9 Powerful Methods That Can Help You Recover...Even With A Busy Lifestyle!

How can we apply effective restoration methods such as contrast showers, stretching, salt baths, electronic muscle stimulation, and massage in our life? The following methods can help... even with a busy lifestyle. Learn more.

The Restoration Solution: Practical Recovery Methods For A Busy Lifestyle

restore (r-stôr, -str)

  1. Return to its original or usable and functioning condition; "restore the forest to its original pristine condition" [syn: reconstruct]
  2. Return to life; get or give new life or energy; "The week at the spa restored me" [syn: regenerate, rejuvenate]
  3. Give or bring back; "Restore the stolen painting to its rightful owner" [syn: restitute]
  4. Restore by replacing a part or putting together what is torn or broken; "She repaired her TV set"; "Repair my shoes please" [syn: repair, mend, fix, bushel, doctor, furbish up, touch on] [ant: break]
  5. Bring back into original existence, use, function, or position; "restore law and order"; "reestablish peace in the region"; "restore the emperor to the throne" [syn: reinstate, reestablish]

Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

"I've read so much about the importance of restoration, but to be honest, my life is crazy right now! How can I realistically fit this stuff in?"

Yes, that is a common dilemma and one of the primary reasons that restoration tends to be neglected by many in our society. Russian and Eastern European lifters actually plan for restoration in their periodization scheme.

In North America, however, we concentrate so much on training that recovery gets overlooked. In fact, Russians do three semesters on massage and restoration (in Kinesiology or Physical Education courses.) Guess how much we do here?

If you guessed more than zero, try again!

So how can we apply some effective restoration methods such as contrast showers, stretching, soft tissue work, salt baths, electronic muscle stimulation, and massage in our everyday life? Well, here's the way I personally do it.

1. Contrast Methods

Seven years ago, I had a chance to spend some time with Dr. Mel Siff at his ranch in Colorado. He shared with me some secrets on advanced recovery techniques. Here are a few tidbits on contrast methods that I think you'll find interesting:

  • Always start with hot and end with cold (unless you plan to go to sleep afterwards, in which case you should end with heat.)
  • The duration of each stimulus is 1-5 minutes, but here's the kicker...apparently, the body will adapt to the duration so you must vary it each time.
  • The body should be almost completely submerged (Dr. Siff had an 8-foot deep Jacuzzi) and motion is desirable (particularly in the cold environment, e.g. swim.)
  • The temperature must be appropriate (hot should be very hot, i.e. up to 110 degrees F, and cold should be cold, i.e. as low as 60 degrees F.)
  • Repeat the process 3-4 times.

According to Siff, "It is not simply the temperature of a given modality, but also the level of difference between hot and cold temperatures, and the time spent at each temperature which determine how one should use contrast methods." He claimed that this strategy worked very well with Russian lifters and he also used it quite successfully with his American athletes.

Believe me, it does work quite well. After performing countless sets of Olympic lifts, I had the pleasure to experience Siff's lovely contrast bathing method with powerlifter, Dave Tate.

Picture Tate (a very big guy) and I (not quite as big!) jumping from an 8-foot deep Jacuzzi with handle bars on the side to hold you up (this allowed for complete submersion as well as decompression of the spine) to a swimming pool where we did a few laps. Might not sound like a big deal but consider that the Jacuzzi was set at 110°F (yes you read that right) and the pool at 62°F (in the winter, Siff used to get his athletes to roll in the snow!). Talk about contrast! And this was all done after midnight. Needless to say, we slept like babies that night!

Picture Tate And I Jumping From An 8-Foot Deep Jacuzzi To A Swimming Pool. Picture Tate And I Jumping From An 8-Foot Deep Jacuzzi To A Swimming Pool.
+ Click To Enlarge.
Picture Tate And I Jumping From An
8-Foot Deep Jacuzzi To A Swimming Pool.

Dr. Siff is no longer with us but his methods live on. Today, contrast showers have become a Sunday ritual for me.

For contrast showers, Charlie Francis recommends 3 minutes hot as you can stand followed by 1 minute cold as you can stand repeated 3 times to work best. This is performed once or twice per day. It is important to cover the whole body, though, including the head. Although in the past, Siff has pointed out that showers with shower heads located only above the body do not adequately heat up or cool down the lower parts of the body, not all of us own a deep Jacuzzi and pool so a shower will have to do.

This practice will make a big difference in your recovery. Trust me! The key is the level of difference between hot and cold temperatures as well as varying the time spent at each temperature. And for the most part, you should end with cold.

From The Bodybuilding Truth, here's a method that author, Nelson Montana, claims will naturally increase testosterone.

It comes from one of the forefathers of modern bodybuilding, Angelo Siciliani better known as Charles Atlas. Did you know that the excessive heat from a hot shower can lower your sperm count? In fact, the Aztec Indians used this as a form of birth control (don't ask).

Anyway, Charlie recommends finishing off your shower with cold water. Allow the cold water to flow from the solar plexus onto the genitals.

The belief was that these areas contain the highest concentration of nerve endings, therefore, the cold would stimulate the nerves, which in turn strengthened the entire nervous system. "Stimulate" is certainly the operative word here. I can attest to its effect since I've been doing this for some time now. It takes a little getting use to but it sure is an eye opener!

2. Stretching

At least once a week you should address the myofascial system. An excellent way to accomplish this is (dare I say it...) yoga. Now do you have to necessarily put aside time to stretch? No, I don't think so. I think you can kill two birds with one stone. Why not stretch while watching television? The average American watches over four hours of TV each day. You can easily spare an hour of that time to stretch a bit.

A great way to restore collapsed arches and get a nice stretch for your quads, for instance, is to sit on your heels. This is part of the hero pose in yoga. See how long you can last. Practice other poses during this time and make watching television somewhat healthy and productive.

I personally have my cute blonde yoga instructor visit the studio once a week. Since incorporating a thorough warm-up before my workouts and practicing yoga once or twice a week, I have not experienced any injuries.

The yoga will help to improve flexibility and enhance recovery, but if there is another positive, it's relaxation. It never fails, when we finish our session and she puts me through her little relaxation phase, I am out! The second that happens, the GH spike is equivalent to that of falling asleep at night! Believe me, when you are running around all day long, you need a moment to unwind and I've found that yoga can help.

Now if you can't afford an instructor to come to your place, don't sweat it. There are a million videos/DVDs out there that will work just as well. Pick yourself up one and try it out.

3. Soft Tissue Methods

Usually once or twice a month, my friends Drs. Mark Lindsay, Bill Wells, and/or Jay Mistry (all chiropractors) drop by my facility to give me a treatment.

Mark is considered the athlete's secret weapon. Suffice it to say, he is a soft-tissue specialist extraordinaire with a number of tools in his toolbox including frequency-specific microcurrent (FSM), Erchonia cold laser therapy, active release technique (ART), myofascial release, articular pumping, muscle activation technique (MAT), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), active-isolated stretching (AIS), electrostim acupuncture, and the list goes on.

I've written about the value of ART many times. I've seen it clear up a number of nagging injuries in a single session. It can restore function, reduce (and even eliminate) pain, significantly improve flexibility (i.e. range of motion) and strength in just one session.

In fact, it can even increase muscle mass as I discussed in my Pop 'Em Out Muscles article many moons ago. Bill is one of the best ART practitioners in Toronto.

Jay is also a great ART practitioner and an excellent acupuncturist. He often incorporates Graston technique in his treatment, which is always a "fun" experience!

Vlodek Kluczynski is an osteopath, physiotherapist and massage therapist in one. This guy is unbelievable. I visit him on occasion. His work tends to complement that of the practitioners mentioned above. One word of advice if you ever decide to experience a treatment from Vlodek, bring a small white flag and a popsicle stick to bite down on!

The point of listing all these guys is that you should be proactive and find a practitioner in your area that performs soft-tissue work.

Don't wait until injury happens to visit one. Go as often as you can afford—once or twice a month should be doable for most people (many health-care plans will cover treatment as well—max out your limit if you can.). Not only will it improve your recovery and performance, but it will definitely reduce the likelihood of injury.

4. Salt Bath

Once a week (usually the night of a heavy leg workout) I sprawl out in our massive bathtub for around 20-30 minutes. I do this about an hour before I go to bed. Actually, I make a complete restoration soup out of it.

The recipe involves Epsom salts, Celtic or tropical sea bath salts, a mixture of solution drops from my cleansing kit, and finally an aromatherapy concoction of lavender and chamomile. I simply keep pouring everything until the "taste" is just about right!

Let's examine each ingredient separately for a moment.

1. Epsom Salts (i.e. magnesium sulfate USP)

You want to dissolve at least 500 grams (equivalent to 2 cups or 500 mL) in a bath of hot water (the more, the better). I say "at least" because if you can afford more, then do so.

Also, "hot" means tolerable not "sear the skin" hot—the former will help you fall asleep (it's actually the cooling process once you get out that induces sleep); but the latter will require a trip to the hospital and perhaps some skin grafts?

When magnesium sulfate is absorbed through the skin, it draws toxins from the body, sedates the nervous system, reduces swelling, relaxes muscles, is a natural emollient, exfoliator, and much more. One word of caution though, do not take an Epsom salt bath if you have high blood pressure or a heart or kidney condition.

2. Celtic Or Tropical Sea Salts

These are not just for eating! Adding these salts to a warm bath will help to draw impurities out of your skin and invigorate the water and your body for that matter! Salt baths also help with aches, pains and sore muscles, such as those associated with arthritis, muscle injury, and weight training.

We've been favoring tropical sea salts lately because they have a slightly higher magnesium content.

Note: Try adding a pinch of tropical sea salts and squeeze half a lemon to your water. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces and you will notice a profound difference in your energy levels in mere days. It takes some serious discipline to drink that much water on a daily basis, but doing so can provide anabolic and anticatabolic effects.

The water will help lubricate the gut; the sea salt will aid digestion (by stimulating HCL production); and the lemon will reduce acidity. All this will enhance recovery and improve performance in the gym!

3. Facial Solution

Believe it or not, I also add "some" drops of a facial solution from a cleansing kit to my concoction. Not only for the deep cleansing and purification benefits, but also because it provides key minerals to aid restoration. Dunking your face is optional!

4. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy foam bath containing chamomile and lavender helps to relax the body, strengthen the spirit (it's true—my spirit now benches double bodyweight!), moisturize and cleanse skin, and promote a more peaceful slumber, but really, I just like playing with the suds!

You may not realize that the average skin absorption from bathing is much higher than oral ingestion (see Table 1.) I find that this really helps recovery, and it's great for your skin too if you care about that stuff. Again, you will sleep like a baby after this. That is the second time I've mentioned that phrase in this article. Where does it come from? Obviously, not from some one who has any kids!

  Skin Absorbtion Exposure Time Oral Ingestion Water Consumed
Adult Bathing 63% 15 Minutes 27% 2 Liters
Infant Bathing 40% 15 Minutes 60% 1 Liter
Child Swimming 88% 1 Hour 12% 1 Liter
Overall Average 64% 30 Minutes 36% 1 1/3 Liters

These calculations are based on hand skin absorption rates. The hand is a better barrier against harmful substances compared to other skin areas, which are highly sensitive. This means that the true absorption rates are significantly higher. (Fox, 1998)

I often combine salt bathes with cold-water showers for a unique contrast effect. We have a separate bathtub and shower in our ensuite so every once and awhile, I'll just hop out of the (hot) tub into a cold shower and back into the tub again. If you are really stiff, you can end with a cold shower.

5. Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS)

Two methods that I predominantly incorporate are: a) the Kotts method 4-6 hours after a workout as a double split method (i.e. 10 sets of 10 seconds high intensity followed by 50 seconds of rest is Kotts' protocol used by Francis and others to promote strength gains of up to 20%), or b) the primary method I use is a low intensity pulsating fashion which gently massages the muscles (at low intensities, Siff & Verkhoshansky point out that EMS provides a "massaging" effect facilitating removal of waste products and delivering nutrition to the muscles through an increase in local blood supply)—usually the day after a body part.

When do I do this? Actually, I'm doing it right now while I'm typing on the computer. I'm on the computer at least an hour or two a day whether I'm checking my emails, reading or writing an article, or scoping some porn! The point is I'm making better use of my time accomplishing two tasks instead of just one.

I am so busy these days myself—delegating a million things to a million people it seems—that time management is very important to me. Whether I'm listening to an audio book while driving, or stretching while watching TV (and spending some "quality" time with the family—ssshhh don't tell anyone) or EMS while on the computer, you get the picture...

6. Massage

Every Thursday afternoon, my massage therapist (ironically another blonde) comes over to work on me. Generally, this is a deep tissue massage and we concentrate on a specific area that may be ailing me or that was worked hard that week. If I've had a particularly stressful week, I'll just get her to give me a full body massage and I try to clear my mind of everything that's going on.

How about self massage? Well, if you want some neat suggestions, refer to Hartmann and Tunnemann's book, Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports.

One form of self-massage that is fairly easy to administer involves a deep stripping massage using a device called The Stick (visit www.thestick.com for details.) Twenty moderate pressure strokes from origin to insertion with this tool will provide passive elongation/stretch, release toxins, and (you guessed it) aid recovery.

The true master of restoration is a guy by the name of Jeff Spencer and he is a huge advocate of The Stick. Spencer, for those that don't know, treated Lance Armstrong and the other members of United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team before, during and after each stage of each Tour de France victory. As he puts it: "You must build a toolbox for recovery. Nothing does it all!"

There are so many tools in Spencer's toolbox, but one that is very interesting involves earth-free electron transfer, which is a way to connect to the earth and recover. It's like magic really—tension in the system instantly normalizes as it restores natural cortisol rhythms and decreases the inflammatory response.

Do you need some expensive apparatus to enable earth-free electron transfer? Not really; taking your shoes off and standing on the bare earth has the same effect! In fact, the fastest method of recovery is to take your shoes off and walk on grass—do this directly after training to quickly quench all the free radicals that you produced during your workout.

7. Aerobics

Cardio which is a slang term for aerobic training can have many drawbacks including an increase in oxidative stress and premature cell aging; shuts down the immune system and increases the incidence of mononucleosis; lowers trace mineral levels; increases cortisol production; slows down metabolism over time; negates strength and decreases both power and speed scores, etc. etc. etc.

Holy cow, the list goes on really. The increased cortisol production alone can have several negative consequences such as decreasing T4 to T3 production; has a catabolic effect (i.e. breaks down muscle tissue for energy); it is an immune suppressor as well as an oxidant to brain; and the big one for most people is that it increases abdominal fat. It's enough to stress you out (pun intended!)

For a real in-depth discussion on this topic, attend the Energy System Training seminar held periodically by Olympic strength coach, Charles Poliquin. You will wait an hour in any parking lot for a closer spot after hearing what Poliquin has to say!

The theory behind using cardio (or more specifically, low-intensity steady-state aerobic activity) for restoration, though, is that the increase in circulation will accelerate oxygen and nutrient delivery to your muscles to speed up healing and recovery. According to Jeff Spencer, more rest is not better—you need nutrients to heal and you must pump the garbage out of the body with active recovery!

You know before I had kids, I would walk the dog for at least half an hour every night. It was actually quite refreshing (except in the winter!) and many articles were born during those strolls. At times I would run home because my mind was just filled with thoughts, but then I bought a Dictaphone to keep my heart rate in check. I could swear those walks really helped my recovery.

What about feeder workouts? Many experts have touted the benefits of low intensity strength training following high intensity work to enhance recovery. However, a recent study by Zainuddin et al. revealed that light concentric exercise has a temporary analgesic effect on delayed-onset muscle soreness, but no effect on recovery from muscle damage induced by eccentric exercise. Consider using one of the other restoration methods mentioned in this article instead.

Bottom line, an occasional walk may do the body and mind some good, but don't waste much time or energy on aerobic training or feeder workouts to enhance recovery between workouts!

8. Nutrition

This is a huge topic that gets discussed quite a bit so let me just touch on a few points to improve recovery.

It is crucial to take in some protein every 2.5-3 hours to maintain a positive nitrogen balance. The question is how do you this with a busy lifestyle? Well, most people will use the quick and convenient nutrition of protein bars or drinks to get it in. The problem is that many bars are loaded with binders and fillers, and they use inferior sources of protein.

As far as powders are concerned, most of the top selling (heavily marketed) brands use cheap raw materials. Most people do not rotate their powders (i.e. whey, casein, egg, rice, pea, etc.) and consume this stuff several times a day, every day, which could lead to allergies down the road. But there is a simple solution...

We know that we have time to eat (and hopefully prepare food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why not make double the portion of each that you'll divide over two meals? Voila, six solid meals that you can consume throughout the day. You can add a shake post-workout and you're covered.

The post-workout period is actually very important for recovery. This is where you want to target most of your high-glycemic carbs to replenish depleted glycogen stores, but most people overdo it!

The average workout consumes about 200-300 calories. Let's assume that all those calories are used from carbohydrates. Well that means that we only need about 50-75 grams of carbs maximum post-workout (remember, there are 4 calories per gram of CHO.)

As mentioned above, the best carbs post-workout are high-glycemic. We use tropical fruits mixed with a fast-acting protein source like whey isolate or hydrosylate. An hour later, move to a slower releasing protein like casein and/or whey concentrate and use low-glycemic carbs.

Favor red meat (which is a stimulant) and eggs (which are high in tyrosine) in the morning. Chicken and tuna are excellent at lunch. And fish (which are higher in Omega-3's), turkey and dairy (which are both high in tryptophan) at night.

We tend to go higher in saturated fat and MCT's in the morning (these are high energy fats such as butter or coconut oil as well as the animal meats), monounsaturated at noon (such as olive oil, olives, shaved almonds and avocados which are all added to the chicken/tuna salad), and polyunsaturated at night mainly in the form of Omega-3's (e.g. fish oil, flaxseed meal/oil, chopped walnuts, etc.) which will improve insulin sensitivity that tends to decrease at night.

Green vegetables are favored throughout the day and fruits only post-workout as I discussed above and occasionally at night as the last meal of the day (e.g. a mixture of cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, chopped walnuts and mixed berries.)

Supplementation for recovery is another article for another time, but I won't leave you completely empty-handed. I'm sure you realize the importance of vitamins for recovery. Well, we have experienced excellent results with intramuscular water-soluble vitamin injections...more than oral ingestion...and even more than IV administration.

Dr. Larry Baker, a competitive bodybuilder and medical doctor, has 4 versions that he has formulated with the aid of a compounding pharmacist. This stuff works! That's all I can say for now until we finish our experiments, but it's not often that you actually "feel" something from your vitamins.

For now, I'll leave you with a tip I picked up from Poliquin on what to look for when purchasing a multivitamin/mineral supplement. Scan the ingredient list for magnesium.

If it ends in the suffix _ate (e.g. magnesium citrate) then it is good. Buy it. However, if it ends in _ide (e.g. magnesium oxide) then it sucks! The former are generally Krebs cycle intermediates and have a much higher absorption rate than the latter. Magnesium is a relatively expensive mineral. If they use the _ide form then it generally indicates that they use cheap raw materials. This is the form that you usually find in most drug stores.

9. Sleep

Last but certainly not least is sleep.

Sleep is regulated by two entirely different systems—the sleep homeostat and circadian rhythms.

The sleep homeostat "functions like a drive that builds up during wakefulness in pretty much a linear fashion and is discharged when you sleep...The homeostatic pressure to sleep depends not only on how long you are awake but on how active you are while awake." (Marano, 2003) Two of the best methods to influence the sleep homeostat involve exercise and heating the body such as by taking a warm bath before bedtime.

When you do not get much sleep (which will happen occasionally on weekends), still wake up at the same time but catch up with a power nap. Naps should never extend beyond an hour or else you will enter REM sleep, which will adversely affect your sleep that night.

It's best to take a nap after 8 hours upon awakening and for only 20-45 minutes. A trick I learned from Dr. Istvan Bayli is to simply soak the feet in cold water right after napping. The feet contain many nerve endings and this will perk you up in no time. Just in and out is all it takes.

The circadian rhythm, on the other hand, is tied to cycles of light and dark. Darkness causes the pineal gland in the brain to secrete the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Although bright lights or melatonin tablets can be used to affect the circadian rhythm, my favorite method involves tanning beds.

Believe it or not, tanning beds are also useful to improve circadian rhythms and increase vitamin D production particularly in the winter not to mention give you a bit of color, which improves muscularity and enhances well-being. I like to "fake bake" once a week in the winter usually on a day I'm not training.

Another piece of advice I can give you regarding circadian rhythm is to go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. Set your alarm for both! Most people are watching television or on the computer during the time they should be sleeping. Once that alarm goes off, stop whatever you are doing and just go to bed. You can always continue the next day.

We should set our circadian rhythm around that of the sun—when it goes down, so should we. When it rises, again so should we! But most get to bed far too late and this will inevitably play havoc with many key hormones. It's been said a thousand times that every hour before midnight is like two hours after, so it is best to front-load your sleep before midnight.


Variety in restoration and training is important. Siff notes that "it is an important principle among the Soviets that intensive (i.e. near maximal load) training alternates with a wide variety of passive and active recuperation techniques...They caution against the use of only one relaxation technique (e.g. massage), since the body rapidly adapts to relaxation, as well as exercise techniques."

I have presented a number of practical restoration techniques in this article. Now go out there and recover!


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