Tune up your muscles and mind with these fitness therapies.
By Amanda Burrill, MS
I’m confident you know that “day after a great workout” feeling, when your muscles ache and your walk is a little off. That’s your body proclaiming it’s been properly broken down and needs time to recover.
The Greek gods knew that feeling as well. Mythology claimed certain natural springs and tidal pools were blessed by the gods to cure disease. Around these pools, Greeks built gymnasium complexes and within them, public baths and showers for relaxation, rejuvenation, and obviously, personal hygiene.
For this month’s Gear finds, I found some interesting hacks and treatments that harken back to the ancient body therapies of the Greeks. One will blast your workout to new levels, and three will heal your body and mind faster and on a deeper level so you can get on to that next big workout.
BLOOD FLOW RESTRICTION
Cost: $28 for a pair of BFR straps
Best for: Gains in muscle strength and size
I was mesmerized after watching a CNN special on NBA star Dwight Howard’s use of blood flow restriction training, but I knew there was no way that high-tech equipment and attentive staff was accessible to the average Joe. Lo and behold, tying or cinching some elastic knee straps around your upper biceps and thighs works wonders, too. BFR is a not so new—research on the topic dates back to the 1990s—but it’s a topic in resistance training that orbits back to the mainstream every few years. The technique works by restricting blood flow to the veins, but not the arteries, so blood is delivered to the target muscle but not allowed to escape. Cells swell, sense that something is amiss, and restructure themselves to become larger. Using less weight and taking shorter rest periods, about 30 seconds, increases lactic-acid buildup in the muscle. Because lactic acid is anabolic, protein synthesis is boosted. More blood, more swelling, more protein synthesis all contribute to more growth. This method reaps the best results when integrated into a traditional training program, and many professionals suggest using it as a finishing technique: three regular sets and then two sets of the same exercise with the straps on.
Cost: $40 to $100 per session
Best for: Inflammation and circulation
Prepare for shrinkage! Whole body cryotherapy (WBC) exposes the entire body to subzero temperatures, sometimes below-200 degrees Fahrenheit for two to four minutes. But why? For the same reason we’ve been told to “ice” sore muscles and injuries. It causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow and inflammation and alleviating pain. Usually the person stands in a closet-looking device wearing minimal clothing (over the tiny bits, fingers, toes) and gets blasted with cold air or liquid nitrogen. These low temps send the body into “survival mode” directing the bulk of blood flow to vital organs. Leaving the cold environment flushes this blood back into the rest of the body. This treatment is also touted for weight loss as your body works hard—aka burns lots of calories—trying to stay warm. While this isn’t FDA-approved yet, many swear by it for recovery, metabolism, and mental-health reasons. It makes sense. After all, we take a cold shower to wake up and get a rush, releasing endorphins and natural adrenaline, which, ironically, is the opposite of “chilling out.”
Cost: $60 to $100 per hour
Best for: Mental health, relaxation
Ever want to just escape from it all and tune out the stresses of everyday life? Ever look at the sky and wonder what it’s like to float among the clouds? I have just the thing for you. Float tanks, also known as isolation or sensory deprivation tanks, create a lightless, soundless environment where you can do all the thinking in the world, or none at all. During a float session the body is suspended in a solution of water and Epsom salt that is heated to skin temperature, creating the sensation of weightlessness in a private and peaceful setting, as opposed to outer space, which I assume to be really exciting. “Floaters” claim lower anxiety levels, improved focus in sport or work environments, and stimulated creativity. Perhaps most important is promoting the ability to relax. Carl Lewis used this technology to clinch gold at the Olympics, John Lennon used it to help him kick heroin, and Steph Curry reportedly uses one every two weeks to stay MVP-strong. I’m with them! And seriously, just being away from your phone for an hour is a gift in itself.
Cost: Up to $40 for 30 minutes (often included in club and gym memberships)
Best for: Detox, muscle recovery, and relaxation
Some people love to sweat their asses off in a hot steamy sauna. Not me. When I was losing my mind between foot surgeries, I wanted to try something new and relaxing and decided to explore the infrared sauna. A typical sauna, the ones the Greeks built, uses heat to warm the air. Because far-infrared waves fall “far” on the light spectrum, they are able to heat your body without warming the air around you. All the results can be had at lower temperatures, which is a great option for those of us who don’t love death by sweat. Maintaining this level of comfort helps balance the body’s cortisol levels, better promoting relaxation. The most promising benefits for weightlifters is improved circulation. As your core body temperature increases, so does blood flow, which is known to improve muscle recovery by flushing metabolic waste products and decreasing pain and inflammation post workout.