The Value of Recovery

This week, I’ll be writing about another one of my 10 back to basics fitness tips and strategies.  So far, I’ve written about exercise and nutrition; today, my focus shifts to recovery.  Out of all of the different aspects of fitness, recovery might be the most underappreciated in regards to helping one make progress over the long term.  It also becomes more significant as training increases in intensity and/or frequency and also as we age.

I think that one of the reasons that not every exerciser takes recovery as seriously as they should is due to the culture that we live in. Hard work is valued and thought of in high regard while “resting” is often times thought of as something that only lazy, unmotivated people do.  You need look no further than the fact that our culture is one of the few in the world that doesn’t universally accept that afternoon naps are not only acceptable, but, essential to maintaining optimal health.

Perhaps the most common misconception about exercise and fitness in general is that we get stronger while working out.  In reality, intense exercise actually breaks the body down.  For example; weight lifting creates tiny “micro-tears” in muscle tissue.  You’ll feel this in the hours after a workout and especially the second day after training.  This phenomenon is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and precedes muscle recovery and growth.  Your body repairs the damage done to it when it gets adequate rest and recovery along with proper nutrition.

A similar phenomenon can occur from doing too much cardiovascular or endurance exercise.  While a moderate amount is great for the heart and lungs, too much can lead to achy joints, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbance and even emotional problems.

For people who are exercising to get stronger, fitter and leaner, I like to explain that the body can only withstand so much stress.  In this case, I am referring to the good stress that comes from exercise.  Regardless of the type of stress, however, when levels get too high, you end up going beyond your body’s ability to recover.  Not being able to recover means that systems start to break down.

One of the most difficult things for exercisers to accept is the fact that sometimes more work results in less progress as the body fights back to restore balance.  One of the ways that it does this is by storing excessive amounts of body fat and by slowing metabolism; an extremely frustrating situation.  When this happens, the very worst thing someone can do is to continue “pushing through” in an effort to start making gains again.  Here are 6 other ways to know if you are moving past your body’s ability to recover:

 

  • You dread your exercise sessions regardless of how much you value them. When your body is craving time off because of being overworked, training starts to feel more like “work” and less like play.
  • Instead of getting stronger from week to week, you get weaker doing the same routines. You’ll notice that it takes more effort to do the same amount of work.
  • Although it is normal to be sore after exercising, the soreness should be equal on both sides of the body and should not involve the joints. If you find that you just never feel pain-free and you’ve been pushing harder than usual, it might mean that you are not recovering fully between sessions.
  • You feel blue a lot of the time… or crabby. If you are using up energy reserves and not replenishing them by the time you exercise again, there’s a good chance that your mood will be affected negatively.
  • Along with mood problems, being over-trained often leads to poor sleep. Lack of sleep, in turn, can cause moodiness, low performance and lack of focus.
  • Increased stress and decreased recovery can lead to an elevated resting heart rate. People experiencing this will feel edgy and “on” all the time.  Over the long term, however, this situation can result in a lower than normal heart rate in individuals leading to feelings of lethargy and feeling worn out.

The most basic thing that I demand of all my clients is that they take at least one full day of rest and recovery every week.  With older clients, exercise intensity tends to be lower (in general) and so there is the feeling that they can, and should, exercise every day.  Physiologically this might be the case, but, I really believe that, psychologically, it is invaluable to take a break every week.  At the very least, it can keep things fresh and exciting for the day that the training week starts again.  On the other hand, taking a full break can help offset overuse injuries and keep energy reserves high.

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