An often overlooked aspect of everyone’s training and exercise program is recovery, it’s not all about exercising as hard as you can and then disregarding the impact this has on your body for the rest of the day, recovery from training is in some ways the whole reason you’re training in the first place,…
What the heck am I talking about and how does it affect you?
Recovery basically refers to the repair of the damage we do to our muscles and our connective tissues during a workout. Recovery is also the restoration of the enzymes inside muscle fibres which are broken down during training, the refilling of the carbohydrate fuel stores within muscle cells, and it’s the return to normal of the nervous and immune systems, all of which are affected by a bout of physical training.
This damage occurs after all our sessions whether it be strength training or cardio, however the degree to which it affects us on every level will vary accordingly. For example if we have a session of heavy lifting, our muscles anc connective tissues will need more recovery than if we did some interval training on the bike.
However, it’s important to remember that when we train we don’t just want our bodies to repair and return to normal during recovery periods. Ideally, our body systems should adapt and our muscles will repair and add to their structure to go that little bit further in making us stronger, adding muscle tissue, improving our motor control and coordination, increase our threshold for lactic acid and to allow us to increase the intensity and duration of work we can do.
The human body is amazing in that when we place a stress upon it, it will try and adapt to better cope with the situation (some of you might have calluses on your hands from training, this a real life example, your skin is adapting to the stress of holding dumbells) we are essentially doing this when we are working out.
You’re lifting heavy objects, fatiguing muscles, challenging your cardiovascular system and in doing so your body will sense that it needs to adapt and improve the efficiency in which you carry out these tasks several times per week, hence more muscle, increased strength, less fat, improved cardio etc. This is once of the reasons why we constantly need to increase the intensity and change up the programming of our training sessions to trigger this adaptation response.
So as you can see the recovery aspect of training is very important, it is literally the THING that gives you the results. We don’t actually get stronger and fitter while we’re at the gym doing a workout, nor do we grow new muscle tissue or burn a ton of body fat while we’re actually at the gym, it all happens in the other 23 hours in the day we spend away from the gym, what you’re actually doing at the gym is creating a stress.
Now that we know this, we know for best results we want to optimize our recovery, to speed it up and to improve our results as much as we can before our next workout. Best results are achieved when doing as much training or exercise as possible without going beyond our capacity to recover. This is the perfect balance. (Although it’s important to remember, we need to make sure that we’re training hard enough and with adequate intensity to create enough of a stress to trigger this adaptation response in the first place!)
What we do with our time after a workout, and the lifestyle choices we make, will affect our recovery and results either positively or negatively, fortunately however we have a lot of control over these factors.
Ideally we want to maintain a good healthy lifestyle & diet, this doesn’t just mean staying away from junk food, it means eating foods that are high in all the good proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals we need, and it means eating enough foods, as well as a good supply of water. Your body uses these nutrients as the building blocks to repair itself, and to improve upon itself, just like watering and feeding a plant or any other living organism. If your goal it to add muscle, or if you’re trying to repair an injury it’s even more important for you to eat enough food.
We need to make sure we are getting enough sleep, this is the main time your body restores and repairs itself, if you’re not sleeping your recovery is definitely not optimal and neither are your workouts, it’s ideal to aim for about 8 hours sleep a night, if you can get more then lucky you!.
Things like massage and soft tissue work like rolling on the foam rollers and little bouncy balls, as well as stretching, will also enhance your recovery and help keep your body functioning well, sort of like when you get your car serviced and your wheels aligned.
and lastly, it’s been shown that drinking a protein recovery drink within 30 minutes of finishing your strength training workouts will kick start the recovery process and improve the rate at which your muscles recover and repair. After a strength training session your muslces will be very receptive to protein intake so this a good window of opportunity to make your workouts more productuve and get better results, with very little extra effort.
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but drinking alcohol, junk food, late nights, super low calorie diets, stress levels, and smoking all affect your recovery negatively; all these things are bad for our bodies, so we are effectively placing added stress on to an already stressed system. These things will slow your recovery and your progress. The last thing we want is for you to train hard, then go and place excess demands on your body by not following good lifestyle choices, this could eventually lead to over training where your body just cannot cope anymore and your performance will actually go backwards, your energy and immune systems will be down, and you may even get sick!
Hope this has given you something to think about 🙂