Recovery is an often underappreciated, yet essential, aspect of training. While hard work in the gym is necessary to health and fitness goals, including body composition changes, performance improvements, and general improvement of fitness, recovery is just as significant.
If a person does not recover well from workouts, it can lead to a cycle of decline that breaks down the body instead of building it up. This applies to resistance training, running, and any other style of training, whether it be sport-specific or for general fitness. Think about it like this—if you have a scab, and you keep picking at it, it will never heal. Muscle and connective tissue damage work much the same. If you keep damaging a tissue without giving it adequate time to heal, it may never recover properly, or at least not until you’re so damaged you’re forced to take time off from training so you can recover.
The amount of recovery a person needs varies based on training intensity. In other words, the harder you workout and break down your body, the more you need to focus on recovery. For example, a person who completes a few light low-intensity sets of squats is going to break his or her body down less than the person who pushes his or herself to failure repeatedly during a workout.
How to recover
Many different recovery methods exist, ranging from the simple to the complicated. The first two steps to proper recovery are eating and resting appropriately.
Calories and macronutrients not only fuel the body for activity but also drive the recovery process. Proteins help rebuild all soft tissue in the body—including the cut on your arm, the damage to muscle tissue, and the stress on tendons—while carbs fuel the energy processes that enable to the recovery process. You must eat enough quality foods to encourage recovery. Generally, we refer to this as eating lean protein sources, whole grains, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables.
Hard training persons may benefit from the use of supplementation. However, don’t automatically think that supplements will make some dramatic change—if your nutrition and rest are not sufficient, you need to correct these areas before jumping into supplementation. Remember that supplementation is a part of the process, if required, but should not be a crutch for poor nutrition or training habits.
Rest refers to times when you’re relaxing but not sleeping as well as times when sleeping. The body repairs itself best when in a state of lower energy demands. You are not going to recover as well if you only get four hours of sleep per day or if every waking minute of every day is spent in a go-go-go state.
No universal rest period exists, though you’ve likely heard people state otherwise. For example, at some point, someone likely told you to get eight hours of sleep each night. This advice is ideal for some people, but other people may need more or less than this amount. In that same line of thought, if you’re able to rest more during the day, you may not need as much sleep at night.
As much as it pains some people to do so, at times everyone must pull back on the intensity of workouts. A person can only eat so much and rest so much before it no longer matches the level of stress put upon his or her body. Intensity management may mean pulling back on workout effort for a couple of days or weeks, programmed scheduled deloads, or taking extra rest days, among other methods.
When considering recovery, focus first on nutrition, intensity management, and rest.
Other recovery methods
Electrical muscle stimulation, massage, acupuncture, cupping, stretching, foam rolling, and compression are all forms of recovery methods (though these approaches can be used for other purposes as well). At the same time, there are many other therapeutic methods, such as ice baths, the use of heat, etc.
Some techniques are well-known and accepted, while others are seen as fringe. Exactly which methods are accepted and which are fringe may vary based on the country in which you reside. We do not use all the mentioned methods nor are we well-versed in them. Instead, we focus on particular techniques, including massage, stretching, compression, foam rolling, and electrical stimulation.
Electrical muscle stimulation – pads with electrodes are attached to the body. Electric stimulation is sent to the body and can vary in intensity. Some devices claim the different settings can simulate other therapeutic methods, such as massage, cupping, and acupuncture, among others.
Massage – manipulation of soft tissues of the body through the use of hands or objects to stimulate nerves, loosen tissues, and increase blood flow.
Stretching – the act of moving tissue in various ranges of motion in a static or dynamic fashion.
Foam rolling – a form of self-massage that may use various tools such as a foam roller, but also lacrosse balls, hand rollers, and similar objects
Compression – an object is used to compress a specific area of the body, of which “voodoo” bands and compression pants are two examples. Compression acts as a form of massage, but is also used as a means to force blood out of tissue in an attempt to stimulate circulation, which may have various benefits.
Recovery is an often underappreciated, yet essential, aspect of training. While hard work in the gym is necessary to health and fitness goals, including body composition changes, performance improvements, and general improvement of fitness, recovery is just as significant. If you do not understand how to effectively integrate recovery, or other aspects of training and nutrtion, consider hiring an online or face-to-face personal trainer and/or nutrition coach.
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