Hard Lessons Learned
When I was in high school I ran Cross Country for the sake of training and Track for the sake of winning. My senior year I qualified to compete at the State Finals level. I was looking at possible state titles in both the 800 and 1,600 meters, and IN the 3,200-meter relay. But what I really wanted was the coveted Athlete of the Year award, and it was this desire that was the driving force behind my training for the month leading up to the competition.
I told myself if I worked harder, staying an hour or two after practice and training on weekends, both morning and night, I could become the best athlete I could possibly be, cinching the Athlete of the Year Award. Unfortunately this led to my demise, landing me in the hospital the night before the competition. I remember my Dad standing over the hospital bed saying, “ I guess it’s time you gave your body a rest.”
Why Recovery Is Important To Your Performance
Post college and too many beers, I decided to take up a weight lifting program in an effort to get myself back in shape. Having the type of physique that takes well to bodybuilding, the results were almost immediate and so naturally I pushed myself harder for more results. And while this worked for a while, eventually I became tired, exhausted, and surprisingly depressed. My muscles and joints ached in unusual ways and my performance level dropped. I was getting sick a lot but I didn’t want to miss a workout so I kept on training. Finally I had to force myself to go to the doctor, and here’s what he said, “ I think it’s time you gave your body a rest.”
I took a week off and hired a trainer because I was convinced the doctor didn’t know what he was talking about. The trainer asked to see my workout routine; complementing me and telling me I had a nice approach to strength training, that I’d obviously done my homework. Then he asked about my recovery plan. I told him I stretched, ate well, drank a lot of water, that kind of thing. I am sure you know what he said, “You have to give your body time to rest.”
Muscle/ Body recovery allows muscle tissue and energy stores that are broken down and depleted to replenish themselves after working out. Getting enough rest after your workouts is essential for optimal performance and overall health, and it will allow you to continue working towards your weightlifting goals.
How Recovery Is Going To Help You Build Your Body
Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to break down. You will stress your body beyond a healthy level and if you do this over and over it becomes difficult to recover. Yes, we overload our bodies when we train in an effort to build them up again but there has to be a balance between overload and recovery. Too much overload and / or too little recovery can result in both physical and psychological damage, also known as Overtraining Syndrome.
Overtraining Syndrome occurs when an athlete trains beyond the body’s ability to recover. Without adequate rest and recovery, training will backfire and your performance will decrease. Several of the symptoms I experienced should have been good indicators that I was overtraining: fatigue, depression, unusual joint and muscle pain, and decreased immunity. But also: insomnia, headaches, decreased appetite, elevated heart rate, moodiness and irritation, decreased sports performance and increased risk of injury are all additional symptoms.
Building recovery time into your training program gives the body time to adapt to the stress of exercise and allows the body to replenish energy stores, fluids, and repair damaged tissues. Remember, since we are breaking down muscle tissue we need time to recover. And if given adequate time to recover the energy generating components of our body will develop a higher work capacity, with bone density increasing as well.
Why Both Long And Short Term Recovery Are Important
Short-term recovery, or active recovery, is the time that falls in the hours immediately after intense exercise. Engaging in low-intensity exercise after workouts, immediately following a hard workout as well as during the cool down phase, is important. You will also want to incorporate low-intensity exercise during the days following your intense workout days. Basically, work out hard then rest your muscles. Keep your activity minimal so that your body can recover and bounce back for the next workout session.
Long-term recovery techniques are ones you will want to incorporate into your seasonal training program. Well-designed training programs provide a significant resting phase every 8-12 weeks. This may sound counter productive but our bodies are extremely adaptive and over time your workouts will start to become ineffective. As your body becomes conditioned to the stress, it doesn’t need to work as hard. Taking a week off will allow your body to fully restore itself again; you may be surprised at how much strength you have on your return.
Eight Helpful Tips To Recovery
Just like professional athletes, you will want to start thinking about your behind the scenes workout. If you are serious about your workouts, recovery should become a 24-hour a day process; including nutrition, sleep, supplementation, stretching, rolling, and just plain staying healthy. Here is a list of recovery tips to incorporate into your weight-training program. Every body is different and some athletes respond differently to different techniques. It’s important to listen to your body, in and out of the gym. Our bodies tell us what we need on a daily basis; the only problem is we forget to listen. Put together a stellar workout and recovery program and then listen to the signals your body provides: when to take a rest, when to eat, when to increase weight. A thousand people can give advice but when you learn to practice deep listening, your body will be telling you exactly what you need to build muscle and to recover.
Tip One – Sleep
Plenty of sleep and quality sleep is vital to your recovery. You can also take a short nap, 30 minutes to an hour post workout to aid in reducing central nervous system fatigue. When sleeping our bodies release a hormone known as the “growth hormone.” If you are not getting enough sleep, you will eventually fail at building your muscles. Think 8 hours, maybe 9.
Tip Two – Hot & Cold
Whether it’s an ice bath or hot tub, or contrasting between hot water and cold water in the shower, hot and/or cold treatments will help improve circulation and flush out lactic acid build up. This will alleviate soreness and get you back to the gym a lot faster.
And sauna can work wonders for increasing blood flow and helping the muscles relax. Fifteen minutes in a sauna can aid recovery tremendously.
Tip Three – Eat Well, Eat Right, Eat Frequently
This goes without saying but your body will need food. Immediately post workout you will need to eat within 30 – 60 minutes. You will need the carbohydrate energy for your next workout, the protein to repair your muscles, and the fat for your hormones and joints. So eat.
But eat well. Many athletes forget to eat healthy, cramming artificial supplements and powers into their system that actually work against their progress. Eat whole foods instead of highly processed food, vegetables and fruits, and eat organic and close to natural as possible. Choose supplements without too many ingredients that sound like chemicals, as these can cause your toxicity levels to spike, which is what you are trying to avoid. The healthier your body is on the inside, the quicker you will recover.
And I know this is a difficult one, but limit your alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol consumption will affect your recovery time and have negative effects on your nervous system. Alcohol also reduces the quality of your sleep. Drink in moderation.
Tip Four – Glycogen
When you work out your body depletes energy stores. Glycogen is the fuel in the body that provides this energy. In the beginning stages of your workout your body will burn blood glucose, which is easily replenished by drinking a sports drink. As your workout progresses in length and intensity your body will utilize the glycogen deeper in your muscles and also in the liver. The glycogen is more difficult to replace, but in the hours following your workout your muscles will be more readily available to restore glycogen when you feed them with quality carbohydrates, such as: fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, whole grain cereals, buckwheat, and brown rice.
Tip Five Stretch, Roll, And Walk
Cooling down with a walk or easy bike ride, light stretching, and massage with a foam roller or ball can help contracting muscles milk out excess soreness and toxins. Stretching, rolling and walking can also aid in the circulation of blood in and out of your stressed body, all of which will help speed your recovery.
Tip Six- Sickness Means: Stay Home
This one is fairly easy; listen to your body, if you feel sick, stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy, and stay away from the gym.
Tip Seven- Supplements
My best recommendation for supplements is to do your research. Supplements across the board vary and can range in price quite drastically. Your selection will depend on the degree of workout and gender but the right supplementation will aid your recovery process.
Tip Eight – Water
When you sweat during exercise your body loses fluids and electrolytes trying to stay cool. Drink plenty of water to help flush out toxins and to keep your body fully hydrated and to replenish these important minerals and nutrients.
The Bottom Line
It is the alternation between intensity and recovery that will take an athlete to the next level. The harder you workout and lift the more you will need a recovery plan. Monitoring your success and fatigue levels in a training log will help you to learn where and how much recovery time to incorporate into your workout regimen and how to modify accordingly.
If you want to function at your best, you need to work your recovery just as effectively as your workouts. What is right for one person may not be right for you but remember that putting a recovery plan together and putting it to practice is key to your weight lifting success.
- License: Creative Commons image source
Pavlos is an aspiring natural bodybuilder who blogs at weightlosstriumph.com. When he started lifting weights 15 years ago he realized the importance of spacing his training sessions in order to allow sufficient recovery time between his workouts. He enjoys writing articles on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, physical exercise and nutrition. When he doesn’t write fitness articles he lifts weights, swims in the ocean or goes jogging.