Huberman Exercise Recovery Guide: Optimizing Muscle and Mind

By understanding and implementing recovery strategies, athletes and fitness enthusiasts can make informed decisions about their training and recovery, ultimately leading to improved results and reduced risk of injury.

Assessing Recovery from Training: Grip Strength and Jump Testing

Huberman explained that systemic recovery, which encompasses the nervous system and its ability to generate force, can be assessed through three main tests.

Two of these tests are simple and require no equipment. The first test is grip strength, which involves squeezing a fist or an object to measure the ability to generate isolated force. This test relates to the upper motor neurons’ ability to control lower motor neurons.

To establish a baseline, individuals can use a grip tool, a rubber doughnut-shaped toy, or a floor scale to measure their grip strength when well-rested. A 10-20% reduction in grip strength upon waking up in the morning indicates that the nervous system is still in the process of rewiring itself to generate force, even if the muscle group trained the previous day is different from the one being tested.

The second test, which Andy Galpin’s group is using, is a jump test. Although Huberman did not elaborate on the specifics of this test in the transcript provided, it is likely that it involves measuring an individual’s jumping ability to assess their recovery status.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is another measure of recovery that has gained attention in exercise physiology. HRV refers to the variation in time between heartbeats, with higher variability indicating better recovery. However, measuring HRV can be more challenging and may require specific devices.

Carbon Dioxide Tolerance Test For Assessing Recovery

To perform the carbon dioxide tolerance test, start by waking up in the morning and avoiding any distractions, such as your phone or social media. Begin by inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling completely, repeating this process four times.

On the fifth inhale, fill your lungs to maximum capacity, expanding your stomach to engage your diaphragm fully. Then, start a timer and release the air as slowly as possible through your mouth, as if you were exhaling through a tiny straw. Stop the timer when you can no longer exhale any more air.

The time it takes to completely exhale, known as the carbon dioxide discard rate, can range from 1 second to 2 minutes. A discard time of 30 seconds is considered typical, while 20 seconds or less may indicate that you have not fully recovered from the previous day’s activities.

If your discard time falls between 30 and 60 seconds, you are likely in a good position to engage in more physical work. A discard time between 65 and 120 seconds suggests that your nervous system has almost certainly recovered and is prepared for additional work.

Huberman’s lab has been using the carbon dioxide tolerance test to study anxiety and recovery from bouts of anxiety, while Andy’s lab has been researching its applications in exercise physiology.

This test is a valuable tool because it accounts for individual differences in recovery abilities, which can be influenced by factors such as diet, sleep, and stress management.

By tracking your carbon dioxide discard time daily, you can objectively monitor your recovery and make informed decisions about your readiness for physical activity. If you notice a 15-20% drop in your typical discard time, it may indicate that you are not fully recovering, and it might be wise to adjust your training accordingly.

The Way To End Every Training Session

The key to optimizing recovery, according to these experts, lies in deliberately disengaging the nervous system for a mere five minutes immediately following the workout.

By tapping into the calming or parasympathetic arm of the nervous system, athletes can kickstart the recovery process and enhance their overall performance.

Huberman emphasizes the accessibility and effectiveness of respiration tools in achieving this state of relaxation. Techniques such as non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) or a simple breathing pattern of ten physiological sighs – double inhales through the nose followed by long exhales – can effectively engage the parasympathetic nervous system.

Rather than succumbing to the temptation of immediately reaching for their phones post-workout, serious athletes and those committed to recovery prioritize initiating the recovery process right at the end of their training session.

By measuring CO2 tolerance in the morning, they can gauge the effectiveness of their recovery efforts.

Interestingly, several groups are also incorporating physiological sighs between sets to maintain nerve-to-muscle contractility and enhance focus throughout their training sessions. By alternating between intense, focused work during sets and deliberate disengagement of the nervous system between sets, athletes can optimize their strength, explosiveness, and muscle isolation.

While recovery is a multifaceted process, the CO2 tolerance test serves as a valuable tool in assessing an individual’s recovery status.

Pros and Cons of Cold Exposure for Post-Workout Recovery

Huberman explains that while cold exposure can reduce inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), it may also interfere with the body’s natural processes that promote muscle repair and growth.

When cold is applied within four hours of a workout, particularly when it involves whole-body cooling or cooling from the neck down, it can potentially short-circuit the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway and other inflammation-related pathways that are crucial for muscle development.

It is important to note that stress, tension, and damage are the primary stimuli for nerve-to-muscle connections to adapt and for muscles to become bigger, stronger, and more efficient.

By exposing oneself to cold immediately after resistance training, one may be unintentionally limiting the improvements they are striving to achieve.

However, cold exposure can still be beneficial for athletes who prioritize quick recovery to accommodate more frequent training sessions or for individuals who focus primarily on endurance training and are not seeking significant strength or hypertrophy gains from their resistance training.

Huberman also mentions that other factors, such as the use of antihistamines, can potentially hinder the benefits of resistance training.

As research continues to emerge in this field, it is crucial for individuals to carefully consider the timing and purpose of their cold exposure in relation to their specific fitness goals and training regimens.

Antihistamines and Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Exercise

In a recent episode of his podcast, Andrew Huberman discussed the potential drawbacks of using antihistamines and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for individuals engaging in cardiovascular exercise and resistance training.

Recent scientific reports have shown that these medications can hinder the benefits and adaptations typically associated with these forms of exercise.

Antihistamines work by blocking mast cells, which are crucial in the inflammatory process that occurs during and after a workout.

This inflammation is actually a necessary signal for the body to make changes and adaptations in response to the stress of exercise.

By disrupting this process, antihistamines can interfere with the gains in endurance, strength, and muscle hypertrophy that people seek through their training regimens.

Similarly, NSAIDs, which are commonly used as painkillers, can also interfere with the benefits of both endurance and resistance training. These medications block pain signals, which, while unpleasant, serve as important indicators that an individual may be engaging in improper form or pushing their body too far.

Huberman advises caution when using NSAIDs, especially within the four hours before or after exercise. He emphasizes that while inflammation is necessary during and immediately after a workout, it is important to focus on reducing inflammation later on through other means.

Foundational Supplements For Recovery: EPA, Vitamin D3, Magnesium Malate

Huberman emphasized that while a certain level of inflammation is necessary during training to stimulate muscle adaptation, it’s crucial to reduce inflammation post-workout to support the recovery process.

Huberman suggested that one way to achieve a state of reduced inflammation after training is through non-sleep deep rest protocols or using relaxation apps like Reveri. These methods can help calm the nervous system and promote recovery.

In addition to post-workout strategies, Huberman highlighted the importance of managing inflammation at a foundational level through nutrition and supplementation.

He referred to the “golden three” supplements recommended by Andy Galpin: omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and magnesium malate.

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA, can be obtained through diet or supplementation. Huberman recommended aiming for a daily intake of at least 1000 milligrams of EPA to keep inflammation levels in check. Vitamin D is another essential nutrient for maintaining overall health and reducing inflammation.

Magnesium malate, a specific form of magnesium, has been shown to be particularly effective in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

However, Huberman clarified that soreness itself is not a requirement for muscle growth and strength gains, dispelling a common myth.

While there is ongoing debate about whether one should train a muscle group again when it’s still sore, Huberman suggests that soreness indicates incomplete recovery. Techniques like massage, fascial release, sauna, and cold therapy may help accelerate the recovery process, but the foundational trio of omega-3s, vitamin D, and magnesium malate can provide systemic support for reducing inflammation.

Importance of Electrolytes for Optimal Nerve-Muscle Communication

Neurons communicate with each other and with muscles through electricity, which is generated by the movement of specific ions, such as sodium, in and out of the neuron.

Without sufficient salt in the system, nerve-muscle communication can be severely impaired, leading to poor performance.

The amount of salt required varies depending on factors such as water intake, caffeine consumption, food ingestion, diuretic use, and environmental conditions like heat and sweating.

Huberman stressed that having enough salt, potassium, and magnesium in the system is essential for performing well, not only in physical activities but also in mental tasks such as studying, writing, coding, and even engaging in challenging conversations.

Endurance athletes and those who train in high heat can attest to the fact that low electrolyte levels can significantly hinder brain and body function.

It is important to note that simply drinking water is not enough to maintain optimal electrolyte balance. The body requires a proper balance of electrolytes to function at its best. Numerous well-controlled studies have consistently shown the importance of electrolytes in supporting physical performance and overall well-being.

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