We all know we should exercise and eat well. Those two healthy habits are hammered into us day in and day out. So, let’s take the average Jane and say she starts working out and adding more vegetables and fresh food to her diet. Naturally, she starts feeling better and stronger and usually this is a self-propelling cycle that can keep going unless circumstances derail her. Let’s take it a step further and say Jane gets really into working out and eating well, so much so she is exercising every day and seeing great results. That’s wonderful; until something happens, her results plateau. So, she pushes harder and works out more and with greater intensity yet she starts feeling super fatigued and burned out and her results are still not improving.
Enter the importance of recovery training. I’m not talking about going to Mexico. laying on the beach and drinking margaritas all day kind of recovery (although that sounds REALLY NICE right about now), rather a well-planned out recovery regime. What if you planned your recovery like you planned your workouts, or at least made it a major factor in how you schedule your training sessions?
Recently, there has been a lot research around recovery and the benefits of active recovery for athletes and average Jane exercisers. It turns out the right kind of recovery can actually boost your results in the gym. Let’s take a minute to break down the two main types of recovery we are referring to.
The first type is the kind we all know and love -- passive recovery. This is the “sit on the couch and binge watch Netflix” kind of recovery. Not a lot of movement and just relaxing. This type of recovery is best for injury rehab or if you are super sleep deprived and have to catch up on a few nights of lost sleep.
Active recovery is purposeful movement. This could be a walk around the neighborhood, some dynamic stretching, or playing with your kids. You are moving your body, but not stressing it. This is the type of recovery that preps your body for your next training session. As much as we would love to think a day doing “nothing” is good for you, physically speaking, it actually isn’t.
Think about it this way, after you workout hard, you get sore and kind of stiff. If you sit around all day and don’t move, is that helping or hurting your ability to recover from that tough workout? Movement promotes blood flow, which helps reduce inflammation and leads to reduced soreness and stiffness. So, move more, sit less and you will feel better before your next gym session. Easy peasy.
Active recovery doesn’t just have to be something you save for your rest days, you can also program it into your workout sessions. If you are performing a circuit style workout, do some mobility breakouts between sets. Another fantastic way to get a little extra recovery work in is at the tail end of your workout session. Cooldowns are the ugly stepsisters of warm ups and rarely get much attention, but spending 10 minutes working some myofascial release (foam rolling, foot rolling) or working some dynamic stretches or gentle flow movement patterns can be highly beneficial towards your recovery efforts.
It’s not just your muscles that benefit from recovery but also your brain. Exercise has been proven to help with brain development and mental clarity, but too much exercise; overtraining, can cause mental fatigue resulting in a decreased ability to make sound decisions. This study showed that athletes that had reached a burn out level of physical exhaustion made more impulsive decisions showing a decline in cognitive ability. Adequate recovery as well as getting enough sleep can improve both your physical and mental fatigue.
If you are familiar with any type of exercise programming, be it triathlon training, strength training, or starting a running routine, there are built in rest days. Why not just train every day for a big race? It seems kind of counter intuitive to rest when you need to be “training” for something in particular. But all good exercise programmers know that rest is not only good for you but necessary for you to reach your goals.
It used to be that a rest day was simply stated as “rest day” on the program. Now a days, rest day is programmed in for you too. It would say something like, take a 45 min walk followed by a movement flow routine. This may seem like a lot of specific instructions for a rest day, but we now understand that people need active recovery to improve, not just days off completely.
Without getting too much into the weeds on this, I want to outline how typical training cycles work to help you better understand why this is so important. There is something called a stress-recovery curve that is commonly used in exercise design that is meant to show the process of supercompensation (in layman’s terms- gains).
Chart provided by: 8 weeks out, by Joel Jamieson
You see the line labeled “stress threshold”, this is where the magic happens. If you can push yourself past that line you will see either strength or endurance results from that workout-depending on what your goal is for the workout. However, if you don’t recover properly you run the risk of not being able to push yourself past that stress thershold on following workouts and then you have fatigued your body even further, but not gotten anything for your effort.
It is a bit more complicated than I have made it out to be in this short paragraph, but I think you get the general idea. If you don’t recover properly, you can’t push yourself hard enough to realize results during future workouts, and then you plateau, or worse, lose ground on your goals. Basically, you can’t out-train a poor recovery regime, and the harder you push the more recovery you need. It can be a vicious cycle if you don’t acknowledge the importance of adequate rest to support and bolster your efforts.
Of course, there are tons of ways to help you recover from training and it’s not limited to activity. Nutrition, yoga, myofascial release, managing sleep hygiene, massage, contrast therapy (cold/hot plunge) are all beneficial, just to mention a few. If you feel better after you have done an activity or engaged in a regeneration strategy then it counts as active recovery. Giving your feet some R&R is also necessary since they take a beating during training. I highly recommend checking out the recovery sandals from FitMyFoot; they can give you the support you need, while allowing your feet some breathing room between training sessions.
Go forth with this new-found knowledge and create a training program that includes active recovery on days when you aren’t hitting the gym or training for your event. If you need help designing a program, please reach out to us at Arete Athletics, and we will assist you with setting up a plan and can help you execute it. I And remember: It is important to take one day off a week (if possible) to help alleviate mental burnout and give your body a full day to chillax.