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Modern Post-Exercise Recovery Techniques

Working with athletes in the rehabilitation and sports performance settings over the past 7 years has exposed me to a wide variety of techniques and tools utilized by individuals and clinicians.The goal is to try to help an athlete recover as fast as possible so that they can perform at their highest level. At SPI and RMPT we utilize a wide variety of tools. Choosing one technique over another usually has multiple factors that play a role in our decision making. We often use multiple techniques in conjunction with each other to help achieve maximal outcomes.

Here are some myofascial release techniques we are currently using at our facility *Some of these methods may not have a large amount of evidence backing them however you can find contradicting evidence on many techniques utilized by therapists and trainers. We choose some of these methods based on evidence as well as extensive experience working with athletes ranging from youth to professional*. My goal is to help you get a better understanding of these methods of recovery so that you can know why you’re doing it or maybe be open to something new. While active recovery is likely most beneficial for the athlete, these can help complement it or replace it to a certain degree when there is not much time in between sessions of activity.

  1. Foam Rolling

Foam rolling tends to strike up a lot of “constructive debate” as there are many people who believe it to be very effective and others who feel it is a waste of time. I personally am a big believer in foam rolling and do it either before and/or after every time I exercise. I believe one of the issues with foam rolling is the misconception that people have been told to believe for a while now. One of the main misconceptions with foam rolling (and probably all of the other techniques I’m going to talk about) is that it “breaks up scar tissue, knots or adhesions”. Another myth is that it lengthens muscles. Well if you have a good understanding of human anatomy then I can understand why you would think this is insanity. Because it is.

The reason why foam rolling (and many other forms of soft tissue work) is effective is due to the neuro-physiological response to the compression of the foam roller. The compression of the foam roller stimulates the peripheral sensory receptors in your muscles, tendons and fascia. This stimulation then moves on to your central nervous system. Eventually what happens is the over activity of these receptors that contribute to pain and stiffness are lessened. This leads to improvements in pain thresholds, perception of tightness, joint range of motion as well as muscle performance.

A 2015 study by Pearcey et al. investigated the effectiveness of foam roll post-exercise on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It was found that the foam roll group had significantly less muscle tenderness, enhanced recovery and improved exercise performance for the following training session compared to the control group. The study had participants foam roll for 20 minutes which isn’t very practical. I believe 5-10 minutes max of rolling is sufficient. The focus should be on slowly rolling over the target areas to get best results.

2. Dry Cupping

This has become much more popular since everyone wanted to know what the circle bruises all over Michael Phelps were during his last Olympics. Cupping has been used for thousands of years for different reasons. In 1550 B.C. it was used by the Egyptians to help recover from illness such as fever or vertigo. Its use in Western medicine started declining in the 1800s with the shift towards more modern methods such as medications. Cupping is starting to make a comeback and more research on it is becoming available.

Cupping utilizes negative pressure inside the cup to suction on the soft tissue. This method is also sometimes referred to as myofascial decompression. The goal of cupping is to help release trigger points, increase localized circulation to where the cups are applied, decrease chronic inflammation and improve soft tissue stiffness. Some recent studies have shown dry cupping to decrease pain intensity, improve pain threshold levels and decrease pain with activity.

I recommend seeking someone who has experience with performing this method versus trying it on your own. We tend to get very good results with cupping, especially when we couple it with movement as a form of active-release. Check out our instagram for some videos on how we utilize cupping with movement to help improve mobility and pain. We frequently use cupping on the back, shoulders and legs to help athletes as well as the general population with a wide variety of issues feel and move better. Cupping isn’t for everyone. It can be uncomfortable while the cups are on and if you don’t like bruises then this is definitely not for you. Otherwise, there are typically no other adverse reactions if done correctly. It is a great way to help you recover and feel better. I mean if Michael Phelps trusted it to help him beat the best swimmers in the world, then I’d say it’s pretty effective.

3. Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM)

This is a form of soft tissue work that uses the concepts of deep friction massage through the use of ergonomically designed metal instruments. IASTM is indicated for painful and restricted muscles and joints. This is also frequently used for post traumatic pain (sports injuries, whiplash), repetitive strain conditions and for post-surgical pain. At SPI and RMPT we use IASTM on a daily basis for our athletes. We “scrape” people in just about every area of the body that is involved with functional mobility. People tend to feel less pain and have more mobility almost instantly.

Like with cupping, there tends to be a certain level of discomfort during the process of being “scraped”. Before I perform IASTM on someone I usually tell them that it may not feel great during but try to think of it as “hurts so good” because you will feel better after its done. I would recommend having someone experienced perform this on you rather than do it yourself or at least have them show you how to properly do it. It is normal for the skin to be red and possibly have bruising afterwards. I try to limit bruising as much as possible as people will sometimes get turned off of it as a result, but it is okay if it happens.

The research on IASTM is much more abundant in the rehab world rather than sports performance and training. When performed correctly IASTM works similarly to foam rolling by stimulating the pain and mechanoreceptors in the soft tissue as well as increasing localized blood flow to where it is performed. In most cases, increasing blood flow to an area is a good thing and helps improve performance and recovery.

These are just some of the different methods that can help you recover quicker and perform at a higher level. If you are interested in cupping or IASTM to help you move and feel better please give our clinic a call at 315-765-6187 or email me at

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