Recovery. This often thrown-about term gets used a lot, but few know what it actually means to recover from training– and why it’s so important.
Recovery is the process of enabling your body to adapt to the last workout you gave it. We make most of our gains by putting ourselves through the stress of a workout, which breaks the body down to some degree.
With rest, the body then recovers and in doing so becomes just a bit stronger. In other words, it adapts to the stressors of training. Repeating the training process is what makes us stronger and fitter.
We all know what it feels like to have undergone both poor and good recovery. Sometimes you feel great the day after a hard workout, while other times you’ve done a workout you’re accustomed to, yet you feel sore, stiff and fatigued more than a day later.
So what causes this? While it may seem like random happenstance, there’s a lot you can do to ensure you get good recovery, so you’re always ready (and making gains) for the next training session.
A lot goes into recovery. Old school advice typically entails just “getting over it” by sitting around and eating whatever you want. However, there’s oh-so-much more to it than that.
Here are some of the best ways to ensure your body recovers, so you can stay on track to fitness.
Less Is More
We won’t argue with the importance of tough, soul-crushing workouts. But, too many, too soon, without enough time in between will crush your soul, and your overall health in general. If you’re tired, go easy. It’s that simple.
It’s ok to feel tired some days. Listen to your body, and give it the break it’s asking for. Taking it easy on low-energy days will allow your body to catch up, and come back stronger than if you just plow through it, all out.
Forcing your way through another tough workout isn’t going to make you stronger – it’s going to make you weaker and potentially set you up for injury or illness.
Make It Active
“Active recovery” involves working out at a very low intensity. And I mean low. Think “jogging” 12-13 minute miles, brisk walking, restorative yoga, or sitting on the trainer going very easy.
The idea is to get your muscles contracting and the blood moving to clean up the waste from the last workout. There’s always a bit of metabolic waste sitting around in those muscles, and an active recovery workout will leave you feeling refreshed.
Oh and keep it short! – 20 minutes or so.
Do something different. Instead of doing a recovery run, go to yoga. Instead of riding your bike, go for an easy swim. If you’re completely beat, just do some stretching.
Change it up and your body (and especially your brain) will love you for doing something different.
Hydrotherapy involves using contrasting water temperatures applied to the body. The easiest way to do this is to get in some warm water, then cold water and alternate a few times. End with the cold.
Hydrotherapy can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which puts the body in rest and recovery mode, or the opposite of fight or flight. This will completely shift the hormones you produce and tilt them in favor of recovery, rather than breakdown.
When the parasympathetic nervous system is more active, you'll lower your cortisol levels, which if elevated too high over time, contribute to breakdown and slowed recovery of your tissues. Here's a video explaining it!
You can do this in the shower by turning the water from hot to cold every few minutes, or if you’ve got access to a hot tub and pool this works well too. Just a few minutes in the heat, with only a quick dip in the pool or blast of cold shower water will do.
Compression garments (socks, typically) are thought to enhance recovery and improve athletic performance.
Used during recovery, they may decrease the symptoms associated with delayed onset muscle soreness, reduce swelling and enhance the overall recovery process. While there aren’t a lot of studies proving these benefits, there aren’t any reporting negative effects either.
Given their popularity, compression socks may be a useful tool for athletes during recovery.
It goes without saying how important sleep is. Trying to sleep after a tough workout can be difficult – sometimes the nervous system is agitated, and this prevents a decent sleep. To ensure a good night’s sleep after an intense workout, try the following:
Eat Smart Before Bed-Eat a small bit of protein before bed to keep blood sugar stable - a hardboiled egg, a couple tablespoons of almond butter, or some nuts and cheese are good examples. Similarly, avoid the simple carb, sugary dessert - it will mess with your blood sugar all night long, disrupting sleep.
Paying close attention to recovery is an effective way for you to get more out of your workouts. Think of it as a good return on your investment. Following these simple steps will greatly improve your recovery, thereby keeping you fitter, stronger and healthier overall.
What else can you do? You can gear your diet to create a positive metabolic environment for recovery - Here's some of the best Foods for Recovery.