When working with a fitness coach or personal trainer, much of the emphasis is on getting active and pushing yourself. This is reasonable. You don’t make gym appointments with your trainer to take a nap. Gym time is for movement and exceeding former limits, gaining strength and power, increasing mobility and endurance.
But working out is only half the equation when it comes to improving fitness. For your workouts to result in progress or even maintenance, you need recovery.
In the words of noted endurance coach and author of several popular books about training Joe Friel: “A hard workout only creates the potential for fitness. It’s realized when you recover afterwards. When you take it easy after a hard workout the body’s adaptive process kicks in and you become more fit. During recovery the body restores itself by rebuilding damaged cells, creating new neural pathways, expanding capillary beds, rebalancing its chemistry, developing muscles, and much more.”
Or, as Aaron Drogoszewski, cofounder of ReCOVER, said in a recent blog post for Spartan: “It’s only when you create an environment for healing from exercise that those microtraumas in your muscle tissue can repair . . . and in the process, they adapt to handle the stress of exercise better the next time.”
What Happens When You Don’t Allow for Recovery
When your body doesn’t get the recovery it needs, you won’t get the fitness outcomes you’ve worked for. During workouts, you’re stressing your system. Your body’s reaction to this is to build itself up to be able to handle this increased stress. The build happens after, not during the workout.
If you don’t allow for that build time, the recovery, you could begin to experience the opposite of the many healthy benefits exercise is known for. Incomplete healing or recovery repeatedly followed by intense exercise puts you at risk of overtraining, or what is commonly referred to as overtraining syndrome (OTS).
OTS can result in decreased performance, weight gain, poor sleep, and feelings of lethargy and irritability. You also put yourself at higher risk of injury and sickness when you overtrain.
OK, so now you’re thinking, Hey, I do my best to get myself to the gym two, maybe three times a week, max. I don’t think overtraining is my issue. Why should I care about recovery?
While OTS generally happens with athletes who chronically overdo it, especially with intense weight lifting or endurance workouts, the lessons here are important for everyone: to get the most out of those hard workouts, what you do after the workout is as important as what you do during your workout. Fitness and strength are whole life achievements. Recovery also helps to reduce the the negative effects of those times when you overexert yourself in a single workout: effects such as muscle soreness and stiffness.
Recovery is a hot topic among many a fitness coach and personal trainer these days, and for good reason. We want to see people reap the full benefits of their work and be as healthy and strong as possible. And like with many hot topics, there is a proliferation of services or tools for recovery tools. Some recovery trends include:
- infrared saunas
- compression treatments and clothing
- electric muscle stimulation
- cryogenic therapy
- immersion tanks
There are also some traditional recovery methods that we highly recommend, so that’s where we’ll focus. Start with the basics, we say.
Get an Adequate Amount of Sleep
We need good sleep to function well. It is the foundation of our wellness, along with proper nutrition and regular cardio and resistance exercise. Poor sleep leads to poor health, and poor recovery. It’s that simple. Without good sleep, every aspect of your health is compromised, in the short term, as well as in the long term if you experience chronic sleep deprivation. Experts recommend at least 7 hours of sleep for every 24-hour period for adults. Make sleep a priority; this video provides eight reasons why:
Eat and Drink Well
In order to recover well, your body needs the appropriate building blocks; that is, you need to eat well and hydrate. Choose whole foods over processed foods. This means avoiding fast food and prepackaged products. The fewer ingredients on the label, the better. Best yet, no label!
When it comes to liquids, water is always a great choice and soda is just about never a good choice, especially soda with high fructose corn syrup. When the weather is particularly hot, make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes along with enough water.
Get a Massage
We have established that not only do massages feel good, but massages are therapeutic. Massages help increase blood flow and flush out the toxins that build up, in part, from working out. That is, massage helps promote recovery. Two particularly effective recovery therapies are deep tissue massage (aka, sports massage) and cupping massage. For particularly sore muscles, however, try a more gentle Swedish massage.
Practice Active Recovery
Recovery doesn’t mean doing nothing. Low-intensity movement, or active recovery, and stretching increase circulation and mobility. Walking, easy cycling, a casual swim, and gentle yoga are all great for active recovery. Active recovery is particularly important immediately after a hard workout; in this case, we’d call it the cool down. A 15 to 20 minute cool down gives you a jump start on the healing process. On your days off, active recovery, again, in bouts of at least 15 to 20 minutes, helps keep you loose and continues to promote healing.
Traditional Recovery Methods: They’re Simply Good For You
A through-line regarding every method we recommend for recovery is that they’re all just good for you, regardless. In addition to helping your recovery, massage, sleep, proper refueling, and light activity and stretching all promote wellness in general. Using these methods, you’ll be feeling better overall, and ready to get after it when you next meet with your fitness coach or personal trainer.