Chris Duncan’s body doesn’t recover like it used to.
The 32-year-old tax attorney is a former wrestler and powerlifter, but now he says that years of overtraining and sitting at a desk for hours on end have caused regular aches and pains that need more attention than his once-a-month physical therapy session.
His solution: technology.
The Denver resident invested in a wide range of gadgets over the past few years that provide targeted relief in the spots he needs it most. His collection, which includes everything from pulsating massage guns to wearables that vibrate and heat up, cost him about $2,000.
“It’s not cheap, but being laid up with an injury isn’t cheap either,” Duncan said.
While training at home, on the trail or at the gym, we use everything from Fitbits to fitness apps to maximize our efforts. But experts say that people tend to overemphasize the time they spend working out and underestimate the importance of the recovery that comes afterward.
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“Your workouts are only as good as your ability to recover from them,” said Lawrence Serrahn, a fitness professional at Life Time Athletic Club in New York City who has spent over 20 years working as a personal trainer.
“Training adds stress to the body. And when we get to a point where our body is taking on too much stress, our ability to recover from our workouts goes down,” Serrahn said.
That’s where technology can step in, vibrating, freezing and compressing your muscles so that you can stay consistent with fewer pains, said Serrahn.
Just scroll through Instagram and you’ll find an expanding number of fitness enthusiasts who are awakening to the claims that next level recovery tools are the wave of the future.
Experts say that some of the innovative gadgets actually work.
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“Before you even start to work out, a lot of these products are good at awakening your nervous system and loosening up tight muscles,” said Patrick Gumabao, a certified massage therapist who works with athletes at the Bethesda University in California.
Afterward, they aid with relieving muscle soreness and help your body adapt to the micro tears your muscles get while working out, Gumabao said.
Percussion massagers, which are handheld devices that apply pulses of concentrated pressure deep into your muscle tissue, are a common form of recovery technology.
When used properly, they can improve blood flow and enhance the range of motion, according to Nicky Kirk, a chiropractic sports physician who refers to himself as “The Recovery Doctor.”
“By creating increased blood flow into a specific area, you can target a specific muscle that you want to warm up or prep for an exercise,” Kirk said.
He said that his clients say they feel more relaxed after using handheld gadgets like Hypervolt, which is a cordless device that uses a powerful motor to stiff muscles and improving mobility.
Whenever there’s an injury present, the body’s natural response is to send blood to the area. Experts say tech products that compress the site can reduce pain and make muscles more mobile.
“While inflammation is needed to recover, we want to decrease that swelling so we can move around with less pain,” Gumabao said. “If you’ve ever had a painfully swollen ankle, for example, the pain that you feel when you put pressure on it can be helped by using the Hypervolt.”
Kirk said that several of his clients, which include athletes and clinicians, get relief by using NormaTec Compression boots, which are sleeves that have internal compartments that circulate air.
The stockings use compressed air to massage your limbs and move fluid from your extremities toward your core, which can help “with the removal of waste products post-exercise,” Kirk said.
The waste products include lactic acid, which builds up in the muscle tissue during strenuous activity.
Kirk said people leave NormaTec sessions feeling “loose and more mobile. They have a sense of comfort and ease,” which could be because the device “tends to slow the heart rate down.”
A single NormaTec session can cost $20 for 30 minutes. The entire leg recovery system costs $1,295.
One of the most important byproducts of recovery technology is the reduced likelihood of injury, experts say.
If you use products like vibrating foam rollers before you hit the weights, “you’re prepping your body for what’s ahead,” Gumabao said. “If your body isn’t properly prepped, that’s when you start to feel pain.”
On the back-end of exercising, some people are turning to Cryochambers for injury reduction.
You’ll see the extreme-cold treatment performed everywhere from Instagram to reality TV shows. Proponents do the sub-zero shimmy inside liquid nitrogen cooled saunas as a friend records them counting down the seconds until they can exit the futuristic chamber.
Kirk said the jury is still out on whether some of the claimed benefits of Cryotherapy are real.
“The manufacturers may tell you they decrease injury risk or that they speed up metabolism, but a lot of that isn’t verifiable,” Kirk said.
Kirk and Gumabao both said that recovery tech becomes dangerous once people start depending too much on any one product.
“In extreme cases, it can become a crutch that predominates over the exercise,” said Kirk. “Somebody might use a foam roller for 15 minutes, followed by a short amount of time doing exercise, then finish up with recovery equipment for another 15 minutes. That’s not conducive to getting things done in the gym.”
He said that working out should remain your priority and that recovery falls secondary.
Over-reliance aside, Kirk says the technology is inherently safe.
“They’re mostly passive types of therapy. You lie there and you take it basically,” Kirk said. “For your healthy active people, it’s all very low risk.”
While gadgets are “exciting,” Gumabao warns that technology shouldn’t replace the best form of recovery – rest.
“People rely on tech because it has benefits, but most of the results are just temporary,” Gumabao said. “The number one thing you should do is get enough sleep.”
What tech do you take to the gym with you? Let Dalvin Brown know on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.