There’s a reason we all love high-intensity workouts so much: They work. The American College of Sports Medicine ranked HIIT — short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by a quick period of rest or recovery — the most popular fitness trend of 2018. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be sweaty, sore, and done within 20 minutes. The catch? None of us are doing it right.
“All of the research says you don’t need more than a 20-minute HIIT workout, but people saw that it worked and started making hour-long classes out of it,” says Pete McCall, exercise physiologist and ACE-certified personal trainer. The average high-intensity workout (think Barry’s Bootcamp, SoulCycle, Tone House, or Cityrow), lasts about 45 minutes — 25 minutes longer than the amount of vigorous activity the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends per day of moderate activity for substantial health benefits. And people are doing these classes four, five, six times a week.
It was inevitable, then, that recovery would become the next fitness trend: We’re all working out so hard, so often, that we literally can’t handle it. “The most important thing to understand is that while a workout is beneficial, you don’t actually benefit from it until your body recovers,” says Rich Richey, a NASM-certified personal trainer and co-founder of ReCOVER, New York City’s first dedicated recovery studio. “When you work out, you’re creating microtears in your muscles; when you rest, your body has time to repair those tears, which makes you stronger. If you go HAM all the time, eventually you’re going to break down.”
Recovery obviously isn’t new; you should have always been stretching, foam rolling, and resting between workouts. But there’s a new emphasis on active recovery — not just using your rest day to sit on the couch, but to optimize your recovery with specific tools and practices in a studio environment. And that’s thanks to a trickle-down effect: While HIIT has been all the rage for the past seven to ten years in commercial fitness, the high-end sports performance world has been studying recovery, says McCall.
“That’s what sets athletes like Tom Brady apart; it’s not how hard he trains, it’s how hard he recovers,” he says. “When Brady talks about his recovery plan getting him to his 90th Super Bowl, people want to do what he does.”
ReCOVER opened on March 5, and offers recovery tools like infrared saunas, NormaTec compression therapy, and Hyperice recovery devices, which use pressure and vibration to release muscle tension, improve circulation, and boost your overall physical performance. It also offers two systems that are available to the public in NYC for the first time: CVAC (Cyclic Variations in Adaptive Conditioning), a spaceship-like pod which creates rapid changes in air pressure to improve circulation, boost oxygen-rich blood cells, and flush out lactic acid, and NuCalm, which provides two to four hours of restorative sleep in one 30-minute session. (The latter purports to shift your brain waves from the “fight or flight” responses of your sympathetic nervous system to the “rest and digest” responses of the parasympathetic nervous system via two electrodes placed right behind your ears.) Treatments range from $25 to $130.
“There are so many recovery modalities out there beyond the foam roller you have gathering dust under your bed,” says ReCOVER co-founder Aaron Drogoszewski, also a NASM-certified personal trainer. “We wanted to create an environment where recreational athletes could have access to the tools the pros have been using.”
ReCOVER isn’t the only studio getting in on the recovery game. This summer, SLT founder Amanda Freeman will open a new studio on May 12 called Stretch*d, where you can go for one-on-one stretching starting at $45 for 25 minutes, and Los Angeles–based StretchLab, which offers in-studio stretching starting at $19 per 25-minute introductory session, is actively pursuing franchise opportunities in New York.
In late 2017, SoulCycle opened off-the-bike studio SoulAnnex (which moves to the BARN in Bridgehampton for the summer starting May 13), offering $42 classes that complement high-intensity cycling (including Le Stretch, a guided stretch and myofascial release class, and The Link, which uses foam rolling and resistant band work for increased flexibility and mobility). And Tone House, arguably one of the most intense workouts in New York City, now offers recovery workshops as well as vibration therapy, compression therapy, and cold tub therapy (sessions range from $20 to $100).
The problem with recovery is that most people know they should do it, but they don’t want to make time for it. “It’s like the flossing of fitness — we want to help people build it into their routine as necessary maintenance,” says Stretch*d co-founder Vanessa Chu. “What boutique fitness did that so resonated with people was offer one workout, offer the best version of that workout, and offer access to it all day long,” says Freeman — a model Stretch*d hopes to apply to recovery.
Assisted recovery and recovery classes are also a huge help to people who want to do it but don’t know how. “Coaching can help maximize results in any aspect of fitness, and at SoulAnnex, people can find the recovery practice that works best for them and fold it into their workout regimen,” says Charlee Atkins, SoulCycle master instructor and Le Stretch founder. “These classes were designed to add to your weekly regimen, not replace workouts,” says Laurie Cole, SoulCycle senior master instructor and creator of The Link at SoulAnnex. “And not only do they help with tight muscles, body alignment, and active recovery, they’ll also aid your performance during those high-intensity workouts.”
Recovery is an investment, just like your workouts. “You pay for your high-intensity classes, you pay for your yoga memberships; to be able to get the most out of their lives, we want to encourage people to invest in their flexibility,” says Martin Balcaitis, chief marketing officer of StretchLab. Those in the recovery business would say it’s like getting a professional haircut: Sure, you could do it on your own — but you really want an expert to help you get it done the best way possible.
None of this is to say you shouldn’t do HIIT workouts — you just have to remember to work the other side of the scale, too. “It’s outcome over effort,” says Drogoszewski. “It doesn’t matter how hard you’re pushing yourself if you’re not resting your system.” You work hard, you exercise hard — and you need to recover just as hard if you don’t want to fall apart.