Lately you have been busting your butt in the gym. You are 100% committed to your programming. You are even getting in extra workouts on your scheduled days off because, what the heck? It couldn’t hurt right? I respect the tenacious attitude and desire it from clients and fellow lifters. Motivation is one of the most important and sometimes one of the most challenging aspects of training someone. However, the problem may not lie with frequency in the gym, but with your recovery.
Often times, a motivated athlete can be limited their education on recovery and the biological processes that take place in between training sessions. Whether your goal is fat loss, strength, mass gain, your ability to recover fully will ultimately be the limiting factor.
There are 3 major principles of recovery that I will cover in this article. Let’s get started with number 1.
1. Rest Days
Rest is one of the few instances in life when more is better. It boils down to the fact that we have to take days off and rest, doing as close to nothing as possible. Whether it’s Crossfit, powerlifting, strongman, or bodybuilding, scheduled off-days are 100% necessary. Overtraining puts the body in a catabolic state in which we are consistently inflamed and not in repair. Increased stress on the body creates an imbalance of hormone ratios, decreasing testosterone and increasing cortisol. Basically these change will inhibit the synthesis of new proteins and will prevent muscle growth and promote muscle waste. That doesn’t sound like something I want, how about you?
To quote Starting Strength, “You don’t get stronger from lifting weights, you get stronger from recovering from lifting weights”, which is something I am constantly drilling into my clients heads.
Let’s face it: when it comes to sleep, you probably aren’t getting enough. I know I am guilty of this. realize that a consistent quality sleep schedule is the key. Quality meaning sleeping an uninterrupted, deep sleep for the whole night.
Having a consistent schedule will allow for regular circadian rhythms in the brain and optimal hormone production.
“A study from the University of Washington by I. Takahashi found that a control group receiving 7–10.5 hours of quality uninterrupted sleep a night had a “plasma GH peak (13–72 mg/ml) lasting 1.5–3.5 hours appear with the onset of deep sleep. Smaller GH peaks (6–14 mg/ml) appeared during subsequent sleep phases.” The study then compared deep quality sleep to delayed sleep and interrupted sleep comparing GH levels. In the delayed sleep condition, the subjects were kept up 3–3.5 hours later than their previous sleep in the control condition (1:30–3:30 a.m.), and in the interrupted sleep condition, the subjects were allowed to fall asleep but were interrupted at intervals throughout the night. In both conditions, there was a documented reduction of peak and mean levels of growth hormone released. In all three conditions, growth hormone release leveled off after seven hours of sleep. In addition to this, in the interrupted and delayed sleep conditions, production and release of cortisol increased steadily over the course of both the sleep sessions instead of decreasing or remaining near constant as it did in the control condition.” (EFS)
This boils down to a message that states that sleep is a huge player in recovery. Hormones are the key to either muscle growth or muscle waste. hormonal control will go a long way in aiding your recovery and making you stronger.
A light day focused on soft tissue work and mobility will be extremely beneficial to help you bounce back and attack the workouts with desired intensity. I like to use my off-days to address aches and pains with soft tissue and mobility work.
SMR (Self-Myofascial Release) is one of my favorite ways to stretch out my aching muscles and joints. Network Therapy has a great list of the best SMR stretches for before and after workouts, and even a list of stretches you should use based on what workout you will be doing.I highly recommend their website for more information on SMR. Keep in mind that it can be pretty painful, but it is absolutely worth it.
Conditioning also has an important role in mobility. While you are out of the gym, it will be important to flush that lactic acid out of the muscles and get all of the good hormones flowing. This would be an ideal for quick Tabata workouts or going for a run, practicing double-unders, pushing a light prowler, etc.
Nutrition is paramount when it comes to recovery. It is also my favorite part of recovery. Unless you restock all of the nutrients your body uses for fuel, our systems begin to run poorly. Our metabolism begins to dysfunction in terms of survival, not athletic performance. There is a good chance if you are reading this that you aren’t in danger of starvation, but you may need to improve some nutritional strategies as they relate to physical effort in the gym.
Eat more!- While this may seem counter-intuitive to the obesity epidemic, for those who are training hard, this is often the first step. If you are an athlete who trains at a high intensity frequently, you may need to eat more than you currently are. A solid nutritional lifestyle (not diet) is what will keep you recovering day after day. A healthy diet is something you can live on, and live with, forever.
Post-Workout Nutrition- What you eat after a workout has a huge impact on the results you are looking for from your training. Right after a workout, your muscles are gorged with blood to deliver nutrients to rebuild everything you have just broken down. It only makes sense to give your muscles what they want. Studies have shown that there is a 15-30 minute window following exercise where we gain the most benefit from post-workout nutrition. Some people state their stomach can feel too unsettled after a workout to eat immediately after. Well there is an app for that! Try a post-workout protein shake.
Fish Oil- Fish oil is natures Tylenol. It is great for your heart and skin and a slew of other things, including anti-inflammatory. Joint and muscle soreness can be greatly reduced by incorporating fish oil into your daily regimen. I take about 5 grams of fish oil a day, and it is one of few supplements I actually recommend, besides a digestive enzyme and probiotics.
If you implement some of these strategies into your workout regimen, You should start maximizing results from your training, as well as improving mobility, recovery and overall health. If you have some of your own strategies that you would like to share, leave some feedback in the comments!
-Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease
Penny M. Kris-Etherton,William S. Harris,Lawrence J. Appel,for the Nutrition Committee
-Recovery of skeletal muscle contractility and hormonal responses to strength exercise after two weeks of high-volume strength training
-Effect of a 10-Week strength training program and recovery drink on body composition, muscular strength and endurance, and anaerobic power and capacity*1 Joseph A. Chromiak PhD, , , a, Brianne Smedley MSa, William Carpenter MSa, Robert Brown BSa, Yun S. Koh MSa, John G. Lamberth PhDa, Lee Ann Joe MSa, Ben R. Abadie EdDa and Greg Altorfer MSa
a Department of Kinesiology, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA