3 Unconventional Tools to Speed Workout Recovery
Recovery is an important component of any workout regimen - it helps prevent injury, it allows you to perform better in your subsequent workout and it allows the positive changes from the workout to actually occur in your body.
Most athletes have a foam roller nearby to help recover from a tough workout. If things get really bad, you may even take an ice back. While these are great recovery tools that I use on a regular basis, there are additional, less conventional recovery tools you can add to your arsenal.
Because some of these products are expensive, I do not recommend them for the average gym goer. However, if you are a hard-charging athlete or you have a workout-related injury, these products can save you from the expensive doctor visits and physical therapy, missed workouts, soreness, pain and frustration.
Benefits of Cupping
Loosen tight muscles and adhesions. Cupping therapy literally pulls adhesions apart and relaxes tight muscles
Increase blood flow. By drawing skin into the cup, blood flows to the affected area. Once the cup is removed, blood flows more freely which accelerates the repair of damaged tissue
Reduce inflammation. The increased blood flow and pulling of skin away from muscles and joints helps reduce inflammation by allowing the fluids to drain rapidly
Pairs well with other treatments. Compression treatments,acupuncture and hot / cold therapy are all enhanced by cupping
While all of us have heard of acupuncture, cupping may be more of a mystery. Cupping is an ancient healing practice in which local suction is created on the skin in order to mobilize blood flow. Also known as myofascial decompression, cupping is used to treat sore muscles, accelerate recovery and treat injuries. People often times compare the feeling after a cupping session to that of a deep tissue massage.
The most common athletic complaints that are treated with cupping therapy are: neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, joint pain, chronic muscle imbalances or muscle spasm and plantar fasciitis.
The way it works is that a single cup or several cups are placed on the targeted area, at or near the point of pain. A partial vacuum is created by either heat or suction, which draws up the underlying tissues. This constant suctions forces more blood into the affected area to stimulate healing. After about 20 minutes, the cups are removed, allowing blood to flow freely throughout the affected area. As a note, welts will appear on your skin due to the constant suction. These welts can look pretty astonishing. However, there is no permanent damage, and the welts will go away within a week.
While there are limited scientific studies on the effects of cupping on recovery speed and injury, there has been enough anecdotal evidence to show the benefits. In fact, many physical therapists employ cupping for patients, depending on the injury. Here are a few instances of cupping used by athletes.
- Cupping is used by Olympic athletes, particularly swimmers and weightlifters
- Cupping was introduced to the Portland Trailblazers last year as a new type of recovery technique
- Cupping is often used by runners to treat plantar fasciitis and knee pain
Unlike acupuncture which can only be done by a professional, cupping sets can be purchased and used at home. Additionally, they are remarkably affordable, with most sets costing less than one massage session.
If you are interested in purchasing a set, you can buy a quality set on Amazon for under $35. Additionally, you can buy the sets with either glass, plastic or silicone cups. While all of them work well, the glass ones are more prone to breaking.
EMS studies show following benefits:
Improved strength and performance in healthy individuals.
- Relevant and efficient complement to voluntary resistance training for muscle strength improvement
- Improve strength and jumping ability in young gymnasts
- Improve force and specific soccer tasks
Enhanced Muscle Recovery
- Recovery method of choice for baseball pitchers because of superior blood lactate clearance and better self-reported recovery
- Alternate recovery treatment for swimmers versus active swimming for the purpose of lowering blood lactate
Physiological Changes in Muscle and Nerves
- Strength gains with EMS training are associated with neural and muscular adaptations
Electrostimulation is the elicitation of muscle contraction using electric impulses that directly stimulate your motor neurons. EMS can be used to build strength, keep a muscle fit while you are rehabbing from an injury (i.e., use on your pecs if you’ve injured your shoulders and can’t do push-ups) and as a post-exercise recovery tool for athletes. EMS increases blood flow to the area of damaged muscle tissue and works extremely well for any sore muscle, particularly in combination with pressure and ice.
To use EMS, place pads on your skin on and near the affected area. An EMS device typically has four channels with lead wires connected to two pads. Very small amounts of current run (at specific frequencies (Hz) and pulse durations (microseconds)) from one pad to the next and complete a circuit – using your muscle tissue as a conduit. The motor neurons within this circuit are stimulated and the muscle fibers innervated by the motor neurons then contract.
Using an EMS device for the first time will feel strange, as will cause your muscles to contract without the control of your brain. These contractions can be quick and rapid, quick with longer 'rest' between contractions, or held for seconds even minutes at a time.
There are many EMS devices on the market. Two of the most popular devices are the Marc Pro and Compex Performance Muscle Stimulator. While these both have a hefty price tag ($650 for the Marc Pro and $580 for Compex, they can be life savers for recovery. Additionally, you can look into a "TENS" unit which is good at managing pain but doesn't go as deep as the EMS devices. A good TENS unit is the truMedic TENS Unit Electronic Pulse Massager.
Hot / Cold Therapy Devices
I've discussed many of the benefits of hot / cold therapy in my article here. Hot / cold therapy is a proven recovery method - it restores muscle function, reduces soreness, restores force production and helps maintain performance in subsequent workouts.
However, most of us don't have a sauna or cold pool at are disposal. Also, the thought of filling bags of ice into your bathtub every other day doesn't sound that appealing either.
Fortunately, there are hot / cold therapy devices that can be used on a localized basis and are highly portable.
These devices contain a power unit with cords connecting to pads that are put on the affected area. They provide continuous, targeted, heating and cooling therapy to the affected areas.
There are two main hot / cold therapy devices on the market right now
The ThermaZone operates by thermoelectric heating and cooling and offers a broad temperature range from 38°F - 125°F. No ice is required.
The PowerPlay uses gel-pads or an optional ice pack. The gel-pads can either be frozen in the freezer or heated in the microwave. While the heating and cooling on the ThermaZone is more convenient (no need to heat or cool externally), the PowerPlay does offer active compression, which is also shown to speed recovery.
Check out both videos below to see how these products work.
Both of these devices cost a pretty penny. The ThermaZone starts at around $600 and the PowerPlay starts at around $500, depending on the types and amount of pads you buy. While both these devices are not cheap, they have been shown to manage pain, reduce swelling and bruising, improve blood flow, improve muscle recovery and promote healing for a faster recovery
ThermaZone Product Demo
PowerPlay Product Demo
Given the hefty price tag for some of these products, these tools aren't for everyone. However, if you are a hard-charging athlete or trying to recover from an injury, these products can help speed up your recovery. While the dollar cost may be relatively high upfront, they could help you save tons down the line by preventing injury and aiding recovery.