Funny how everyone brags about how great their workout was but no one boasts about how great their recovery was.
“I smashed the best stretch sesh last night” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
The recovery side of training is less spoken about but equally as important as the training itself. Do your killer workout justice and give it more than the odd 30 second quad stretch for recovery. You earn your recovery, use it.
Why is fitness recovery so important?
When we recover we repair and grow stronger. We all know this, but how many of us actually follow this advice? Many a fitness professional and even athletes will overtrain their bodies due to feeling guilty if they skip a training session, but continuous training will weaken even the strongest of athletes.
Recovery is essential for both the physical and mental fatigue that training places on us.
Recovery time is when the body adapts to the new stresses it’s been placed under. So the level of recovery your body requires to fully repair will vary based on the level of energy and intensity the workout required.
To improve our fitness, we need our muscles and skeletal system to fully repair in between each performance. What happens if we don’t? Performance suffers, instead of getting stronger, we grow weaker, exercises become harder and we become lethargic.
There are several common occurrences which take place in the body as it recovers from exercise. Firstly, muscle fibers rebuild. When you exert stress on your muscles, you start the tear and repair process. Tiny breaks in the muscle fibers are forced to repair themselves until they are fully healed. Secondly, fluid levels are restored. This happens pretty quickly after you finish exercising, particularly if you’ve hydrated well before, during and after your session. Maintaining your fluid levels is critical for delivering nutrients to vital organs and muscles of the body through the bloodstream. Thirdly, we have protein synthesis. This happens in order to grow your muscles and enhance their capacity to handle exertion. A study published by the National Institute of Health stated that protein synthesis in humans is increased by up to 50% for up to four hours after intense training.
Signs your body is in need of recovery
You’re exhausted despite having a good night's sleep
If you know you’ve had enough sleep, but you still feel exhausted it’s a good sign your body is in need of recovery and sleep just isn’t enough. Let your muscles repair by giving them complete rest until you feel more energetic. This could be anywhere from a few days off to a week without training.
Your resting heart rate is significantly elevated
An elevated resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining as your body’s metabolic rate is increased to meet the imposed demands of training. For those who train regularly with heart rate, this will be easy to monitor. For those whose resting heart rate is unknown, the best time to take a pulse for this reading is first thing in the morning, right as you wake up. Continue to monitor your rest heart rate as you awaken for the days after training, if it is normal you know you’ve had adequate recovery.
You drink plenty of water but you’re still thirsty
Suffering from an unquenchable thirst is a sign your body is not experiencing adequate recovery. When your body is in a catabolic state (ie. breaking down muscle) it becomes dehydrated. Keep your water intake high to avoid dehydration and give your body time to recover.
You are always aching
Do you feel like your DOMS will never end? If you re-train muscles before they are fully repaired they will never have the time to repair and grow stronger. It’s normal to experience DOMS-delayed onset muscle soreness for some time after a good workout but any more than 48 hours is a sign your body is struggling to recover and you probably need a rest, a deloading week is often added into training programmes to allow recovery and recuperation before returning to regular training frequency.
If you’re not able to sleep, it’s a sign your body needs more recovery, which is achieved best by sleeping, so this can really be a catch 22 situation and a never ending vicious cycle. This is most probably due to a combination of hormonal and nervous system overload. The most important hours of sleep to try to focus on getting in terms of recovery are the first cycles, which is why it is recommended you try to focus on the stage of sleep between 10 - 2pm.
Working out is out tooted as the cure for depression, however it can lead to depression if you overtrain. Exercise becomes a must, and feelings of guilt occur if a session is missed. This can even lead to body dysmorphia. If this becomes the case, it could be time to take a break from training. Be sure to recover fully, addressing why you may be feeling depressed and making peace with any issues before you return to training.
A person in desperate need of some recovery will not be the easiest person to be around. Irritability, depression and aggression are all signs of a person worn down. Taking adequate time to recover ensures you remain excited about your training, whatever it may be.
Consistent training places your body in a constant state of repair and your immune system can suffer the consequences. An increase in illness frequency suggests that your body is in need of recovery.
Haltered training progress
If you’re not giving your muscles time to repair then they will never get the chance to grow stronger and so your progress will eventually come to a halt. Your muscles are torn and all you are doing is re-tearing them again. Give them a break by allowing them to recover adequately.
You’ve got Injured
You are far more susceptible to injury when you have been over training and there is no bigger clue that you need recovery then getting injured.
Tips for ensuring adequate recovery
- Create a programme with rest and recovery sessions included. Most people plan a training regime but won’t make progressive changes to it or factor in rest. Add recovery days to ensure you get the most from your training.
- Eat a nutrient dense diet with adequate quality resources from carbs, proteins and fats. Nutrition helps the recovery process by replenishing the muscle and liver glycogen stores, helping to restore the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat and proteins will assist with muscle repair. This is particularly critical in your choice of post-workout meal.
- Ensure your recovery timing is relative to your sport or exercise. For example, a boxer or fighter will need a significant amount of recovery time in between fights. A light jog or yoga class will take minimal recovery whereas a heavy deadlift session will require longer.
- When planning weight lifting sessions, if recovery sessions aren’t possible alternate between body parts or even split your training into upper and lower days. Whilst this is not the perfect conditions for your body to recover, it still allows muscle groups to have recovery time before they are re-trained.
- Avoid self-medicating. Pain killers can dull the pain of an injury or ache and lead you to rush into your next session to quickly, without giving yourself adequate time to repair.
- Have ‘down’ weeks or weeks of complete rest. This will give your body time to recover and you will return with a new lease of enthusiasm for your training, with more energy and regained focus.
- Sleep. Most of the recovery process takes place whilst we are sleeping. Disrupted sleep plays with our hormones. Try to get 6-8 hours a night to make the most of training sessions. Creating a regular sleeping pattern will help with this.
- Get a massage. Massage can help to relieve tired, achy muscles through potentially helping to break down built up fluid which will help to reduce inflammation and speed up the recovery process.
- Reduce stress. The stress hormone cortisol interferes with your recovery in a big way. Elevated cortisol levels will leave you stressed, moody and can cause a catabolic state where muscle is burned and fat is stored.
- Never EVER skip a stretch post-workout. Whether it was running, jumping, skipping or weight lifting - your body will always thank you for a post workout stretch.
How many rest days do you need to recover?
We all have different bodies and therefore we all recover at different rates. The average person can perform 5-6 tough workouts per week with a day or two recovery. However athletes can train multiple times per day without rest. The key to knowing when to recover and when to carry on is to listen to your body. Keep track of your progress by writing down your workouts and noticing when you feel run down, or if your progress is stalling.
Never feel guilty to let your body recover, you will reap the rewards. Let’s turn the tables and start bragging about the recovery too.
I had a great stretch last night guys, did you?
Fitness recovery, Why is fitness recovery so important?, Signs your body is in need of recovery, Tips for ensuring adequate recovery, How many rest days do you need to recover?