It always amazes me how I can hustle through a six mile run, but it makes me struggle to get up the stairs the next day. In order to fix this, I tested out three different stress and workout relief treatments that promise healing: cupping therapy, restoring yoga and an ice bath routine. To accurately judge each technique, I did the same workout the night before each recovery session: three miles on the treadmill and 15 minutes of planks, crunches and push ups.
After seeing Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and other olympians compete in Rio de Janeiro with huge circular cupping bruises up and down their backs, I figured “why not try cupping, it certainly couldn’t hurt.” I was wrong, and it definitely hurt. The process looks like this: therapeutic herbs are lit on fire, put in a cup and placed on your back. As terrifying as this sounds, I wanted to find out if the process could reduce my shoulder soreness faster than my usual icing routine.
Because of the staff of certified doctors, I decided to have the cupping done at KC Acupuncture Center. The all-white office was very clean and sterile, and I felt an immediate calming vibe from the quiet music after sitting down. The $40 treatment started off like a typical massage. Dr. Ren asked me some questions about my usual soreness, and as I lied down, I was feeling relaxed. But quickly, I was pulled out of this trance with the striking of a match and the rattling of glass. When the first cup was placed, I felt my back pucker as if it were getting sucked into a black hole.
After I got over the initial pain, Dr. Ren put more cups on my back and left the room. In a couple of minutes he reappeared and began moving the cups around on my back, which was now numb. After scraping my back with a fossilized yak horn, which induces bruising and brings toxins to the surface, Dr. Ren concluded the cupping with some healing oil.
I was hoping the soreness from the treatment would go away when the cups did, but even putting a shirt on caused pain. Walking out, I had big, circular red and purple bruises painted my upper back, and I was afraid they would still be there when I put on my backless WPA dress.
Three days after the procedure, I finally started feeling the relief that cupping promised. Even so, the net pain was way more than the net gain, so you won’t be seeing me walk through the halls with softball- sized bruises again.
When sore muscles strike, I usually just take a few extra minutes at home to stretch out. But when I saw that Power Life offered a Restore class, I jumped at the opportunity. At $20 for an hour class it’s more pricey than I would spend on a regular non-workout basis, but after one class, I already learned a few of the stretches and poses I can use at home. Not only did I leave with my muscles feeling brand new but it gave me the mental break I needed to escape homework stress.
The studio’s usual bright lights, clean bleach smell and blaring pop music was swapped with tea candles, the smell of patchouli and relaxing chime music. Because the room was so dark, it helped me focus on staying in the zone instead of looking around the room to see if I was doing the pose incorrectly.
Once I set up my mat and grabbed a few stability blocks, the teacher had us settle into child’s pose for a few minutes — I could already feel the weight on my shoulders melt away. After child’s pose, each following stretch was aimed at a different muscle group, so my whole body left feeling “restored,” and there wasn’t a trace left of my previous workout. By the time I heard the closing word “namaste,” I was so relaxed that I didn’t know if I could roll my mat up without yawning.
The one downside of the class was the instructor, who spent the entire time muttering her first world problems turned mantras like “the right choice is inside you all along” (in reference to grocery shopping) to the the class. I prefer my yoga to either be done in silence or with quiet music, but talking snaps me out of my meditative state.
Despite it being more guided stretching than yoga, it was still my favorite and most effective way to recover, and I was able to hustle up the stairs the next day. While cupping was only done on my back and shoulders, the restore class helped my whole body. I will definitely be back for more classes, even if I just need a break from my biology lab.
At Home Routine
When I don’t have time to go out anywhere, but I’m still sore, I do my at-home recovery routine.
Directly after my gym workout, I rid my body of lactic acid by doing “legs up” where I layed down on the floor and leaned my legs vertically against the wall. I kept my legs in the air for about seven minutes, or a couple minutes after they went numb. The next step to my recovery process was icing.
While they may be the most uncomfortable thing I can force myself to do, ice baths help with pain and inflammation in the legs. Maybe it’s because I dropped a full minute off of my 5k time after my first ice bath, but I do really notice a difference in how fresh my legs feel.
After grabbing two 20oz. bags of ice, I dumped them in my tub and began filling it up about halfway with water. While it filled up, I grabbed two gallon zip bags, filled them up with warm water, and rubber banded them on my feet which keeps me from getting frostbite. You can buy booties for this, but the DIY bag trick from Pinterest does the trick. After I was all set up, I put on my “Ice Bath” playlist and started blasting Kanye to get me through the eight frozen minutes.
After the timer went off, I manually lifted my numb, firetruck red legs out of the bath, and let them heat back up as I was curled up in bed. After my legs got back from their quick trip to Antarctica, it was time to loosen up my muscles.
My favorite time to stretch and roll out my legs is right before bed, so after my dinner and Netflix session, I headed back to my yoga mat to give my muscles a break. I mostly focused on my arms, legs and shoulders. I do pretty basic stretches like touch my toes, hurdle stretching, bridges and finish with criss-crossing my arms. Afterwards, I use a foam roller to target my quads, since they often need the most care.
Taking the at-home route may be a little more effort, but the tried and true tricks do really work. If you’re too lazy to leave the house, grab some ice or a place to stretch for some free recovery.