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What I've learned about Workout Recovery

I like many others have struggled with developing a consistent workout routine. I haven't played a sport since I was 11 and as active as marching band in high school was (I say this with zero irony), it didn't instill the same sort of disciplined approach to working out and nutrition that you get from sports. That is, until quarantine hit and I had nothing better to do. I've gone from only being able to run about 5-10 minutes without stopping in April, to having nearly worked my way up to a 10k as of November.

To get my running habit started, I began using an app called Couch to 5k. I can't say enough good things about it (thank you, Sgt. Block), it shows you exactly what to do and when to do it for the entire 9 week program. Each run will push your abilities without extending past your limits; that being said I did encounter an issue towards the end of the two and a half months. When I was pretty close to finishing the program and nearly up to a 5k, I developed a serious throbbing pain in my knee. At first I ignored it thinking it was just regular muscle soreness. After a few runs the pain hadn't dissipated and in fact had gotten worse so I figured it was time to take action. so I did what any beginner does, I googled it.

The first thing I discovered was that this was a common pain amongst runners, and that it was most likely due to a stressed out IT band. At first, I was looking for ways to abate the pain. Many recommended icing it down and taking Advil. I even tried a few epsom salt baths. All of these methods worked for relieving the pain after the fact, but I couldn't shake the feeling that running on an injured knee might be doing long term damage.

I did some more digging, and found out IT band pain was typically a result of weakness in under-activated running muscles, namely the glutes, hamstrings, and hips. Being a beginner to running and exercise in general, this wasn't something that would've ever occurred to me, so I wanted to start working with someone who wasn't a beginner. It was then that I started working with a personal trainer at Sculpt Fitness (I realize most people don't live in Cleveland, but I couldn't not shout out this amazing gym) who has really been able to create a foundation of technique and routine around working out every muscle group. After a few weeks I could run further, faster, and most importantly without the throbbing knee pain.

However, the training created a new problem: I was totally burnt out at the end of each intense workout. Being a novice, I thought water was the best way to recover, but another round of google research put me on to the importance of electrolytes. It turns out electrolytes aren't a cool sounding but made up nutrient invented to sell Gatorade as I previously thought, electrolytes are minerals in your body that carry electricity. They are required for tons of bodily processes, including maintaining a balance in the amount of water in your body, nutrient movement from cell to cell, and general heart, brain, and nerve health.

Electrolytes are not typically found in water, which explains why I was feeling wiped out even after responsibly hydrating after my workouts. I knew the various -ades were advertised for this specific purpose, but I didn't love that they had as much sugar as my Grandma's sweet tea. That's when I came across Nooma, an organic sports drink that has completely changed the way I feel after working out.

They don't have quite as many flavors as white claw, but they do leave me feeling good as new, no matter how difficult the work out or how long the run. While Nooma has slightly lower levels of electrolytes, I find that they're far more refreshing than the -ades due to having fewer calories, carbs, and less sugar. If Nooma's flavors don't appeal to you (blueberry peach is my favorite) there's plenty of other options for electrolyte drinks for you to seek out.

The other issue I ran into with training and running is muscle soreness. My muscles were unaccustomed to being abused on a regular basis, and responded by making me too sore to walk some days. In response I bought a massage gun, and it's been a real game changer. I get a weird look every time someone sees it for the first time, but after 5 minutes of using it, they're a believer.

Having a massage gun is like having a deep tissue masseuse on demand. It's great for workout recovery, but I've found that using it on my lower back after sitting on my ass all day at my desk has worked wonders for some of those common pains we remote workers are all feeling at this point. Your options for massage guns range from the mighty Theragun Pro, a $599 massage machine that must feel otherworldly given that it costs about a month of rent, all the way to any of the $70-$100 options available on Amazon. I have one of the latter and it works great for my purposes, and I truly believe everyone should get one.

I'm all about optimization, and if there's one thing I've learned through starting to work out regularly is that while it sucks, these recovery tools can make it suck a little less.

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