I Went on a “Recovery Retreat” and It Changed the Way I Feel About Going Hard at the Gym

Photo: PowerDot
Here's my favorite part about the weekend: I have so much time to play at the gym. I can hop on the treadmill and practice my handstand on the indoor turf. I can pretend like I know what's going on in the weight room or pop in on a 70s-style aerobics class (with truly inspired dance moves to "YMCA") just for kicks.

Since I keep my muscles guessing on Saturday and Sunday though, I place recovering extra-high on my list of priorities, and hear me on this, the tech that's popping up nowadays for this explicit purpose is cool AF (and okay, the OG methods aren't bad either). So in the name of research, I spent this weekend on a something I've deemed a "recovery retreat."

Gathering together my foam roller, lacrosse ball, and PowerDot ($299)—an electric muscle stimulating device that promises to fast-forward your recovery, and reduce soreness—in one place, I got ready to loosen up my bod from the intense activities they're forced to go through on the reg.

Case in point: To finish Friday on a sweaty note, I changed into my leggings after work and met my friend—a trainer—at the gym for an hour of strength training. Many pushups, Bulgarian split squats (the move s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t from hell), and chest presses later, my entire muscular system felt like it was running on a battery of about 5 percent.

I schlepped myself home, showered, and tried to ascertain which extremity hurt the most. My quads, I thought—no doubt about it. Pulling out my PowerDot, I attached the two pods (AKA: the red, round things) to my legs using the instructions on the app, which you use to control the duration and intensity of the stimulation used in the recovery session.

Here's how you do it: First, you adhere the sticky pads ($18 a piece) according to the app's instructions. Then, you place the pods on the pads, sync the bluetooth with your phone, and get startedWhile I didn't have a hard time placing the PowerDot on my quads all by myself, I can imagine that placing the whole setup on my backside would be damn near impossible without someone else assisting you. So if you live alone and are considering investing in these puppies to help with your back pain, I'd come up with a game plan first.

How to describe the sensations that the device sends through your muscles? After testing out the Theragun, which feels like a deep tissue massage, it was definitely a more shallow sensation, and it kind of felt like being poked with a pointer finger, but like, in a good way. The electric currents vary depending on what setting you put the device on, and you'll quickly notice that your muscles react (read: freak out) in different ways depending on the rhythm. My "extended recovery" session lasted about 35 minutes and my quads felt loose (so loose!) at the end. It was almost like someone had released a pressure valve on one of the tightest sections of my body.

My "extended recovery" session lasts about 35 minutes and my quads feel loose (so loose!) at the end. It's almost like someone has released a pressure valve from what has to be one of the tightest sections of my body.

On Saturday, following an hour of hip-opening hot yoga, I decided that I wanted to continue focusing on my tight hip flexors, which take a beating from sitting all day at my 9-to-5. The Powerdot doesn't have a program to help with them, so I relied on my trusty foam roller to help work out some of the tension. Rolling along the IT band and up over the hip, I focused on loosening up the hip flexor. When I started, it was rigid and painful, but by the end of my 10-minute sequence, the muscles felt ooey gooey. I repeated on the other side until my left and right sides both felt chilled out.

The last day of my retreat came, and I decided to focus on obliterating a tweaky hamstring that I like to call yoga butt. While I know that the foam roller works wonders on the hamstring, I opted for the lacrosse ball (which can get in every nook and cranny) coupled with the Powerdot to help release my tight backside. Then, I drew a hot bath, sprinkled in Epsom salts and soaked in the bliss of slowing down.

It might be be a coincidence, but I slept really well the entire weekend. And I'm just hypothesizing here, but perhaps it's because I gave my body an opportunity to wind down that I seldom give it in the aftermath of evening workouts. We fitness fans tend to spend a lot of time planning out circuits and sprints and sequences that will leave us winded, but we don't plan how we're going to recalibrate our bodies after all that work.  Maybe that's why these recovery tools seem to be flooding the market. We all need a reminder that slowing down is just as important as speeding up. Especially for your muscles.

Which is why, should you feel called to spend a weekend floating in an epsom bath, carrying your foam roller from room to room, or enacting your own version of a recovery retreat in your home, I say go for it.

Shalane Flanagan has an opinion or two about R&R . And if you're all about HIIT nowadays, here's how to breath in between circuits for max recovery

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