So, it’s Monday morning, you’ve spent all weekend in the mountains, hiking, skiing, climbing. You wake up and you can barely move. You’re stuck in bed because your muscles are so sore from the weekend. If that’s the case, you need to learn a couple of things about recovery!
In this blog post I give you 5 recovery tips for sore muscles after hiking. By the end you will have a checklist of things to implement so you can start recovering better, faster, and get back out into the mountains, doing what you love.
You can watch the video here or keep reading below!
1. Warm up and cool down
The first tip happens before you even get out and do the training or do the activity, and that’s warming up and cooling down properly. So, if you warmup and cool down properly, you probably won’t have to worry about any of these other four or five things to do. It’s that important, really. When I had a gym back in Australia, we were a strength and conditioning gym, Monday to Friday. And then on the weekends, we’d go hiking. And every single hike that I took with these guys, I’d get them to warmup and cool down properly. A little bit later on though, I got a little bit lazy, some of the hikes got bigger, they would take up eight or nine hours, and we didn’t really have the time or we didn’t dedicate the time to warmup and cool down properly.
And people really noticed the difference. They were a lot sorer at training on Monday.
You don’t have to do a 10 or 15 minute warmup. Five minutes just before you get started on your hiking activity, and five minutes before you jump in the car and sit in the driver’s seat for two hours on the way home.
If you are super stiff and can barely get out of the car after hiking, warming up and cooling down will certainly help!
One way to tell if your body is not recovering well, is if you have shallow, rapid breathing. This is when you are using your accessory breathing muscles at the top of your chest and your shoulders. If you are taking those quick breaths, rather than breathing diaphragmatically, deeply and slowly it’s a good indication that you’re in flight or fight response.
So, that means your sympathetic nervous system, the one that’s responsible for fight or flight or freeze, those reactions, is keeping you in that agitated, “Oh my God, there’s a bear attacking me.” state. What you need to go into is the parasympathetic nervous system. You can do that through slow, controlled, deep breathing and relaxation techniques.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away about recovery is that you don’t get strong when you train, you get stronger when you rest. If you’re stuck in this agitated state, looking at your phone all the time, stressed, anxious, it’s going to be very difficult for your body to recover well. That’s why breathing techniques and learning to relax and learning to be calm is important. Especially in this day and age where we’re constantly distracted with our phones and screens and work and whatnot.
So, we’re going to learn how to relax right now. Quick breathing lesson. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Here goes Chase and all his hippie, breathing, meditation bullshit.” Skip this part if you want to. But honestly, this is where all the value is. Doing things you’re uncomfortable with, exploring things you’re not familiar with. Let’s go through some breathing basics.
What I want you to do is take a huge, big, deep breath, all the way in. One thing you may notice is that when you take that big breath, you might have inflated the top of your chest, and your shoulders get really tight. That’s what we call accessory breathing or upper chest breathing.
Alot of us tend to think of breathing from the yoga perspective, as belly breathing, trying to expand the belly. Fact is, there’s no lung tissue in the belly. We want to breathe to where the lung tissue is. I’m going to show you here, an image of what my chest looks like when I’m breathing deeply into my ribs.
You’ll see my rib cage expanding outwards, and then squeezing and contracting the ribs as you exhale (perhaps watch the video for this!). It’s important that when we breathe deeply, we don’t breathe into the belly or to the upper chest, we breathe into the ribs. And the ribs will expand outwards if we’re breathing with the diaphragm.
Take four seconds to breathe in, and immediately, take eight seconds to breathe out. This is a really good way to naturally relax the body and to switch us over into the parasympathetic nervous system.
That is your four eight ratio. I learnt this from Lucas Rockwood. He has a great TED Talk and two other breathing techniques you should check out. Much like warming up and cooling down, being able to relax and breathe deeply, and tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, is another one of those precursors to a good recovery.
You can get your sleep, your nutrition, your hydration, and everything else dialled in. But if you’re not able to get out of that fight or flight response, and into rest and digest, then you’re simply not going to be optimising your recovery, and getting the most out of your training and your activities. At the same time, you could be spending all of your energy on cardiovascular training and training the musculoskeletal system to be fit and strong, forgetting that you also have a respiratory system that also needs to be trained and optimised as well. You can do that through breathing.
3. Avoid static stretching
Tip number three for optimising your recovery is to avoid static stretching. Now, there are lots of different types of stretching. Static stretching means you’re going deep into a stretch and you’re holding that stretch for a fixed amount of time, and then backing off and moving on to the next stretch, as opposed to dynamic movement, dynamic stretching, PNF stretching, as well as a multitude of other different styles of stretching. The reason why I recommend staying away from static stretching is because it can induce pain and discomfort, and do damage to the body itself. You’re actually tearing muscle fibers when you stretch. And that’s another recovery process the body has to go through.
You’re better off not going into deep stretching and holding stretches. I would recommend much lighter, flowing stretches, within shorter ranges of motion, encouraging blood flow, synovial fluid. Loosening up the body and feeling freer, rather than going into a deep, tight stretch that’s going to be really stressful, and again, probably going to put you back into fight or flight, rather than rest and digest, where we want to be.
What you can do instead, is my daily movement practice for hikers. It’s a 15 minute video that goes through dynamic stretching, gentle movement. It’s the perfect thing for you to do the day after having a big day in the mountains. The other thing I like to do physically, other than dynamic stretching and movement, is to just take a 20-minute brisk walk around the block. No backpack or anything, not a lazy walk but a brisk, power walk, get the blood flowing.
The goal is to push out some of that lactic acid, get things flowing and push that waste product out of the body. If you do that, you’re going to feel much better, and you’re going to be ready to go back into your training or get back into the mountains much quicker.
The fourth recovery tip is one that’s already well-known, you’ll see it on every single list about recovery, and that is hydration. But I think it’s even more important for mountain sports than it is for something like triathletes or runners. When you’re up in the mountains, you’re in cold, dry air that only serves to dehydrate you more. You lose body fluids through sweating, through breathing.
When I’m at altitude, especially when it’s cold, and I’m doing technical climbing or skiing, I don’t drink anywhere near as much as I should. I try and make up for that, as soon as I finish, by drinking a whole lot of water. I’m hesitant to talk about supplements for hydration, because I don’t use any, personally, myself. Well, I do use one, and that is magnesium. I either have it in a powdered form and mix it with water or magnesium tablets. So, that’s really my only supplement. Very simple, single mineral. Take in tablet form, works very well, supported by science. Definitely should be taking magnesium if you’re doing heavy training and struggling to recover from the activities that you do in the mountains.
I do have a little recovery endurance drink that I have sometimes, when I’m actually out running, or I use it as a recovery supplement as well. It’s just water, chia seeds, lime, Himalayan salt, and Agave syrup. Mix that together, let the water absorb into the chia seeds a little bit, and that’s a natural endurance drink that will keep you going forever. I find it also helps me with recovery.
5. Self Myofascial release
The fifth and final tip for recovery is self myofascial release or self massage, any kind of actual tissue manipulation. There’s a lot of different ways that we can do that. My favourite way to do it is via a massage gun. I was always a bit skeptical of these until my client got one and she loved it. She started using it all the time and found it very helpful.
I especially like using one on my calfs because it’s just heaven, after spending a couple of days in the mountains. So, that’s one thing I’ve been using. It just makes self myofascial release and tissue work a lot easier, and a lot more fun, and a lot more enjoyable. When you’ve got a massage gun to do most of the hard work, you can just hold it up to the tissue, put a little bit of pressure on it, and it does the rest of the work.
The other couple of things I do for self myofascial release is foam rolling. If you’re looking to get a foam roller, I would suggest getting the ones that are hollow through the middle because they’ll have that hard plastic, kind of, inner ring. That’s the one that I recommend using. I find the whole foam ones just a little bit too soft. But if you’re a person who’s really stiff and really sore, then by all means, get the softer, whole foam ones.
If you’re interested in learning how to foam roll (it’s super useful) I have a foam rolling and mobility program. It has a bunch of follow along videos where I go through the three main techniques that I use for massaging and foam rolling, as well as just some general information on what’s actually happening within the tissue. We describe what a trigger point is, and how to find them, and how to treat them, and how to loosen up a lot at this tight muscle in your body.
In summary, to help your recovery you want to warm up and cool down properly and breathe into the parasympathetic nervous system, to rest and digest. Avoid static stretching, and go, instead, for dynamic mobility drills. Drink loads of water and get into self myofascial release and massage.