This article is in no way intended to offend any red haired people. Just a quick disclaimer because hey, I’m Canadian and I don’t want to offend anyone.
When I talk to people about fitness it is usually about an overall picture of wellness. This includes strength training, cardiovascular work, mobility, stress reduction and of course nutrition. There is another component that frequently gets ignored, ostracized and sometimes even laughed at by some athletes even though it is usually one of the first thing I recommend to many people:
This means rest, of course. A lot of people don’t understand the concept. It also means other things though.
I tell my athletes all the time that the workout is one part, but how your body responds to the workout is another thing entirely. Your tissue starts adapting to whatever stress you have put it under immediately. Often, if the workout is quite intense even your CNS will have taken on quite a bit of stress and need time to adapt and recover. Muscles have micro traumas that need to repair, inflammation is generated and even organs like your heart can have taken a bit of a beating. The actual deep science is well explained here.
Does this mean you can’t train the same muscle or movement daily? Of course not. The body will adapt over time and if you are an experienced exerciser then it is easier to frequently subject the body to load and force and have it respond in a positive way. The body is a remarkably adaptive thing. However, if you want it to improve, then you have to give it a chance to get stronger and sometimes this means doing nothing at all.
The time it takes to sufficiently repair tissue varies according to a bunch of variables, but here are a couple of the criteria I use with clients to give them a checklist to see if they need more recovery:
Is it SORE? This doesn’t mean that you can’t work it again, but if your muscles obviously can’t control the movement or you have restrictions then it is probably a good idea to let them rest. I always suggest a long warm up process and see how things feel – if after this you still feel sore and tired then let it go.
Are you FORCING the workout? You may need a rest day if you feel like you can’t give 100% effort and you’re just driving yourself further into the ground. Instead of making things better often this will actually make things worse.
Can you CONTROL your movements adequately? This means you can use good form in a weightlifting movement, achieve proper cadence or turnover in an endurance workout, or maintain position if doing a static pose as if in yoga. Lack of control means either your nervous or muscular system can’t work as hard and likely needs more rest.
This also does not mean that recovery can’t be ACTIVE. My athletes often do a short recovery run or bike after their long workouts. This moves the tissue in question, puts extra blood flow through it and can actually speed the recovery process. Taking a day to focus exclusively on mobility and release work can also help this process, and if you’re planning on working out intensely I’d actually suggest that it is mandatory to have at least one day devoted to this process.
This can mean warming up the tissue that needs attention with light movement, then working on adding blood flow into the fluid. Massage is an excellent technique for this. Many people make the mistake of going too hard into their tissue with hard foam rolling and really hard stretching, which can often be counterproductive over time.
Strength and mobility does not disappear overnight or even after a few days. However, if you over train and cause an injury this can set you back for weeks. Think of it as a risk/reward scenario and that it simply isn’t worth the risk for a possible minor short term gain. Too many athletes force themselves back into exercise too soon without taking the proper care and making sure that things have properly healed.
Always remember that exercise should be a life long endeavor and you can’t force things to heal faster. Taking the time to recovery properly as part of your program means that you will be able to improve more frequently and make progress without any setbacks. This essential part of fitness should not be overlooked by any serious athlete.
If you want to know more about recovery or have any feedback feel free to contact me, comment or find me on Facebook and Twitter at @paradigmottawa. Also, please share this with any athlete you think might need help with the recovery side of things. Thanks for reading!