You just finished crushing a workout and your first instinct is to eat and plop down on the couch. I cannot say I have never engaged in that process myself. While there is nothing inherently wrong with it, you may not feel as fresh for your next session. While actual recovery—the repair of tissues and systems—is at a fixed rate, there are things we can do post-workout (like the post-workout mobility exercises below) to mitigate soreness and improve overall tissue health.
There are a variety of products and protocols claiming to speed up the recovery process, but the only tried-and-true actions you can take to aid in recovery are proper nutrition, hydration, and quality sleep. That being said, if your body feels better, your next training session will most likely be better.
Stretching, and/or light movement, along with elevating the legs are my go-to recommendations post-workout. This is not the time to strive for an increased range of motion. We are simply trying to return to pre-activity length and calm the nervous system. A few static stretches (yes, this is the time for static stretching) held 30-60 seconds at 40-60% intensity will do the trick.
You can also incorporate low-intensity movement, but the techniques can be a bit trickier and harder to reproduce. Make sure you cover your calves, hamstrings, quads, hips, and thoracic spine. There is a wide variety of stretches to accomplish this so just make sure you are not being too aggressive or performing movements that require a lot of effort. I use slightly different flexibility sequences based on whether I’ve just finished a bike or run session (see below).
If you have a pair of compression boots, you can throw them on after stretching. Or you can lie down with your legs up against a wall. After hours of blood pumping to your legs, and/or pounding the ground, compression/elevation gives your venous and lymphatic system a little help cycling fluid back up. After long runs, I use a flexibility sequence performed while having your legs up the wall (see below). It is extremely low stress, physical and mental, and covers both bases.
Endurance sports performance is based on layering session on top of session and year on top of year. Taking care of the little things will go a long way in keeping you healthy and raring to go for your next session. Take a few minutes after hard workouts to stretch out and elevate your legs. Your body will thank you for it. Here are some of my recommended post-workout mobility exercises. Pick and choose what feels right to you based on where you feel your body needs the most attention.
Post-Workout Mobility Exercises
Mid foot mobility (10x each side) – Video
Ankle mobility with big toe extension (10x each side) – Video
Wall series (30-60 sec each movement each side) – Video
Half kneeling quad/hip flexor with rotation (30 sec each side) – Video
Foam roll back and lats (3x slow rolls and shearing where indicated) – Video
Paraspinal rolls (4-6x up and down) – Video
Thoracic extension (3x reps in each of the 3 positions) – Video
Foam roll hips (3x slow rolls and shearing where indicated) – Video
Couch stretch (1 min each side) – Video
Toe stretching (20-30 sec) – Video
90/90 pigeon (30-60 sec each side) – Video
Side lying trunk rotation (3-5x each position each side) – Video
Kevin Purvis NSCA-CPT, CFSC, FMS is a Boulder, Colorado-based strength coach specializing in endurance athletes.