Friday, August 22, 2014

Rest and Recovery

How do you feel after your workout? It’s a simple question but one that many individuals don’t ask themselves and if they do, they don’t pay attention to the answer. Are you physically and psychologically ready for your next workout? Or are you exhausted, experiencing extended, fatigue with aching joints, mental fog and lack energy? If so, you may be experiencing overtraining syndrome.

According to exercise physiologists, it’s important for athletes and those who exercise to remember that although hard physical training and exercise can improve performance and health, to reach fitness goals there is a critical phase in one's routine that must not be overlooked. This phase is recovery. According to George L. Redmon, PhD, ND, during this phase, there must be a maximal reloading of cardiovascular output (the heart's efficiency) and muscular systems (increasing glycogen stores and mitochondria). Without adequate attention to this end stage of your physical output, you will never reach your long-term performance goals safely and effectively.

Overtraining syndrome is a state of burnout resulting from the combined negative emotional, behavioral and physical symptoms that occur as a result of persistent training without proper recovery. The usual first sign of overtraining is persistent fatigue that exists after several days following a hard strenuous workout. If your body is in a state of overtraining, you will cease to make progress and your performance will plateau and decline. This is a direct result of the volume and intensity of your exercise routine, which supersedes your ability to recover from it.

According to George L. Redmon, PhD, ND, while the most significant symptom of overtraining is fatigue, researchers insist that knowing the overall signs of overtraining is extremely important, as many symptoms are not immediately realized. For example, changes in mental attitude and personality, as well as changes in sleep patterns and gastrointestinal disturbances (soft stools and diarrhea) can gradually progress. Other subtle physiological changes of overtraining include reduced immune function (frequent colds, generalized flu-like symptoms), elevated morning blood pressure and waking pulse rate. Other aspects of overtraining  may include :

Blood sugar abnormalities
Headaches and anxiety
General malaise, moodiness
Longer time to recover
Increased susceptibility to injury
Muscle soreness; joint tenderness
Irritability and increased defiance
Loss of appetite
Depression and loss of motivation

It is important to know that proper recovery is the key to improving performance. Overtraining to continued exhaustion without pre and post recovery plans not only sets you up for failure, it can be detrimental to your health. Here are some strategies to help you with recovery and avoid or recover from overtraining syndrome.

Give yourself time to recover in between sets or workouts
Fuel up nutritionally before and immediately after an intense workout. For aerobic endurance workouts over an hour a combination of simple carbohydrates and protein is best.
Keep yourself well hydrated before, during and after your workout
Know your limits—start out slow
Be sure to get 7+ hours of sleep every night and if possible, on those days with aggressive and long workouts, try and sneak in a nap. Your body produces growth hormone only during sleep which is key to rebuilding damaged muscle fibers.

If you are not currently into to what your body is telling you, stop and learn to listen to it.  It is important to recognize when your workout routine has gone beyond normal without any strategy that includes rest and recovery. The most harmful factor of overtraining, according to Dr. Philip Maffetone the author of Training for Endurance, is that without recovery, even a low-intensity workout can result in overtraining symptoms as perceived by the body and also the brain.

By having a well-thought-out workout or exercise routine plan in place to provide your body with the right tools that foster proper recovery, you will be in a better position to ensure that your rest is recovering and promoting the growth and improvement in performance you are looking for.


Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, Group Exercise Instructor, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.