balls and rolling-pin-like sticks to help reduce muscle tightness. You’ve probably wondered whether or not they work, and here’s your answer: they do.
If a muscle doesn’t experience proper cool-down or is held in its shortened position for an extended amount of time, then collagen can bind between layers of muscle, creating adhesions or knots. (Collagen comprises inelastic fibers that are a component of the connective tissue surrounding each muscle.) Traditional massage therapy works by manually manipulating muscle tissue to break up adhesions, allowing the layers of muscle to slide against one another without restrictions, which is what we want. This breaking up of adhesions can help reduce muscle tightness and improve joint range-of-motion.
However, because it’s not practical to visit a massage therapist after every workout, foam rollers, rolling sticks or compression balls can be used to apply the necessary pressure to break up collagen and promote optimal muscle recovery.
The pressure and motion of a muscle moving on a foam roller can help realign muscle tissue to be able to function normally. In general, foam rollers provide the greatest response when you position part of your body, such as your quadriceps,
directly on top of the roller, and move slowly and rhythmically to apply pressure to the underlying muscle and elastic connective tissue.
You may have walked by a large black vibration training platform in your gym and wondered what it was and why you should use it. It’s a vibration plate, which works by oscillating at a speed of anywhere from 25 to 50Hz a second at an amplitude of 2 to 4 millimeters, creating upward movement in all three planes of motion.
There is a tremendous amount of research demonstrating the effectiveness of using a vibration platform, which enhances blood flow to any part of the body. Force is the product of mass and acceleration; if the ground accelerates underneath us, it creates an upward force into the tissues of the body. As the platform vibrates, it triggers the nervous system to reflexively generate 30 to 40 micro-muscle contractions per second. Numerous studies have demonstrated that vibration training can improve circulation, coordination, stability, strength, power, flexibility and mobility and bone density.
This three-dimensional, high-speed movement can also improve the viscosity of the fascia and connective tissue that surround muscle fibers, as well as enhance the sensitivity of the nervous system. As a warm-up, vibration training is an effective way to prepare the muscles to generate force during the workout. As a component of a cool-down, the vibrations of the platform can help flush metabolic waste from the muscles used during the workout, potentially enhancing recovery time. And any part of the body that is placed on the platform gets benefits (although it is not advised to place your head or neck on the platform).
Ice, Cooling Baths or Cryogenic Chambers
Ice baths, ice packs, cooling vests or special cryogenic chambers are all cold treatment recovery options.
A cryotherapy chamber applies a really cold temperature — up to minus 135 degrees centigrade — for a brief amount of time, which can be an effective way to promote post-exercise recovery.
Cold treatment can help cool down the body’s core temperature, which is essential when exercising in hot weather or when playing in tournaments that will have multiple competitions on the same day. It can also reduce inflammation and promote healing in tissue that was used during the workout. The cold from the application of ice to a sore muscle or joint brings more blood to the area, too, which in turn brings nutrients and oxygen to help promote healing.
Cryotherapy clinics are popping up all over the country, providing an increasingly affordable way to receive the benefits of really cold temperatures. A number of professional sports teams use cryotherapy, as well.
The common theme among all this gear is that it helps improve circulation, to remove waste from the muscles and to bring new oxygen and nutrients to help build new tissue. Each of these five methods is supported by scientific evidence, but only you can determine which one will be the best for your needs.
Don’t forget the essentials: sleep and nutrition
All the specialized tools in the world can’t replace the essentials, like sleep and proper nutrition. Eating a healthy snack with protein within 45 minutes after a workout helps promote recovery, as does the REM cycle of sleep, during which your body produces hormones to help repair your tissues. The latest gear, plus these proven self-care steps, will help you increase your gains while minimizing injury.
As a warm-up, vibration training is an effective way to prepare the muscles to generate force during the workout.