Some argue getting started with exercise or endurance training is the hardest part of the process. Exercise can become addictive as people wish to see rapid improvement so they work out when tired, sick or injured. Taking time to properly recover can be the biggest challenge of all.
Recovery may be the most important part of any exercise program, yet the hardest to do and often most overlooked. Many athletes get in the mindset that more training is better and completely ignore rest and recovery. They work their bodies to exhaustion, barely let the work take effect and then repeat. When exercising, you are placing an increased workload on your body. This stress tears your muscle fibers down and fatigues your system.
Why is rest and recovery important? To realize the positive effect of your exercise, your body needs time to recover and rebuild the small muscle tears so you can return stronger and ready for more exercise. Growth comes from recovery, not the exercise itself so if you don’t give your body adequate recovery; you are diminishing the very growth and improvement you are seeking.
There are many different ways to recover. Active recovery is one way to experience some effects of recovery while still exercising. This can be in the form of an easy jog or walk between intervals or a prolonged cool down. I will take one or two days a week and push my running pace close to race pace of 7:45 per mile. The following day I will take an easy run at a 9:00 or 10:00 minute per mile pace as a means of recovery. I am still getting exercise but lessening the stress on my body.
Sleep is another excellent form of recovery. Professional Triathlete Andy Potts gets eleven hours of sleep per night, stressing the power of its restorative effects. I strive for a combination of eight hours of sleep a day. Naps are great ways to fit in a little extra sleep. Sleep is critically important as this is the only time the body produces natural human growth hormone responsible for muscle repair and growth.
Self-massage is yet another form of recovery. I have a love-hate relationship with my foam roller. After a tough workout I use my foam roller to work out sore spots. It can be uncomfortable at the time but well worth the benefit. Foam rollers and other similar devices have excellent ways to work out tight and sore muscles and also help release trigger or “hot spots” in certain muscles.
When working a sore area or hot spot, do some research as the muscle soreness or knot is not likely from damage to that area but a result of an injury or other stress in a different part of the body. When one part of the body is injured, say you strain your left foot, your body compensates for the injury to take pressure off the injured part. Thus your right leg may take more of the burden of exercise as your change you gait and you may create a store spot on your right calf. Pain and soreness can radiate up through the body in a “Z” pattern from the point of injury. Thus if you have a sore spot in a unique place, take some time to think about what else can be going on in your body.
One of my favorite recovery devices are air compression leg massagers. While you can purchase units that are in the $1500 range, I have found devices from $60-$200 on Amazon that works well for my level of competition. There is nothing better after a long run than the gentle massage these units provide. They improve circulation of blood to aid muscles in recovery.
Chiropractic care is another good recovery technique that is more preventative in nature but can be extremely effective. When putting a lot of training stress on your body, I find weekly visits to my chiropractor a necessity. Keeping properly aligned helps alleviate hot spots and muscle pain and aids in quicker recovery as my body is functioning more effectively and efficiently.
Another recovery agent is proper nutrition. You want to consume water, complex carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes post workout, especially if you are working out daily. When I switched from a diet heavy in animal protein to all plant based, I noticed that I recovered much quicker and my speed and endurance dramatically improved.
These are just some of many different recovery methods. The most important thing is to listen to your body and take time for proper recovery. You plan your exercise so why not plan your recovery? Your body will thank you.
Here is to being fit for a lifetime!
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast. He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.