It may seem counter intuitive, but rest and workout recovery are the most important elements in any successful workout program. Are you taking advantage of this incredible fitness secret weapon?
I know many of you aren’t going to want to hear this, but you have to dial back your training from time to time if you are going to break through plateaus, maximize your workouts and avoid the immune system suppression that can be caused by overtraining.
If you’re like me, training is likely your refuge from the outside world and a place where you can go to clear your head after a hard day. Unlike the undertrained, who struggle to find motivation to workout; the over-trained struggle to turn their motivation for training off.
This may not seem like a problem, but a lack of workout recovery can carry significant consequences if not addressed. If you are having trouble with the idea of taking a day off, try not to think of it as a rest day and rather an active approach to eliminate soreness and ignite better results.
WHAT DOES WORKOUT RECOVERY ACTUALLY MEAN?
Simply put, workout recovery is the ability of the body (e.g., cells, muscles, nerves, and joints) to heal from physical stress as quickly and efficiently as possible. You can also define workout recovery as the ability to maintain and improve optimal health while adapting to increasing physical and mental stress.
Think of it like this: you beat your body up with weights, work stress, bad diet and too much cardio and all of that take it's toll on the body.
Workout recovery is the process by which our bodies rejuvenate from all of this stress. The good news is the human body is designed to respond to stress, and certain kinds of stress are actually good for us in the right amounts.
WHAT IS HORMESIS AND HOW DOES IT RELATE TO WORKOUT RECOVERY?
“Hormesis” is the idea that when we expose our bodies to small stressors we trigger the bodies adaptive response. Then over time, as we increase the amount of the stressor, our bodies will continue to adapt so they can handle the increased stress.
However, Hormesis does not ignore the fact that there are limits to the amount of stress we can handle and that if the stressor gets too intense, we can do permanent damage to our bodies or if bad enough, we die.
Exercise is a great example of a “good” stressor as long as we don’t overdo it and give ourselves time to repair. But how much is too much, and how do I know? And do I need to pay attention to my workout recovery even if I feel good?
HOW MUCH EXERCISE IS TOO MUCH EXERCISE?
So how much is too much? This is a hard question to answer because every person is unique and capable of handling different amounts of physical stress.
Someone built like a linebacker is going to have a completely different stress threshold than someone built like an Ironman triathlete in terms of how much volume and intensity their nervous system can handle. And that’s really what we’re talking about here.
Too much volume (workouts) and/or too much intensity (sprints, heavy days, HIIT workouts, etc.) can lead to overtraining and a negative cycle that will ultimately lead to injury, chronic illness, fatigue, loss of motivation, and totally whacked out hormones. In many ways you have to listen to your body and respond as needed.
It is important to note that there are lots of things that are a part of the stress-overtraining equation. You may not think you are working out too much, but you could be if the rest of your life is a mess.
Examples of additional stress include: an unhealthy diet, eating too frequently or not enough, poor sleep habits, damaged gut health or improper digestion, work stress, whiny kids, marital stress and so on. If these areas of your life are crazy, you may need extra rest.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED EXTRA WORKOUT RECOVERY TIME?
Though everyone is different, here are some basic warning signs you should constantly look for when determining if you need more workout recovery time.
- Lost or gained a significant amount of weight in a short period of time
- Unable to sleep
- Generally tired and sluggish
- Dark yellow or brown urine
- Lack of appetite, even on high volume workout days
- Muscle soreness lasting longer than two days
- Feels of depression or short temper
- Frequent occurrence of mild colds and flus
SO WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU NEED EXTRA WORKOUT RECOVERY TIME?
- Don’t exercise for a few days or reduce the number of days and/or frequency of your workouts each week
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep
- Increase the time between meals (rest includes giving your digestive system a break)
- Drink plenty of water
- Reduce coffee, alcohol and stimulant intake
- Do 15 to 20 minutes of stretching and light mobility work daily
Again, our bodies are designed to adapt to stress and physical exercise is the best way to trigger this response and improve our overall health. However, exercise damages the body initially and is not actually what causes us to become stronger, faster or healthier.
It is the rest and workout recovery that occurs between workouts and the other small details that help us to grow and adapt. If we continuously beat up our body we can never fully adapt to the stress and we ultimately do more damage than good.
Listen to your body and get as much workout recovery and rest as you personally feel best.