The Importance Of Recovery
Many of us are now aware that nutrition and exercise are important elements of living a healthy lifestyle and reaching our wellbeing goals. However, how we exercise - and more specifically how we recover from exercise - also plays a huge role in our fitness results.
High performance athletes know that getting enough rest after exercise is essential to elite-level performance. However, this is true whether you are training for the Olympics or just looking to increase your fitness through regular physical activity.
Many of us overtrain or feel guilty when we take a day off. Many of us have experienced the scenario where we go really hard when we first start working towards our fitness goals and then fizzle out when we lack energy or are injured.
Instead of focussing on rest days as “not working out”, it’s important to think about what your body is doing in the background to repair and strengthen itself in the time between workouts.
When viewed in this way, it’s easy to see how continuous training - without rest and recovery - can actually weaken even the strongest athletes. If you’ve plateaued at the gym or are struggling to increase speed, strength or performance, consider if you are recovering adequately between sessions.
What is recovery?
Rest and recovery are critical for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild, and get stronger. For recreational athletes or “weekend warriors”, building in rest days can also help maintain a better balance between daily life and your fitness goals.
There are two different types of recovery: short term recovery, and long term recovery. Short-term recovery is also called Immediate recovery and is the most common type of recovery. It usually occurs within hours, or 1-2 days after an exercise session or event depending on the intensity of your training.
Short-term recovery does not mean complete rest from all forms of movement. It also includes low-intensity exercise after working out and during the cool down phase.
Long-term recovery refers to lower intensity recovery periods that are built into ongoing or seasonal training schedules. For instance, marathon runners will cycle through periods of higher and lower intensity running loads with decreases in both distance and pace to allow for ongoing adaptations and improvements.
For the purposes of this article, we will be talking about short term recovery. Long term recovery is very specific to the type of training you are doing and should be considered alongside your training coach or other health professional.
So why is recovery important?
Building short-term recovery time into any training program is important - this is the biological process where your muscles adapt to the positive stress you have just placed on your body during your workout. Recovery also allows the body to replenish glycogen (the energy you used while training) and repair damaged tissues. This is particularly true if you have been including resistance training - or weights - into your training program.
Resistance training (lifting weights) is a process where load is placed onto your muscles during isolated or compound muscular movements. You might lift very heavy loads for 1-3 reps, working at close to 100 percent of your strength capacity. Or, you might work at a lower intensity with a higher range of repetitions. Either way, your muscles will develop micro tears during this process. This is the reason why after isolating muscles - say biceps or shoulders - the muscle appears bigger or more pronounced.
These micro tears need to heal in order to make the muscle stronger over time. This process of healing is also impacted and enhanced by numerous other aspects such as your;
- stretching regime,
- foam rolling technique,
- stress management, and
- the use of compression wear.
High quality compression wear, such as compression tights, can decrease the time it takes for your body to recover by increasing blood flow, and therefore oxygen, to the muscles.
The physiological purpose of exercise is for your body to adapt to exposed stress to become more efficient - faster or stronger - when placed under that stress load. Once you adapt to that stress you need a bigger stressor in order to make progress.
There is a limit to how much continual stress you can put on your body before you risk getting injured. Alternatively, you might not see progress with your results because you cannot apply a higher load of stress without rest. It’s about finding the right balance between working out and recovery to allow this adaptation to occur.
Have a think about your current training regime. If you are not especially motivated at the gym, have DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) that lasts for days at a time or are making very little progress in your fitness goals, consider if you need to build in some quality recovery habits into your routine. Are you getting enough rest?
Stay tuned - in part two of this series we will talk about some ways to maximise your recovery process.