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Fundamentals # 4: Recovery

October 22, 2012

“You are only as good as how quick you can recover.”

This subject is HUGELY important to me. Recovery will make all the difference in the world between getting stronger and fitter, while staying injury free, versus succumbing to injury after injury from your training which will in turn equal zero or very slow progress. The right mix of training and recovery is essential for peak performance, no matter what your fitness goals are.

Progress is not linear. In your training and exercise there are highs and lows, peaks and valleys, plateaus and PBs, good training days and bad training days. And then there is stress and recovery. The body is a very tricky thing. And just like with everything else in life, there’s a very fine balance between stress and recovery. In order to gain optimum results and make progress, you’ll need to find that perfect balance, nailing both your stress (training stimulus) and your recovery.

With your training, before programs, before routines, before methods, before any other madness, you need to understand both stress and recovery. Your stress (training stimulus) is only half of the formula for performance improvement. To improve and make any sort of gains; whether it’s strength, power or fitness, your body must recover from training and adapt to a higher level. You have to learn to manage your recovery. If you can do this properly, you’ll optimize your results and you’ll be able to do hard workouts more frequently. With good recovery, the quality of your workouts will consistently improve, which will mean you'll be able to provide a greater stimulus for your body to improve its capacities.

Over-training is a word that a lot of people use, but don’t really understand. For me oftentimes over-training = poor management of my recovery. Not recovering properly screws up your body's ability to respond positively to the stress of training. In other words, hello injury. While the body can adapt to most stressors, sometimes it can’t. That nagging ankle pain becomes that chronic ankle problem. That ailing hamstring becomes that strained hamstring. The body usually tries sending warning signals, pain and discomfort,  to hint that you’re on the brink of breaking the boundaries. This means chugging down another RedBull and doing another hardcore workout isn’t the answer. Recovering properly is the answer.

So, how do you know if you’ve recovered enough to workout again? A lot of people would assume they are recovered when they’re not sore from their workout anymore.

But it’s more than just a matter of being sore. Being repeatedly sore the next day, or sometimes the second day, is common and expected at first and especially for beginners. Being sore for more than four days in a row (if you are not a beginner) or for a whole week is usually a recovery issue (or sometimes a scaling issue, i.e. the weights and/or volume of your training is more than your body and central nervous system can handle).

But recovery is so much more than this. Here is a list of things that I think are involved in proper recovery.

-Eating enough (of the right foods) and getting adequate macro-nutrients to fuel your frequency and intensity
-Getting adequate rest/sleep/downtime
-Managing your stress (with work/money/relationships etc.)
-Drinking enough water and staying properly hydrated
-Doing mobility work/stretching
-Remedial massage/deep tissue massage
-Using recovery tools, whether it’s mobility work, swimming, yoga, foam rollers, lacrosse balls, stretching, contrast showers, ice, etc

If you aren’t using at least a few of those things I listed above, chances are you are not recovering properly, or as well as you could be. Monitoring your body’s signals provides valuable information on your adaptation to training, your risk of injury or illness, and your readiness for the next hard training session.

Following is a list of some things that could possibly be symptoms of over-training (Please note these could also be symptoms of other problems/conditions):

-Weightloss and loss of appetite
-Lack of sleep/reduced quality of sleep
-Muscle aches, pains, sprains, injuries
-Extreme muscle soreness: (If increased muscle soreness lasts more than four or five days, then it is likely that you are ill or overreaching.)
-Fatigue and lack of energy

Here is an article on more symptoms from Mark’s Daily Apple.

Following are some of my favourite ways of recovering. These might not be the best recovery options for everyone, but they really have helped me with my personal recovery.

Fueling my exercise: Eating good quality, nutrient rich food. And, more importantly, ENOUGH of it. While there is definitely a time and place for advising people to back down on their training, I have found that sometimes the term overtraining is misdiagnosed/overused, and people simply need to eat more nutrient filled food to fuel their training. I am going to do a post on eating for performance soon, where I will cover this topic. If you are not looking for fat loss, and primarily have performance goals, you might want to think about whether or not you are eating enough of the right foods to support your high intensity training, before you automatically assume you need to cut back on training. In saying that, diet alone and increasing calories/nutrients cannot fix legitimate overtraining.

Supplements and juicing: For quicker recovery I like to take a high strength fish oil and plenty of antioxidants (lots of damaging free radicals are released in tough workouts). I up my intake of fish oil intake to at least 10g/day after a particularly hard session.  For anti-oxidants I just juice more on recovery days. (I am a BIG fan of juicing). A personal favourite is celery, cucumber, beetroot, ginger and lemon. I drink a lot of juice.

Foam rolling. Foam rolling is awesome!! I use it all the time.

Deep tissue massage: I try to get a good deep tissue massage once in awhile, as the foam rolling can only get you so far.

Heated yoga: Yoga might not be for everyone, but I personally use yoga as a huge part of my recovery. I like heated yoga (i.e. bikram yoga or power vinyasa) as I find it facilitates stretching. I try to do it once or twice a week.

Taking a random day off: Trying to push through workouts when you are extremely sore and should be recovering is a recipe for disaster and a guarantee for injuries and burn out. Sometimes I find I just need to take an extra day off, even if it’s not my “scheduled” rest day. I read somewhere that sometimes the hardest session to do is the one you don't do.

Active recovery: I use a lot of “active recovery”. Sometimes instead of taking the day off entirely, I’ll do a light cardio session, like a slow row or run; or I’ll go for a swim; do a “core” session (I love my core sessions!!), or a yoga session, or I’ll just do stretching/foam rolling. Movement and stretching facilitates recovery.

Remember in training to choose quality over quantity. The more advanced your fitness level the greater your work capacity, but you have to find your own level and limit.

It’s a good idea to religiously schedule your recovery days. Remember, the whole idea of scheduled recovery days are to prevent over-training; to make sure that you recover properly so you can experience continual gains. Isn't this, after all, the goal of your training: continual gains? In order to get these gains you need proper recovery.

Performing at a high level with consistency means looking after yourself. Getting good at being able to recover quickly will allow you to increase your frequency and intensity, which will in turn get you the results you’re looking for.

Work smart, recover hard. Repeat. Frequently.

[Disclaimer: While recovery is extremely important and overtraining can really mess things up, at the same time the whole concept of overtraining often gets over-blamed by wusses looking for an excuse. A lot of people (I daresay even the majority of people) could use a bit more intensity in their training sessions, and pushing themselves a bit more would probably give them the results they are after. It’s amazing what some high-intensity, consistent hard work can do. I wrote it about it a bit here. If the shoe fits…]



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