From gyms with strategically-placed spew buckets to the fitness class so tough it requires a paramedic on standby, exercise is reaching new extremes.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is now a well-established method of training for the toned and time-poor, combining periods of intense activity with shorter spells of rest for maximum burn in minimum time.
But while workouts like CrossFit and Tabata have surged in popularity, smashing out a HIIT session day in and out could be doing you more harm than good.
Beate Stindt, a physiotherapist at Six Physio, which has branches in Moorgate, Fleet Street, Leadenhall and Monument, says the increasing popularity of extreme training methods is landing a lot more people on her table with overworked muscles.
“The faster we try to an exercise, the more we rely on ‘muscle memory’ and momentum,” she explains.
“Our bodies are incredible machines but, to be honest, they can be pretty lazy and love taking the path of least resistance, so HIIT methods do tend to put us at a higher risk of using the incorrect muscles.”
This isn’t an excuse to pull the pin on your HIIT workouts altogether, just ensure you’re making the right moves, and that includes recovery.
Most experts recommend no more than two or three high intensity interval workouts per week, any more than that and you run the risk not only of injuring yourself, but also missing out on other aspects of fitness like heavier lifting or flexibility.
And it appears the message is getting through, sort of.
“People are definitely more aware of the need to include recovery sessions but still struggle to incorporate them into their workouts,” Beate says.
So whether you’re HIIT-ing and quitting with little more than a quick hamstring stretch, or simply don’t know where to start with a foam roller, find out how to incorporate the latest recovery methods into your weekly workouts.
Head to class
If you’re struggling to incorporate recovery into your weekly routine, skip your regular spin session in favour of a yoga or stretch class.
Fitness app ClassPass saw a 17% spike in bookings for restorative classes in 2017, demonstrating that the demand is out there and gyms are rising to meet it.
Try Body Balance at Soho Gyms for a mix of yoga, Tai Chi and mat Pilates to stretch and strengthen your muscles, or Gymbox’s Rehab class for a full-body MOT and an education on why you might be experiencing aches and pains in certain places, plus how to relieve them.
Blokstretch at BLOK in Shoreditch combines foam rollers, elastic bands and static stretching to increase flexibility and promote recovery, while Frame’s Fascia Stretch and Release workshops will teach you how to stretch effectively using a massage ball.
For an individualised approach, Six Physio’s physiotherapist-led reformer Pilates uses ultrasound to assess specific body and conditioning needs, including those deep core muscles, then tailors a personalised programme for each client.
Seeking some recovery for the mind? Inhere in Monument is London’s first teacher-free, drop-in meditation studio, offering bite-sized meditation sessions with different focuses throughout the day.
While some training sessions will send you straight to the sofa, a ‘day of rest’ doesn’t necessarily need to be spent horizontal.
Active recovery is a short, low-intensity workout that aims to increase blood flow, metabolism and joint movement.
This could include some light cardio – jogging, cycling or cross trainer – while maintaining your heart rate at 60% of its maximum, so you should still be able to talk and breathe normally.
Beate likens these sessions to “a short nap” in your training schedule. “The aim is to feel better at the end of your workout than you did at the beginning,” she says.
“Resign yourself to the fact that you might not get admiring looks from passers by or that you might be overtaken by your elderly neighbour on her bicycle with a fully laden basket. But remember: that’s OK.”
Active recovery is particularly important for those preparing for a major event like a marathon or triathlon. Heavy training results in the body releasing large amounts of the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol, which, if left in the bloodstream for too long, can negatively impact muscle regeneration.
“One aim of active recovery is to clear the metabolic waste resulting from exercise, as well as providing a higher level of blood flow to muscles in need of nutrients, allowing them to repair themselves.”
Try some top tech
From IV infusions to infrared saunas, professional athletes will try just about anything to restore their bodies to tip top shape, and now recovery technologies are becoming more accessible to weekend warriors.
Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and distance runner Mo Farah both swear by cryotherapy, which treats and prevents muscle soreness with extreme cold by exposing the body to liquid nitrogen (dry ice) for short periods of time.
The idea is that an extreme drop in temperature (around -140 degrees Celsius) for between two to four minutes is enough to force your body into a “fight or flight survival mode where blood is pulled to your core to help protect vital organs and body functions.
This extra-oxygenated blood is then released back into the body once you start to warm up again, reducing inflammation and soreness and boosting endorphins.
Sound cool? You can try freezing your assets at LondonCryo, the City’s only dedicated cyrotherapy facility, which opened near Liverpool Street around a year ago.
Founder Maria Ensabella says that while cryotherapy was once the domain of the pro athlete, she has seen a noticeable uptick in the number of people seeking treatments in order to recover quicker from their HIIT or strength and conditioning training.
“People used to avoid both these forms of exercise because of their excessive impact, as well as the high risk of injury and over training,” she says.
“Now in some cases they’re working out four or five days a week and that’s completely down to the recovery.
“Cryotherapy certainly does offer that quick fix solution, allowing clients to recover faster, train more frequently and avoid injury.”
And it doesn’t end with amped-up ice baths.
Electronic muscle conditioning devices such as the Marc Pro (£699, marcpro.com) is designed to decrease fatigue and soreness via electrical muscle stimulation, while US football star Tom Brady has released a line of sleepwear and bedding with sportswear brand Under Armour that uses infrared energy to promote cell regrowth as you sleep. Let’s see your 1,000 thread count duvet cover do that.
Take a look at your lifestyle
While it’s easy to blame those extra squats as the sole reason you are having trouble walking down a flight of stairs, lifestyle factors like diet, stress and physical inactivity can also reduce your body’s ability to recover.
These lifestyle factors can be broken down into ‘the three T’s’ – toxins, trauma and thoughts – and can all negatively stress your body and nervous system, ultimately leading to dysfunction.
Toxins covers anything your body can’t process efficiently, such as medications, chemicals, pollution, processed foods, preservatives, alcohol and smoking – all to be consumed in moderation if you’re looking to spring back into action quickly.
While we might think of ‘trauma’ to the body in terms of a car accident or a fall, research is proving how traumatic it can be for your body to be sitting down all day in front of a desk.
Chiropractor Don Murray, who runs King Chiropractic near Leadenhall Market, says well over half of his clients develop chronic pain from the long-term effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle, labelling sitting “the new smoking”.
“It’s not uncommon to hear that people have walked into their office at 8am and then not set foot outside again until well into the evening,” he says.
“Motion is king. If you’re talking on your mobile phone you probably don’t need to be sitting at your desk so get up and walk around, and make sure you try and get out for a walk at lunchtime; it aids digestion.”
As for ‘thoughts’, Don says that any emotional stress causes the brain to shift into protection mode, which divests energy from growth and renewal.
“Our entire body is hardwired neurologically to respond to these signals one way or another. We cannot be both in growth and protection mode at the same time.”
So while it’s near impossible to avoid worrying altogether, developing a healthy approach to managing stress or anxiety will help the brain direct its attention to restoring your body back to its best.