You’ve made it to the gym and walked into class. For you, this may be the hardest part of the workout – just finding the time and motivation to come is hard enough, let alone the physical work itself. But you made a deal with yourself to dedicate the next hour to yourself, one step, one squat, one RPM, or one Downward-Facing Dog at a time. As soon as the instructor says, “last rep,” you’re done, out of there. You have mouths to feed, clothes to wash, school work to help with, and a list of other chores to get done before the end of the day.
You did all the hard work in class, so leaving before the cooldown isn’t a big deal, right? You burned your calories and worked up a sweat, so you’re done…right?
Not so fast! Why do all that hard work, just to throw it all away? You committed to a full hour, so why leave five minutes early? Sure, you probably want to get a head start on things that are waiting for you at home or work, but are those five minutes going to make THAT big of a difference?
Let’s be real, how many times have you stopped to talk on the way out of the gym to a friend, or got a phone call that delayed you leaving on time? Those five minutes you think you just saved cost you more time, not just from you getting your to-do list done, but for YOU, your mind, body, and health. The last five minutes or so of any class or workout routine is the most important part of training because that is when you allow your body to recover from the work you just put it through so it can function better.
Recovery training promotes a positive change in the body so that you can move and feel better. You just spent a good amount of time doing repetitive movements, whether it be cycling, stepping, running, lifting weights, or working Warrior I and II. The best way to counteract all that repetitive movement is by reversing the stress of that training and resetting your posture through reconditioning. This will not only instill healthy movement patterns to enhance your performance, but it will make you a better mover for life.
Our bodies are made to move in all different directions and ranges of motion. When your workout consists of the same repetitive movement, it can lack variety and variability. In order for your body to perform at its best, it needs time to restore and recondition in different ways than the way it trained. For example, if you just completed a cycling class, you placed a lot of stress on the muscles of the legs, hips, and glutes. Just stretching these muscles alone will not enhance your overall ability to reset your posture, improve mobility, and decrease your risk of injury.
You will improve your overall fitness by integrating a dynamic recovery at the end of your ride. Adding more functional and rotational movement patterns will aid in muscle repair and improve overall joint range of motion. Integrating an entire muscle chain with movement is very beneficial. Some great examples would be extending and shifting hips forward in a lunge position while reaching overhead to open up the front of the body, then flexing hips back and reaching arms forward with a flat back to lengthen through the backside and the spine. A lateral lunge with trunk rotation is a great way to stretch the adductors and glutes while rotating helps with resetting posture. Mobility squats help increase the mobility of your ankles, knees, and hips. All of these dynamic movement patterns at the end of your workout helps with flexibility and aids in muscle repair. Moving in and out of dynamic stretching keeps the blood flowing while lowering the heart rate.
Think of recovery training as your special “treat” at the end of every workout. It’s kind of like earning dessert at the end of your meal –maybe you ate a healthy meal, and you’re ready to splurge with your favorite ice cream or piece of the pie. You “earned” that treat, right? Well, at the end of every workout, you’ve “earned” your recovery. You didn’t sit down at your meal to leave before dessert, so why cheat yourself at the end of your workout?
Trust me; the last five minutes of your class will be the cherry on top. In order to perform better and stronger in your next workout, do yourself a favor and stay until the very end. Small progressions in recovery will lead to bigger changes over time. You may not “feel” the effects of reconditioning the next day, but over time you will gradually see your range of motion, your flexibility, mobility, speed, and power improve. Better yet, you’ll be a better version of you in and out of the gym.
Crystal Smith is the Group Fitness Manager and an Instructor at American Family Fitness in Mechanicsville and has been part of the AFFamily for 19 years. She has Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from VCU and is certified by the Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) as a Group Fitness Instructor. She is also certified to teach several MOSSA formats including ACTIVE, BLAST, CENTERGY, CORE and R30, along with Lemond Cycling, Team ICG Coach By Color and Silver Sneakers™ Classic. Crystal grew up and currently resides in Mechanicsville, VA. She has been happily married for 20 years to her best friend Shawn and has two sons, Hunter and Hank who attend the same middle and high school their parents did. Outside of teaching classes, Crystal enjoys running and competing in races. She’s also a homebody and loves to spend time at home with family.