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Workout recovery: Why it's so important

Forget spending hours in the gym. Your time may actually be better spent recovering.

Caroline Roberts Digital Editorial Intern
Caroline Roberts writes articles and notifications for CNET. She studies English at Cal Poly, and loves philosophy, Karl the Fog and a strong cup of black coffee.
Caroline Roberts
5 min read
Diverse People Running on Treadmill

Working out takes a toll on your body.

Ferran Traite / Getty Images

Listen up, all you weekend warriors, gym-goers and anyone else that is vaguely interested in working out or getting fitter. If you're still falling victim to the mindset that pain is gain, I've got news for you. Scientists are starting to discover that actively investing in post-workout recovery is just as, if not more, important than the time you spend in the gym. Fitness technology is catching onto this trend and there are many promising products that allow you to bring cutting-edge recovery techniques into your own home.

Read more: Heart-rate tracking is the secret to getting fit. Here's how to use it | The 7 best fitness subscription boxes in 2019 for every workout style | The best smart scales we tested in 2019: Withings, Fitbit, Garmin, Eufy and JaxJox | Theragun, Hypervolt, TimTam: The best percussive massage guns

Watch this: High-tech fitness equipment for your home

Why is recovery important?

Your muscles don't actually grow while you are working out; they grow while resting in between sessions. Exercise is essentially stress, and when you repeatedly stress your body it becomes better adapted to respond to the stimulus. 

Working out, specifically weightlifting and body weight exercises, creates micro-tears in your muscles. If you don't give them adequate time to heal, then the tears grow and your muscles feel inflamed, swollen and exhausted. Not allowing yourself adequate recovery time can lead to decreased performance and even overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome, or OTS, is ugly. It compromises your immune system, makes you feel exhausted and causes chronic joint and muscle pain.

Recovery is super important in the workout process. Not only does it help you avoid all of those negative side effects, but when those micro-tears heal, your muscles grow.

Read more: 6 workouts for people who hate working out


Overtraining, or under recovering, negatively impacts your performance.

Getty Images

If you're more into cardio, this still applies. Aerobic exercise, especially running, follows the same progressive overload principle as weightlifting. This is a fancy way of saying that the training programs are also designed to pile an increasing workload onto your body. Then, you recover, and your body adapts to better respond to that stress.

The specific adaptations depend on what specific exercise you do, but in layman's lingo we generally know the adaptation effect as getting "into better shape." For example, if you run a lot, cycle or do another aerobic activity, your VO2 max increases. Essentially, this means that your body is able to use more oxygen while working out, which boosts endurance. 

If you lift weights or do body weight exercise, the main adaptation is called muscle hypertrophy and increases the size of your muscles to make you stronger. The list of physical changes your body makes after working out is endless, but the point is that they all take time and rest to occur. Ergo, if you don't give yourself time to recover, you won't get as fit.

When athletes (and yes, you) are able to recover quickly, they can hit the next workout with their full ability and maximize performance. If you don't take enough rest after each session, you won't give your body enough time to reap the full effects of your exercise and may even fall victim to overtraining

If you enhance your recovery, your body will adapt better to the stress you're putting yourself through and you may even get fitter for the same workout intensity and frequency.


Simple foam rollers are also an effective tool.

Getty Images

Why high-tech recovery?

While old-school recovery techniques, like getting enough sleep or eating more protein are tried and true, high-tech equipment will up your game and get you ready to hop back in the gym in record time.

The tools listed below will aid your efforts in a wide variety of ways, including everything from allowing you to perform fancy massage techniques on sore muscles to transforming body heat into radiation that literally helps your cells grow faster. Plus, who doesn't want more fancy toys to help their fitness pursuits?

These devices are all tools that you can use at home, so forget the days of expensive spa treatments and start recovering from the comfort of your couch. 



I tried a prototype, and the compression felt gentle and relaxing.

Angela Lang/CNET

Spryng's soon to be available calf compression device works by helping get rid of that swelling that makes your legs feel sore, increasing blood flow to your muscles and helping them heal faster. Plus, the gentle squeeze feels nice after a long day on your feet.

Spryng is currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo, with an expected delivery in September 2019.

HyperIce Fitness Roller


The Vyper has three different speeds of high-intensity vibration.


HyperIce's vibrating foam roller combines a massaging technique with vibration therapy for a two-in-one punch to your sore muscles. Both myofascial release (aka foam rolling) and vibration therapy help loosen tight muscles, providing relief from soreness and improving blood flow. 

While anyone who has used a foam roller knows that it hurts in the moment, the pain is worth it when you wake up the next morning feeling amazing.

UnderArmour Athlete Recovery Sleepwear


This sleepwear reflects your body heat back as infrared radiation to aim in workout recovery.


UnderArmour's sleepwear has technology that absorbs the heat your body emits and reflects it back as far infrared radiation that encourages cell regrowth. Cell regeneration is a key part of muscle growth, because when the muscle repairs itself to grow stronger it needs new tissue and more cells. While the technology feels straight out of a movie, the research suggests it is legit. And if Tom Brady's in, I'm in. 

Use this for an effort-free way to feel even more fresh after a great night's sleep . UA's Athlete Recovery Sleepwear comes in shirts, shorts and pants, available for men and women. There's even Recovery bedding available.



The wrap can be thrown in the freezer or microwave.


ThermX's foam rollers can be heated up in the microwave or cooled in the freezer. While cooling muscles is slightly better for recovery, heat has also been shown to be effective at relaxing and reducing swelling.

The Wave Tool


The Wave Tool can be used on sore wrists after a long day on the keyboard.

Wave Tools

The Wave Tool combines handheld massage therapy with IASTM, which stands for Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization and is exactly what it sounds like. The tool helps break up scar tissue from old injuries and keeps your muscles loose. It has eight different surfaces that can be used on every part of your body, from aching wrists to a sore back.


Theragun uses percussive technology to increase blood flow and loosen sore muscles. It's pricey, but professional athletes like NBA superstar Kyrie Irving swear by it. This rather aggressive-looking tool is like a massage on steroids, offering intense vibrations meant to give your muscles a deep tissue massage.

If you want a Thergun, but the price is too high, check out its older models, which are available for much less cash. And, Theragun isn't the only percussive massage gun either -- there are several other products that promise the same results.


NormaTec wraps around your entire legs (or arms, depending on what system you buy), delivering a pulsing motion that mimics the pumping of your muscles. It increases blood flow, making you more flexible and lessening pain sensitivity. Elite athletes like gymnast Simone Biles use it. And, it looks like you're wearing half of an astronaut suit, so there's really no reason not to get this.

Correction, July 30, 9:55 a.m. PT: An earlier version of this story misstated NormaTec as increasing pain threshold. It lessens pain sensitivity.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.