Feeling tired after your workout? An exercise physiologist explains a few things that may help your body recover.
A good workout can make you feel incredible – blood pumping, a rush of feel-good chemicals, and that sweaty feeling of accomplishment.
But afterwards? The muscle soreness and fatigue can be real.
Taking the time for rest and recovery when you need it can help support your health and wellbeing goals – and get you ready to enjoy the next workout.
So what could your recovery routine look like?
We talked to Lauren Sexton, an accredited exercise physiologist at Exercise and Sports Science Australia, for some expert ideas.
In this article
1. Warm up first
Your exercise self-care plan can actually start before your workout – by taking the time for a good warm up.
“An effective warm-up and cool-down can play an important role in exercise performance and how you feel,” Sexton says.
One of the main goals of a warm-up is to gradually warm your muscles and body temperature.1
How can you do this? A few ideas Sexton suggests include:
- Low-intensity aerobic exercise (like brisk walking or jogging) to get your heart rate up.
- Dynamic stretching. These are stretches that involve movement, such as lunges (as opposed to static stretches, where you hold a stretch in position).
- Mobility exercises that move your muscles and joints through a large range of motion. “This can help with stiffness in specific areas and reduce risk of injury,” Sexton says. “For example, you might try cat and cow stretch for lower back mobility.”
- A warm-up activity similar to the exercise you’re about to do. For example, you might do some bodyweight squats before using weights, or sports-specific drills before a game.
2. Cool down to finish
After your workout, take some time to gradually get your heart rate and body temperature back down.1
“A cool-down should incorporate a few minutes of low-intensity aerobic exercise, such as gentle jogging or walking,” Sexton says.
Cooling down can be an enjoyable way to finish your workout session, helping you transition more gently back into your day or evening.
3. Stretch it out
“There’s conflicting evidence whether stretching will help prevent injury or reduce muscle soreness in the days to come,” Sexton says.
“However, it’s still a good way to minimise that tight and stiff feeling in your muscles.”
Spend a few minutes stretching out each of the main muscle groups you’ve worked during your exercise session and enjoy the feeling of release.1
During the week in between exercise sessions, you could also try yoga to combine stretching and flowing movement with deep, relaxing breathing.2
4. Refuel and rehydrate
Your body needs good nutrition and plenty of water to feel and perform at its best.3
This may help with reducing soreness and fatigue, and with getting you ready for the next workout.3
After exercise, sports dietitians recommend focusing on:3
- Lots of water to rehydrate.
- Carbohydrates to replenish your muscle fuel stores – think whole grain breads, brown rice, oats or muesli, and fruits and vegetables.
- Protein to promote muscle repair – like lean meats, fish, legumes, eggs, tofu or dairy products.
If you want more guidance, a dietitian can give you personalised advice to support your needs and goals. HBF extras cover can pay benefits towards this.
5. Get a good sleep
“Rest and sleep may be the most overlooked aspect of recovery,” Sexton says.
“It is well documented that a lack of restful sleep can lead to poorer performance outcomes and risk of injury.”
To get a better night’s rest, she suggests the following tips:
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet
- Avoid looking at your phone or other screens for 1-2 hours before bed
- Limit caffeine and big meals leading up to sleep
- Try relaxation techniques before bed and look for ways to reduce overall stress.
6. Try foam rolling or massage (if it feels good to you)
Sexton says there’s mixed evidence about how much using a foam roller or getting a massage really helps improve recovery after exercise.
But for many people, it feels good – so that can make it a worthwhile part of your recovery routine.
“The psychological aspects of feeling less muscle pain or tightness may be enough to make foam rolling or massage beneficial for some,” she says.
And of course, massage can also be relaxing, which is a good enough reason to indulge yourself if you enjoy it.
If anything doesn’t feel right, seek help
A bit of general soreness and stiffness after exercise is normal, but don’t ignore pain that’s more severe or doesn’t go away.
If you’re injured, or just feel like something isn’t quite right, stop exercising and seek help from a health professional before you get back out there.1
How can health insurance help?
HBF extras insurance can include cover for a few services that may help keep you moving and feeling better, such as:
- Physiotherapy. From aches and pains to mobility issues and injuries, physio can help treat a wide range of physical conditions. (Learn more about physio cover.)
- Remedial massage. Recover with soft tissue manipulation that can help treat injuries or illness.
- Exercise physiology. Get support for managing, treating or preventing chronic illness or injury through exercise.
If you’re an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.
Extras cover to keep you moving
With great benefits for physio, remedial massage and more, HBF extras can help support your wellbeing.
Find out more
This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.