Recovery isn’t a new concept. Those flimsy white foam rollers have been floating around physical therapy offices for decades. Believe it or not, massage has roots as far back as Ancient Egypt with the belief that hieroglyphics showed individuals massaging one another. The oldest documentation of people practicing meditation dates back from 5,000 to 3,500 BCE India. Despite its extensive history, recovery has largely remained a fringe practice. However, over the past decade, recovery in its many incarnations and plethora of associated tools is almost as ubiquitous as the TRX Suspension Trainer.
But is it a flash in the pan or is recovery here to stay?
Here, industry experts discuss the topic and why every gym and fit pro should consider investing in tools and the education to support them.
A New Perspective
“Within the last 2 to 3 years, I have witnessed a different attitude toward recovery, globally,” says Susane Pata, Senior Master Trainer for TRX and TriggerPoint. “Fitness facilities are incorporating stretch and foam rolling classes into group fitness schedules—something I rarely saw 5 to 10 years ago. Fitness professionals are advocating for foam rolling to their clients and investing in their own recovery using different vibrating recovery tools. Gyms like Equinox and Crunch keep such vibrating recovery tools charging behind the desk for members to sign out for use. Fitness enthusiasts are filling up the ‘stretch’ zones in gyms in NYC (a city whose residents tend to be on the cutting edge of fitness trends) like Chelsea Piers Sports Center, Equinox and Crunch, and using foam rollers, balls, etc., to work out the kinks before and after workouts.”
It doesn’t hurt that those whose livelihood is tied to physical function—professional athletes, for example—are often seen using foam rollers and other recovery tools and regularly post to social media about the benefits of cryotherapy chambers and float tanks. Such high-profile exposure has a tendency to inspire fans and enthusiasts to adopt similar behaviors.
TRX and TriggerPoint Senior Master Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach, Brandon Wagner has witnessed first-hand the trajectory recovery has seen over the past decade.
“I have watched the growth of recovery tools and education explode. It is one of the most discussed subjects among fitness professionals and enthusiasts alike—so much so that companies like Under Armour are dedicating a lot of research into creating products specifically designed for recovery. I'd say recovery is on the top of the list in fitness as a subject that receives the most attention.”
The What Behind the Why
Many experts believe that the increased focus on recovery is in direct response to the popularity of high-intensity training modalities. In order to perform at a higher level, the body and nervous systems require some sort of tension release to mitigate pain, injury and sympathetic overload—a condition that can result in mood swings, erratic heartbeat, sleep disturbances, delayed recovery and more. In other words, if you’re constantly firing on all cylinders, you risk physical, physiological and emotional breakdown. Using tools like the TRX Rocker, taking meditation or restorative yoga classes or soaking in a float tub can help.
Austin Martinez, MS, ATC, CSCS and director of education for Stretchlab Franchise, explains, “To understand the rise of recovery, we have to understand what ‘working out’ truly means. When you work your muscles, you drain energy storage and you break down muscle tissue.”
A beneficial and necessary process to incite muscle growth and strength gains, working out can also lead to soreness, muscle tightness, mobility deficits and pain, Martinez adds. Fortunately, concepts like “no pain, no gain” fell out of favor as experts and consumers began to look for ways to minimize pain and injury risk and get back to the activities they love, faster.
The Rise of the Recovery Gym
It’s not just product manufacturers that are taking advantage of the trend. Recovery-only facilities are starting to pop up all over. For example, StretchLab is one such company that’s leading the recovery gym charge—the franchise-based organization has more than 70 facilities throughout the U.S. with new franchises in the works.
“What has been really interesting to me in the last couple of years is to see very expensive NYC real estate being utilized for recovery facilities,” says Pata. “This both amuses me and makes me super happy. It amuses me because who really would’ve thought of such a notion? But it makes me super happy because smart people are acknowledging—and investing in—the smart and most basic fitness principles that are essential to reap the rewards of workouts: recovery.”
Recovery Goes High Tech
"It’s one thing to have a foam roller; it’s a whole other thing to know what parts of the body need the foam roller’s attention to maximize the recovery process", says Chris Nentarz, PT, owner of Move Well Physical Therapy and TRX Master Trainer. But with a little help from a high-tech platform like TRX MAPS—a system that instantly analyzes structural imbalances—users can take the guesswork out of which parts of the body are tight and require tension release.
“MAPS allows us to determine which recovery techniques to use and which tissues to direct that at,” he says. “It also allows us to see how a client or athlete responds to a strategy or technique. It is not uncommon to find that what we think works, may not.”
He adds that oftentimes, the average exerciser doesn’t fully understand recovery and so support from tools like TRX MAPS makes the process a lot easier and provides everyone with his or her own unique approach.
“Individualized solutions are always best,” says Nentarz.
Martinez explains that TRX MAPS is integral to the process at Stretchlab.
He explains, “After someone is checked in, the Flexologist takes them to the MAPS machine and runs them through a scan. Once results populate, the Flexologist discusses the focus of the session based on the client's goals and MAPS results. Then they go straight to the bench for the stretch session.”
From there, Stretchlab clients are tracked via MAPS on a monthly basis to determine progress.
“MAPS helps us educate our members on their body (visually) and how we can obtain results through assisted stretching,” Martinez states.
Recovery Is Good Business
Pata, Martinez, Wagner, and Nentarz all agree that this facet of the fitness industry is poised for expansion. Not only are these kinds of programs and products of interest to high-performance individuals eager to stay in their games of choice, they are important for anyone interested in getting and staying active and can play a huge role in helping those of all lifestyles feel and move better.
Says Wagner: “I see fitness facilities spending more money and effort to create not only ‘recovery-only' spaces within their facility, but to also add recovery-specific programs (classes) to their current schedules. There is a need for fitness programs, classes and education within gyms that cater to specific populations like desk jockeys and people with physically demanding jobs, and those looking for more sport- or goal-related recovery/restorative options.”
Martinez adds that gyms would be making a costly mistake to ignore the growing trend.
“An investment in recovery is an investment in your members,” he explains. “Data shows us that one of the biggest reasons gym members cancel their membership is due to injury/pain from working out.”
Bottom line: Recovery tools, education and programming can help people feel and move better. When people feel and move better, they want to stay that way and are more likely to maintain memberships and become loyal, long-term training clients. So, long story short… as leaders in functional training, with the belief that movement is a vital sign, we are crossing our fingers that recovery is here to stay.