It’s a scenario that’s all too familiar for many of us in the world of calisthenics and bodyweight athletics. We push ourselves to reach new milestones, and sometimes, in the process, we overstep our boundaries.
Muscle strain, while an unwanted hiccup, is a natural part of the athletic journey. In fact, up to 55% of all injuries in athletes are muscle strains or lesions.
In our pursuit to better ourselves, understanding how to optimally recover from such setbacks is crucial. So, let’s dive into the science of muscle recovery and some effective strategies to speed it up.
Understanding Muscle Recovery: The Basics
When you strain a muscle, you’re essentially causing microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. This microtrauma triggers an inflammatory response, as your body works to repair and rebuild those fibers, ultimately making them stronger.
The recovery phase is characterized by the removal of cellular debris, inflammation control, and the regeneration of muscle fibers. Satellite cells, which can be thought of as muscle stem cells, play a pivotal role. They multiply, fuse to damaged muscle fibers, and donate their nuclei to facilitate the repair and growth process.
Tips, Strategies, and Procedures for Accelerating Recovery
Below, I’ve listed a few essential guidelines and ground rules for accelerating your muscle strain recovery. While these tips have served me well throughout my own fitness journey, it’s always a good idea to first speak to your doctor or a licensed healthcare provider before starting any new fitness regimen or recovery protocol.
1. Active Recovery
Active recovery is based on the premise of engaging in low-intensity exercises following strenuous workouts or during the rest period. This technique is contrary to complete rest and has its foundation in the belief that light, easy movement can aid in flushing out the waste products accumulated during intense workouts.
Light activities such as walking, cycling, or performing mobility exercises can help improve blood circulation, which aids in nutrient delivery to the injured muscle, accelerating the repair process.
2. Cold and Heat Therapy
Alternating between cold (ice packs) and heat (warm baths or heating pads) can reduce muscle inflammation and pain. Additionally, interventions such as cryo therapy, saunas, or steam rooms could also provide therapeutic benefits. Cold helps reduce inflammation, while heat improves blood flow and muscle relaxation.
(Looking for a next-generation cold therapy tool? Read our review of the Ice Barrel 400 model, one of the leading American ice bath products for injury rehabilitation and post-workout recovery.
Wearing compression garments can potentially reduce muscle soreness and inflammation by improving blood flow and limiting muscle oscillation during movement.
Elevating an injured muscle or limb is an age-old technique widely recommended for acute injuries or post-surgical care. When you raise the injured muscle above the heart’s level, you’re essentially utilizing gravity to facilitate the drainage of excess fluids (like blood and lymph) from the injured site.
This drainage helps in minimizing swelling, reducing pain, and preventing further tissue damage. It’s worth noting that while elevating, it’s crucial to ensure the limb is supported properly to avoid any undue pressure.
5. Proper Nutrition
Nutrition plays a central role in muscle recovery. While we often place an emphasis on protein for muscle repair and growth, we shouldn’t ignore other key nutrients. Carbohydrates, for instance, are critical for replenishing glycogen stores that are depleted post-exercise.
A good nutritional balance between protein and carbs is essential for creating an environment conducive to muscle recovery. Additionally, micronutrients like vitamins and minerals play roles in cellular functions that support recovery, from energy production to tissue repair.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and flaxseed, can reduce inflammation, while antioxidants like vitamins C and E can help combat oxidative stress during the recovery process.
6. Adequate Hydration
Water supports every metabolic process in our bodies, including recovery. Ensure you’re drinking enough to aid muscle repair and naturally flush out toxins processed via urination. For me, I need upwards of five liters of water on hot summer days when I’m very physically active—however, your individual water intake needs will vary widely.
This one almost goes without saying. Your body undergoes most of its repair work during sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours a night to support optimal recovery.
Tools, Supplements, and Items to Boost Recovery
Looking to prevent muscle strain, reduce your chances of incurring an injury, and speed up your injury recovery? Below, I’ve listed a handful of my favorite tools and supplements that have helped me do just that over the years.
1. Foam Rollers
Self-myofascial release using foam rollers can help relax tight muscles and improve flexibility, aiding recovery. Below, we’ve linked to an excellent video guide on how to use a foam roller to speed up injury recovery for calisthenics or any other athletic pursuit.
2. BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
These amino acids, particularly leucine, can support muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle breakdown, aiding in faster recovery. If you’re looking for an affordable and effective BCAA supplement to add to your routine, I recommend checking out this SHIFTED Recovery BCAA beverage review.
Massage therapy, widely recognized for its relaxation benefits, has deep roots in the realm of sports and athletic recovery. Its primary mechanism is promoting increased circulation, which in turn facilitates the delivery of oxygen and nutrients essential for muscle repair and removal of waste products like lactic acid.
Moreover, different massage techniques, such as deep tissue massage, Swedish massage, or trigger point therapy, target different aspects of muscle health. They can alleviate tension, break up scar tissue, and even help in realigning muscle fibers.
Regular massages post-intense workouts can not only speed up recovery but also enhance flexibility and can alleviate muscle tension and improve blood flow. Furthermore, massage aids in the release of endorphins, which can act as natural painkillers, reducing the perception of muscle soreness and offering a sense of relaxation and well-being.
4. Anti-inflammatory Supplements
Turmeric (curcumin) and ginger are natural anti-inflammatories that can support muscle recovery. Personally, I like to add a dash of powdered turmeric to my scrambled eggs in the morning. Not only does it taste great, but it also makes me feel terrific afterward.
5. Electrolyte Solutions
Electrolytes are essential minerals, like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, that carry an electric charge. They play a vital role in maintaining various physiological functions, from regulating the balance of fluids in and out of cells, tissues, and organs, to enabling muscle contractions and neural transmissions.
Post-exercise, especially intense ones, our bodies lose these electrolytes through sweat. Replenishing them with electrolyte solutions not only aids in the hydration process but also prevents muscle cramps and ensures proper muscle function. Popular sources include sports drinks, coconut water, or specially formulated electrolyte tablets and powders.
Muscle Strain Recovery Doesn’t Have to Be a Pain
Muscle strain, while inconvenient, is a hurdle we can overcome with the right knowledge and tools. Fortunately, muscle strain doesn’t have to be a major setback, and you can take actionable steps to speed up the recovery process. Above, I’ve listed my top suggestions for doing exactly that.
But remember, the best muscle strain recovery is prevention. Recovery is not just about healing, but about equipping our bodies to perform better in subsequent challenges.
By understanding the underlying biology and employing scientifically backed recovery strategies, we position ourselves for injury-free success in our athletic journeys. Or, if injuries do occur, we can set ourselves up to bounce back quickly by taking the right proactive steps.
For a more personalized post-injury recovery practice, consider booking a consultation with one of our expert trainers to accelerate your recovery.
Liam Hunt, M.A., is a writer and fitness enthusiast with a background in endurance cycling as well as competitive ice hockey, CrossFit, powerlifting, and bodybuilding. He is certified in Exercise Theory and Resistance Training from the Nova Scotia Fitness Association (NFSA).