The reason we exercise is to make our body change. We want our bodies to be leaner, stronger, more flexible and more efficient. The exercise we do acts as a stimulus to which the body adapts or changes. But the tricky part is that our bodies don’t adapt DURING exercise, it occurs AFTER, when we rest. This is why recovery is so important. This is how we “get fit doing nothing”. During recovery, the body repairs itself from the stresses of exercise. Metabolic waste products are removed from muscles. Energy stores are replenished, fluids topped up, and we are ready to go again.
As well as focusing on good quality training, to get the best results you need to focus on recovering well too. Here are a few things to consider:
Numero Uno, the king, ultra important. Do not neglect. I cannot over emphasize how much this matters. It is a very individual thing, but make sure you get enough quality sleep. Practice a good sleep routine and make sure you go to bed early enough. Get this wrong and the quality of your recovery will really suffer and your fitness and health gains will occur far more slowly, or in severe cases you may even go backwards.
Your body doesn’t have to be completely horizontal and inactive for recovery to take place. In many circumstances active recovery is preferable. This can take the form of any kind of aerobic activity, such as walking or gentle bike riding. Just keep the intensity nice and easy, you should be able to comfortably carry on a conversation and not feel short of breath at all. The benefit of active recovery is that it keeps the blood circulating, promoting tissue healing and removing waste products without causing further stress to your body.
Nothing beats that delightful mixture of pleasure and pain that is the feeling of a good quality massage to sore, tired muscles. Elite athletes in nearly every sport include frequent massage as part of their program. For those of us in the less-than-elite category, massage is still very beneficial, but we probably don’t need it quite as often. Like passive exercise, it promotes blood flow and thus healing and repair, while also helping maintain flexibility and long, supple muscles. For those of us not married to a professional sports masseuse or on a full time AIS scholarship, you can go a long way with self massage and intelligent use of a foam roller. I would be happy to teach you some techniques.
Food and fluid
After an intense workout, you have about a 30 minute window in which your muscles are primed to reabsorb the energy you have just used. So make sure you drink plenty of water and have some quality carbohydrates straight after a hard session. A little bit of protein doesn’t hurt either, but don’t get sucked in to thinking you need a protein shake every time you lift a dumbbell.
There are plenty of brands available now, all claiming to improve your performance or enhance your recovery. The real research (not that done by the brands themselves) has yet to demonstrate any real benefits. But they certainly don’t hurt, and a lot of people enjoy the feeling, so try them if you are interested.
Listen to your body
One of the great things about regular exercise is the feeling of connectedness between your mind and body. If you have a bit of experience with training you will know what I mean. So listen to your body, don’t ignore it. If it is telling you need a rest, you probably do, and when you start training again you’ll be feeling better than before. There is a fine art in knowing when to push yourself, and when to rest.
The take home message from this is to focus on your recovery as much as your training and your body will feel the benefit.