by Grace Lin
What’s your reason for coming to the gym? Maybe it’s to get stronger and faster. Maybe you come to get leaner. Or maybe it’s to gain some muscle mass. Whatever your reason is, one key component of a successful training program that often goes overlooked is recovery. The workouts only provide the stimulus for change. However, that actual change itself takes place during the periods between workouts, AKA recovery. Let’s say the average person spends about 4-10 hours per week working out. That means the rest of the time, which is the majority, is spent in the rest and recovery phase. Training is only as good as the recovery, so we need to spend this time wisely.
Have you ever walked into the gym and felt like your feet were dragging? Kind of like you didn’t want to be there, but were making yourself do it? Have you ever felt unmotivated or apathetic toward the workout? If so, then chances are you were under-recovered or over-trained, most likely the former. This is a result of insufficient rest and recovery. How quickly an athlete is able to completely recover is the result of many factors, including nutrition, sleep, age, stress level, and hydration. Being under-recovered leads to plateauing or worse, decrease in fitness and strength. Just like working toward a new 1RM back squat or a faster mile time, recovery must be trained. Here are just some of the many components to proper rest and recovery:
Nutrition – We’ve heard it all before, but you are what you eat. If you fill your body with junk, then your workouts will be junk, and your recovery will also be junk. Everything you put into your body has the ability to heal it or poison it. Which will you choose to do? (I hope the choice is obvious). I get it, it’s not easy to eat clean all the time. And, frankly, sometimes it’s a pain in the butt. But just like with anything else, this is a skill that needs to be trained. It takes discipline, will power, and planning. Honestly, the first step is to plan out your meals. It’s the hardest step, but once you plan everything out, nutrition becomes a cake walk (no pun intended, please don’t go eat cake now). Alcohol and processed foods contain toxins, which are harmful to the body. A good rule of thumb is to stick to whole foods. And if you decide to indulge in something, keep it in moderation. We can talk about more specifics of pre/post-workout nutrition in a later article.
Sleep – This is the most important time to recover. Last week we talked about the importance of sleep, and how it affects us mentally and physically. In short, we need at least 8 hours of sleep to maintain mental and physical health, hormonal balance, and muscular recovery. Please refer to the article for more details and tips on how to get better sleep.
Hydration – Life gets busy and sometimes we may forget to drink enough during the day. This is detrimental to your body because it needs water for pretty much every cellular process. Please refer to the article about hydration for more information on how to stay hydrated and why it’s so imperative to health.
Mobility/Stretching – As you all know, we are currently in a cycle where we have one day a week focused on mobility for the first half of class. The reason for this is because mobility is king. Limited range of motion (ROM) is weak range of motion. We are always working toward full and healthy ROM for all joints. Taking an extra 5-10min after your workout to stretch will do wonders for the recovery of your muscles and joints. And make an extra effort to stretch/mobilize on your rest days! That 1 hour of the day you’d usually spend at the gym can be spent on thoracic, upper, and lower body mobility drills. If you need any assistance with finding drills, check out Kelly Starett’s MobilityWOD. Another source that is gaining popularity is ROMWOD, which gives you a different video to follow along with each day. As always, feel free to ask a coach for help too!
Posture – Possibly one of the most overlooked components to rest and recovery. Think about how you spend most of your day – are you sitting at a desk? Hunched over a table? Leaning to one side while standing? All of this affects the way your muscles recover. Most of us have desk jobs – it’s just the world we live in today. Make a concerted effort to maintain good posture throughout the day. This means sitting up tall, keeping your shoulders back and down, and head in a neutral position. Please refer to the posture article for more details and tips.
Bodywork – Sometimes stretching and mobility drills aren’t quite enough. It’s a good idea to get a licensed professional to help you out every so often. This can include deep tissue massage, acupuncture, active release techniques (ART), Graston, and chiropractic care, to name a few.
Heat/Ice/Compression – These techniques are used more for recovering from injuries or extremely stressful training, like competitions or races. These could include cryotherapy, contrast showers, ice baths, etc.
Mental Restoration – In other words, stress management. Life happens and it’s usually out of our control. Take time for yourself each day to really settle down, rest, and reset your mind. This could be a nightly ritual to relax your mind and body before going to bed. Taking just 5-10 minutes each day may be enough to keep your mental health in check. Start small and work up to an hour of “me time.”
All of these components factor into proper recovery. And, to be honest, it’s a lot to keep track of. Recovery is something that needs to be practiced. A good way to train your recovery is to keep a journal, just like your WOD journal, that tracks your state from day to day. Jot down how you’re feeling, energy levels, mood, and stress levels each day. Most of us aren’t in-tune with our bodies enough to know when we are under-recovered, so monitoring is the first step to being aware and able to identify insufficient recovery. As I mentioned before, training is only as good as the recovery. So train hard, and recover harder!