Reward your body and yourself for the hard work you do to stay fit with rest, recovery, and frequent trips to the local spaBy: David L'Heureux
Feeling run down? Exercise takes a toll on the body. Whether you hit the gym, ride a bike, run, walk, or do all of the above to stay fit, it's important to incorporate recovery time into each week. But recovery doesn't mean only taking time off from exercise. The professional trainers and athletes we spoke with also stress the importance of body treatments like massage, reflexology, whirlpool, and even aromatherapy to expedite recovery and boost long-term performance. "Working with physical therapists and using massage therapy helps me offset all of the stresses in my life, from training to work to family obligations. It also helps me avoid injury, recover faster, and just feel better in general," says Josiah Middaugh, a six-time Xterra off-road triathlon national champion.
So if you want to treat your body to the kind of holistic love it needs and deserves, these lavish spa treats are the perfect ticket for every body.
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If you haven't had a massage in a while, or ever, a 50-minute Swedish massage is a good starting point, says Angie Brown, spa director at Rock Resorts Arrabelle Spa in Vail, CO. "We use long fluid strokes without a lot of pressure, so it's very relaxing," says Brown. "Talk with your massage therapist before [your treatment] and let them know about any injuries or specific areas of soreness you might have." Make sure to hydrate before and after a massage and leave time to use spa amenities like the hot tub, sauna, and steam room.
In addition to just feeling good, a post-exercise rubdown has real physiological benefits. "Massage can be used to flush the muscles (of lactic acid) after intense efforts," says Alyssa Morahan, a masseuse for the Garmin-Cervélo Pro Cycling Team. And according to a study from the Journal of Orthopaedic Nursing, the body's perception of physical stress is significantly reduced from the simple act of touch-focused care. So in the case of massage, if it feels good, it is good.
Morahan uses a variety of different types of massage with the athletes she treats, including Swedish, deep-tissue, and neuromuscular. The latter techniques use intense, concentrated pressure to specific areas where muscles are extremely tight or "knotted." "[Massage is] a beneficial tool for anyone to maintain muscle health and put the body and mind in a state of harmony," she says.
TIP: Check with your insurance provider before scheduling an appointment. Many carriers supplement massage costs through individual therapists or an alternative-care network.To feel better faster, try one of these 18 foods that help mend muscles and shorten recovery time.
A typical training room for any professional sports team has a sauna, whirlpool tubs, ice baths, and a steam room, and it's not because the players are spoiled. Most pro athletes use these kinds of treatments to help with everything from routine bumps and bruises to major setbacks and injuries.
"I'm in the whirlpool every day just to get my legs loose," says Chris Pontius, a forward for D.C. United. "Later in the week as my legs get tired, I usually do a contrast bath [cold tub for 3 minutes, followed by the hot tub for 2 minutes], which makes my legs less heavy the next day." Fellow Major League Soccer player Jimmy Conrad, of Chivas USA, is also a proponent of the contrast technique. The 13-year veteran gets in the hot tub prior to practice and games to warm up his muscles, then takes an ice bath afterward to reduce inflammation in muscles and joints. "We put our bodies through so much stress, both mentally and physically, why wouldn't we want to commit an hour or more a week to give it some tender loving care?" asks Conrad.
TIP: Pay a little more each month for a gym that has a hot tub, steam room, sauna, or pool in addition to the regular exercise equipment. Before you join, ask these 10 questions to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck.
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Reflexology is the practice of applying pressure to the feet using specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques without the use of oil, cream, or lotion. Therapists focus on certain areas of the feet and hands that correspond to organs and other spots on the body. Working these areas effects a physical change in those corresponding areas.
"You can achieve a whole-body effect from a therapist just touching your feet," says Brown. "Activities like running, hiking, and walking are hard on the feet, so taking care of them is an essential part of maintaining total-body health and making sure you can continue your exercise routine." Reflexology has the bonus of reducing pain and fatigue in other areas of the body like the feet, shoulders, neck, and back. In her book Simply Reflexology, author Sonia Jones explains that combining a holistic treatment with a pleasant experience is what makes reflexology work. "People get hooked on the (feel-) good experience of the treatment and the health benefits from it."
TIP: If you don't want to take the plunge on a full reflexology session (treatments run from $50 to $200), Brown recommends a manicure and pedicure. Both of those treatments usually include a foot and hand massage that mimics the techniques used in reflexology.
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A hot stone massage is another relaxing and effective pain-fighting therapy. For hundreds of years, Native Americans used hot stones to relieve pain, and the practice is prevalent in spas around the world today. "We place smooth, heated stones on the spine and back to help warm the muscles and make them more pliable," says Brown. "Because the muscles are warmed by the stones, it allows the therapist to get in there and really work individual muscles."
Beyond relaxation, there are numerous recovery benefits associated with the hot stone treatment including increased circulation, stimulation of the nervous system, reduced stress, and elimination of inflammation in the joints. Hot stone massage can also provide relief to health problems like arthritis, stress, back pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. "The process is generally very relaxing and elicits a calming effect on the mind," says Brown. "It's one of our most soothing, all-around treatments."
TIP: Therapists at Brown's Arrabelle Spa also provide aromatherapy with all massages. "We use essential oils like lavender, grapefruit, lemongrass, and eucalyptus, which have been shown to add to the overall relaxation effect."
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In drier climates and seasons, it's common to use lotions, soaps, and scrubs to offset the damage done to hands, feet, and faces by the sun and other elements while exercising. But that's insufficient, says Brown, who explains that many store-bought remedies are too "one-size-fits-all" and often contain ingredients that can actually dry your skin.
Instead, she advocates a more targeted approach for each area of the body. "Treatments like facials, manicures, pedicures, and restorative body scrubs help exfoliate the skin and put nutrients and minerals back in as well." Some of the more exotic treatments include vitamin infusions, organic enzyme peels and crème cassis moisture replenishments. But a treatment doesn't have to be fancy to be effective. Regular facials can be customized to individual needs for those with specific dry spots, wrinkles, or sun and wind damage. Simple manicures and pedicures help with callous removal, and paraffin treatment is for those who work their hands and feet hard while exercising. "It starts with taking care of your skin," says Brown. "And these treatments make you look better and feel better, which contributes to whole-body health."
TIP: Man up, guys. The spa isn't just for the ladies. In fact, a 2008 study conducted in Vittel, France, showed that after 3 months of spa visits, a male test group had significant improvement in physical quality of life, less anxiety, reduced pain intensity, and increased longevity.
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