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Recovery- Stratergies to maximise recovery from exercise

Any good training programme must balance the training stimulus with adequate recovery to maximise performance and results. As the stimulus required to achieve the desired training effect increases, as potentially does the need for maximising recovery between training sessions. This is particularly important for athletes looking to develop multiple fitness qualities at the same time, or those training several times per day. An inability to recover effectively from these sessions may leave you feeling sore, increase the risks of illness and leave you unable to complete the training sessions at the required intensity.

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the complex mechanisms of fatigue from training, although replacing energy stores is an obvious consideration to allow successful subsequent training.  Some key recovery strategies a focus on rehydration, resynthesis of glycogen stores and other key nutritional practices. Others aim to reduce the perceived soreness from previous training sessions. It is important to remember that higher levels of muscle soreness do not necessarily lead to a greater training adaptation. Finally, a consideration for recovery of the central nervous system can play a key role in ensuring we maximise performance in training and competition. This paper will briefly review 4 areas of recovery, with a hope of dispelling a few myths, so you can put your valuable to time good use!

The key areas to be discussed in this article are:

1.       Nutritional practices to enhance recovery.

2.       Sleep. 

3.       Stretching.

4.       Active Recovery, Yoga and SMR (foam rolling).

5. Other modalities (water emmersion/ cryotherapy/ compression/ massage).


Nutritional Practices to maximise recovery.

Nutrition is a key area to get right to ensure you are allowing your body to recover from training. Firstly, rehydration after exercise can be crucial. Exercise in a dehydrated state can lead to impaired training and competition performance (Armstrong, 1985). During exercise, depending on several factors including intensity, duration, temperature and more, therefore a focus on ensuring adequate hydration should be a primary concern for anyone looking to be ready to perform in subsequent training sessions. 

Another consideration to ensure preparedness for subsequent training sessions is replacing relevant energy stores. Manipulating energy stores can be an effective tool to maximise a desired training response (such as training low intensities with low glycogen stores to enhance fat oxidation for endurance performance). However, exercise at higher intensities uses primarily glycogen stores as fuel. For this reason, replacing glycogen stores to allow adequate training intensities is essential, particularly in athletes training regularly (12 hours or less between sessions). For sessions with minimal recovery between, replenishing glycogen stores should be a primary concern. Consuming up to 1.2g/ kg/ hour of carbohydrates, for up to 5 hours post exercise (depending on the amount of glycogen to be replaced) (Jentjens, 2003). A practical example of glycogen replenishment is given at the end of this section.

Other key considerations with regards to good nutrition and recovery include consuming adequate protein in the diet (depending on goals, but active individuals aiming to increase/ maintain muscle mass are advised to target 2.3-3.1g/ kg of protein per day (Helms, 2014). In addition, athletes often consume inadequate amounts of fruit, veg and oily fish (Close, 2010).  This can lead to increased inflammation and oxidative stress, therefore consuming adequate “total” nutrition, and not simply focusing on macronutrients is an important factor in ensuring we are maximising recovery from training.

“After a 1 hour running session, a 70kg male may aim to replace an additional 600 calories from carbohydrate in addition to the “normal” dietary requirements. At the suggested rate, this would be a post exercise glycogen consumption of approx. 84g/ hour, for approximately 2 hours, in addition to normal nutritional requirements. In addition, protein ingested with meal 1 may also enhance muscle recovery and adaptation. Therefore, for this athlete, consuming approximately 30g protein, in addition to 84g carbohydrates after 1 hour and 3 hours post exercise (in addition to regular dietary requirements), may be an appropriate post exercise fuelling strategy.”



Sleep is a hugely important factor in our ability to recover from training sessions. Lack of sleep leads to poor performance, lack of focus and higher levels of perceived exertion, in addition to disrupted glucose metabolism and neuro endocrine function, a compromised immune system and reduced cardiovascular performance (Halson, 2008). It has been suggested that athletes require around 10 hours of sleep per night to allow sufficient recovery from intense exercise periods.

Because of the vast importance of sleep to recovery, coupled with busy lifestyles of people who are working full time alongside their fitness training, the following advice may help to maximise sleep quality (Marshall, 2016), and therefore help to promote fuller and faster recovery.

·       Aim to achieve a minimum of 8 hours of sleep per night (for younger athletes, or those with high training stress, 10 hours may be more appropriate)

·       If you find it difficult to achieve the recommended amount of sleep per night, due to early waking hours (common for those with early training sessions), then adding a nap to your day may prove useful to “top up” required sleep.

·       If you nap, ensure this is early enough to not have an adverse effect on subsequent sleep. In addition, caffeine prior to the nap may help you to feel more alert upon waking.

·       Minimise the use of electrical devices at bedtime if you feel this helps. Often, people find it easier to fall asleep in a dark, quiet room.

·       Aim for a consistent routine of sleep (eg, add a consistent bedtime).

Simply having an awareness of sleep hygiene practices may enhance sleep quality (O’Donnol, 2017), so give these a try.



Stretching is often performed both pre and post exercise, with one justification for this often being the suggestion that stretching may reduce muscle soreness. Prior to exercise, stretching, or at least an adequate warm up promoting full range of movement, and be beneficial to maximise performance and reduce injury risk. Although static stretching may have a negative effect on power output when performed prior to the training session, an adequate “re warming” of the CNS can often reduce, if not eradicate, any negative effects from static stretching. In addition, stretching to return the muscle to “full length” following intense exercise may have beneficial effects for subsequent training sessions, based on the potential to return to full and normal range of motion, minimising negative impact on exercise economy. However, these claims are speculative, and although benefits of flexibility work can be seen as part of a complete training programme, research suggests that stretching after  training sessions appears to have no clear effect on muscle soreness or injury risk (Barnett, 2006).


Active Recovery and foam rolling. 

Research that active recovery has a beneficial effect on performance over other modalities is currently lacking (Barnett, 2006). However, although the idea of a “cool down” may show limited evidence of beneficial effects on exercise recovery. Making use of lower intensity training sessions between high intensity sessions may be a useful strategy to ensure a reduction of training monotony, and an opportunity to focus on low intensity exercise, mobility, prehab and other often overlooked areas within the training plan. However, with regards to recovery alone, it is not clear whether active recovery provides any more beneficial effects than other recovery techniques such as compression and cryotherapy. With regards to active recovery methods, ensuring that the programme as a whole allows for adequate total recovery time, and varied intensities, is essential. 

A useful method may be to include occasional sessions with a focus on mobility work and foam rolling. Think putting a warm up type intensity as the focus off the entire short session, aiming to emphasise mobility restrictions, and general tightness (for more on warm ups, check out the recent blog post here!). Foam rolling (SMR) is an effective and cost effective solution to ensure that some aspects of recovery and mobility are being included in the programme. Foam rolling may also help to minimise issues caused by scar tissue, and help with fluid dynamics in the muscle tissues, leading to overall faster recovery.  Generally, including lower intensity workouts, with an emphasis on mobility and stability where required, core strengthening, and recovery methods such as “recovery zone” training – either low intensity strength training or low intensity and low volume conditioning work, in addition to foam rolling, may be an effective method of active recovery, helping you to train harder for longer durations without reaching burnout.



Similarly to some of the benefits of active recovery as mentioned above, Yoga can be a fantastic addition to a programme for individuals with stressful lifestyles looking to get the most out of their training. In addition to allowing full ranges of movement, and a great way to get moving in general at an appropriate intensity, yoga has the added benefit of improving focus and reducing stress levels- a necessary addition to a LOT of plans! However, not all Yoga is the same, and only appropriate types with specific emphasis on recovery, will be relevant here. For those serious about using Yoga for recovery, 1-1 sessions, or specific small group sessions, should be used first to allow for appropriate movements and intensities. Following this, group classes may be advised. Yoga can be great here, but done without consideration it may be counter productive to training. For more information, check out Your Yoga Experience, and use the get in touch tab at the side with any questions!


Other recovery modalities.

Other methods are commonly used to promote recovery from training. These methods include cold water immersion, cold/ hot water alternating, massage therapy, cryotherapy, compression and more. It seems that these methods may all have their time and place, but understanding the benefits, potential drawbacks, and how to get the most out of them is key. For example, if looking to improve recovery from an open water swim in a cold climate, jumping straight into an ice bath is not likely to help- same goes for a hot bath following an intense event in hot and humid temperatures. Make use of these additional methods that work for you, but only after making sure you are taking care of the basics. Take a common sense approach to these additional methods, and keep a log of what seems to work best for you. Remember, sking for guidance is not a bad thing- providing you know who to ask!


To Summarise, focus on the basics. Ensure you are supporting your training with intelligent programming (including adequate recovery time between intense sessions), with adequate nutrition (both amount and quality), and enough sleep.

Beyond that, if you feel putting active recovery sessions in will have the best impact on your overall training, then do it. Or if you feel a massage or any other recovery modality may fit better here in your own individual situation, then do what you feel works for you. 

To make sure you’re getting the most out of your training, get the right guidance from our expert team at FX Fitness Experience. Contact us now!


Josh Kennedy, MSc, ASCC, CSCS



Armstrong, L. (1985). Influence of diuretic induced dehydration on competitive running performance. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise(17), 456-461.

Barnett, A. (2006). using recovery modalities between training sessions in elite athletes, does it help? Sports Medicine, 36(9), 781-796.

Close, G. (2010). top ten nutritional mistakes made by elite athletes. professional strength and conditioning(18), 15-20.

Halson, S. (2008). Sleep in Elite Athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Medicine, 44(2), 139-147.

Helms, E. (2014). evidence based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest prep: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society for sports nutrition, 11-20.

Jentjens, R. (2003). Determinants of post exercise glycogen synthesis during short term recovery. Sports Medicine(17), 117-144.

Marshall, G. (2016). the importance of sleep for athletic performance. strength and conditioning journal, 38(1), 61-67.

O’Donnol, S. (2017). sleep hygeine education improves sleep indicies in elite female athletes. International Journal of Exercise Science, 10(4), 522-530.



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