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Five Ways To Recover After The Gym

Now you can rehabilitate your body with these alarmingly high-tech solutions. Who’s game?

  • Illustrations by Mr Andrea Mongia

Market researchers are always keen to point out that millennials value meaningful experiences over material things. What counts as a meaningful experience? Well, seemingly, avocado on toast, ClassPass credits and doing yoga-teacher training in Goa while on a sabbatical.

Yes, in 2018, health is the truest sign of wealth. So much so that a rather worrying recent study conducted by MyProtein revealed that, over a lifetime, the average American millennial will spend more money on fitness ($112,000) than they will on college tuition ($98,440). While this factoid goes some way to explain the political landscape of the US, it also reinforces the fact that most of us are fixated with the body beautiful.

But with increasingly mad bootcamp-style workouts comes a higher risk of injury and a greater need for recovery and rehabilitation. Hitting CrossFit in a frenzy like some deranged gladiator in compression tights will take its toll, as will ClassPassing from boutique gym to boutique gym without developing any real technique.

And so our collective fascination with fitness has spawned a secondary market for rehabilitative treatments, many of which have reached the masses via endorsements from athletes. From the mundane (foam roller, anyone?) to the questionably miraculous (regenerative injection therapy), below we consider the good, the bad and the outright ridiculous in an effort to keep you on top of your game.

01. Cryotherapy

Not to be confused with cryogenics, cryotherapy – essentially a newfangled ice bath – has gained popularity thanks to the relentless enthusiasm of Dutch extreme athlete Mr Wim “The Iceman” Hof, who attributes his superhuman powers to sub-zero exposure. Cryotherapy is also endorsed by space-age skincare brands such as 111skin, which considers it a potent anti-ager. The brand has launched a 111Cryo concession as part of Harrods’ Wellness Clinic in London. The three-minute treatment takes place in a shower-like chamber that has an ambient temperature of –85°C and just enough room to stand (or, more likely, jump around) wearing little more than a pair of shorts and some insulated slippers.

In that time, the body is said to undergo many changes, including a reduction in inflammation, a boost in immunity and, perhaps most tangibly, faster recovery from exercise. There is also, we hasten to add, a manic rush of endorphins that stays with you for several hours afterwards. Those with skin conditions such as dermatitis or acne also find cryotherapy helpful.

Given the relative infancy of the technology, there are only a handful of clinical studies in circulation and they are, as always, somewhat contradictory. But the suggestion is clear: athletes who have cryo regularly can prevent musculoskeletal overload and injury and have fewer markers of inflammation. In short, this means they can return to their Spartan warrior training regime far sooner than those who prefer not to freeze themselves.

Muscle recovery and rehabilitation aside, forward-thinking boutique gyms such as KXU in London have spotted the treatment’s ability to reduce subcutaneous fat and have, rather cleverly, incorporated it into their weight-loss packages.

02. Platelet-rich plasma therapy

Athletes including Messrs Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, Hines Ward and, most famously, a pre-meltdown Tiger Woods have all undergone platelet-rich plasma therapy, otherwise known as PRP, a regenerative treatment for soft-tissue injuries (MCL tears, tennis elbow, etc) that supposedly eliminates the need for surgical intervention. The procedure involves drawing the patient’s blood and then centrifuging it to separate the plasma, which contains the platelets, from the red blood cells. The platelets contain proteins, cytokines and other bioactive growth factors that contribute to wound healing. Which is why they are then re-injected to the site of the boo boo.

While the logic seems plausible, the jury’s still out on the practice of regenerative injection therapies such as PRP. The hyperbolic headlines in praise of the treatment have caused the public to put an inordinate amount of faith in a procedure that is still too young to have enough clinical data behind it. That’s not to say it doesn’t work; it’s just that expectations may need managing. 

In the meantime, you can rely on PRP as an aesthetic procedure. In cosmetic circles, PRP forms the science behind the famous Vampire Facelift, whereby the body’s own regenerative powers are used to delay the ageing process. Dr Barbara Sturm is a specialist in this process and has invented a cream that incorporates a patient’s blood. Her range of blood-free cosmetics, incidentally, are rather good, too – be sure to check them out.

03. Circadian fasting

The publication of the 5:2 diet in 2014 marked a paradigm shift in our relationship with food. “Hangry” became part of common parlance and friends would routinely show up at nice, well-meaning restaurants and, to the confusion (and annoyance) of everyone else at the table, refuse to eat anything. Since then, there have been numerous fasting diets and studies espousing the benefits of intermittent starving. What they have all demonstrated is that what you eat matters just as much as when you eat.

It turns out we did not evolve to have 24-hour access to Deliveroo or AmazonFresh and that our bodies are, in fact, predisposed to fasting for extend periods of time (our minds, on the other hand, are a different matter). By aligning our eating patterns with the natural rhythms of the body, we get a proper reset each day and stand to receive more of those tasty lean gains. 

The Circadian Code by Dr Satchin Panda, a professor at the Salk Institute, suggests that consolidating your eating to an eight-hour window will provide optimum results. Time-restricted feeding is effective because hormones, enzymes and digestive systems peak at certain hours. In other words, there isn’t just one master clock in the brain, as was previously thought, but multiple clocks assigned to each organ. To wit, digestion and absorption, not to mention rest and recovery, will be easiest at set times.

If you are an all-day grazer or, worse, a two-in-the-morning-refrigerator starer, then intermittent fasting might be challenging. Your first meal should appear in the morning and your last in the early evening, long before the body starts to wind down for the night. If you take weight loss and lean gains out of the equation, the benefit of circadian fasting for the recreational and professional athlete boils down to recovery and regeneration. And, we’re told, considerably fewer hunger pangs once you get into the routine.

04. Intravenous therapy

IV spas are a relatively new addition to metropolitan cities, marketing themselves as a quick fix for weakened immunity and chronic hangovers. Much like a night with Jack Daniel’s, regular training can leave the body dehydrated, depleted and crying for trace minerals and vitamins. This inevitably leads to muscle cramps and a fairly swift nose dive in athletic performance.

Rather than neck a gallon of isotonic drinks, a great number of professional athletes (and professional drinkers) turn to intravenous therapy to replenish glycogen stores, water-soluble B vitamins (for stamina and performance) and amino acids. Regular drips do more than simply speed up recovery time through rehydration. The use of magnesium and other minerals reduces muscle fatigue. 

The main benefit of getting your vitamins intravenously rather than via a traditional supplement or drink is absorption. The gastrointestinal tract breaks down most of the nutrients in a pill, leaving you with somewhere between 25 and 50 per cent of the goodness advertised on the bottle. A drip, on the other hand, guarantees 100 per cent absorption and, depending on how many B vits you get in your bespoke cocktail, it can leave you feeling seriously wired and ready to crush your PB. 

05. Think fascia

An emphasis on high-intensity workouts means that rest and recovery are paramount, if only to reduce the risk of injury. And while most of us focus exclusively on muscle recovery, fascia – the dense connective tissue that, a bit like a body stocking, surrounds all our muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons – is sorely overlooked.

“Fascia has long been considered inert and uninteresting, because most people doing dissections were looking for specific tissues and organs with specific jobs to do,” says Ms Suzanne Wylde, a bodyworker at Triyoga in London and founder of the Moving Stretch technique. “Fascia, being everywhere and working constantly in the background, was overlooked.” 

It took bodyworkers such as Ms Wylde to spread the word about fascia and how it plays a critical role in the interconnectivity of the whole human body. “When you release the hamstrings and the neck becomes looser, you have to ask how that happens. Looking at individual muscles will not give you that answer,” she says. 

If muscle strain, or #DOMS, feels like localised intense pain, fascial adhesions create impossible stiffness that requires regular reconditioning and decompressing. Ms Wylde achieves this by way of resistance stretches, manual release, acupuncture and her barefoot walking massage (it’s exactly what you think it is). On a practical level, this leaves you feeling taller, pain-free and tangibly lighter in every sense of the word.

DIY Rehabilitation

  • Erno Laszlo Detoxifying Hydrogel Masks, 4 x 25g

  • Neat Nutrition Advanced Multi Vitamins & Minerals, 60 Capsules

  • Bodyism Male Optimum, 600g

  • Pas Normal Studios Bidon Water Bottle, 500ml

  • Nike Training Metcon Free Mesh and Neoprene Sneakers

  • 2XU Accelerate Printed Compression Tights