The Importance of Recovery
Updated: Apr 4
We've all been there. You hit a really good streak with your workouts, and then, BAM! THWACK! ZAP! No mas ejercicio para usted! Loosely translated, you moved too much, and now your body won't let you move at all.
Sometimes, this can take the form of an illness. Like maybe your body was giving you signs it may be time to slow down. Your resting heart rate may have been trending up (raises hand). It may have been harder to get motivated to workout (yep, let's check that box too) and maybe, just maybe, your sleep quality started to go down and your fatigue levels were on the way up (definitely raises hand).
Other times, it’s a straight up injury that takes you out of action for a while. I've been through this one quite a bit and it isn't fun each time it happens.
And every once in a while, life just gets absolutely insane. When we moved up here, I was cooked for about three weeks because I drove about 2200 miles in six days on top of the stress of getting the house packed up. Which we were still doing at midnight the night before I was supposed to drive 673 miles from Mtn View, CA back to Eagle, ID. Oddly enough, moving states isn't the zen experience its made out to be. Who knew?
I tried forcing my workouts and bike rides for the first month up here and it was a mess. No energy, no motivation and an absolute complete lack of focus. My back was also a train wreck from all of the driving and the stress of the whole thing and it took me about a month of slowing down (which I HATED) to finally get it to release.
What I needed was a good old fashion bout of absolutely nothing. But that's boring and rest days are the absolute worst days of the year. The only ones that are worse are the last out of a baseball season in October and the last episode of a new season of "Ted Lasso."
Case in point, this happened a few weeks ago. You'd think at the age of 51, I'd have a better idea of how to take care of myself. For the people I train, this is not a problem. I'm like a wise sage that causes glute soreness and saves people from themselves with solid workout programming. For myself? Well, the trainer's kids wear no shoes if you catch my drift.
Here's what happened:
My resting heart rate was on the way up, but it was only a few beats so I didn't think it was bad.
I had a mid-back spasm reaching for something pre-workout (3rd day in a row) at home, they usually go away once I start moving so I didn't pay attention to it. Yet another sign.
I pushed through it and my heart rate was higher during the workout than normal for about the same effort.
I was also having trouble staying warm at home afterward which is usually a big sign I need to pump the brakes and rest.
My body did what it was supposed to do to warn me the edge of the cliff was nigh. Essentially, it said "I gave you plenty of signs and you didn't listen. Enjoy some forced rest with a fever smart guy!"
It only lasted for a day, but my energy levels were nil for about a week. Throw on top of that what was most likely a mild bout of food poisoning from not cooking some chicken well enough, and it was lesson learned. It was truely fowl situation if ever there was one….
Here's why rest and recovery are important (1):
It promotes the adaptation we need to get stronger, faster, etc. Your body needs the stress of training to progress and improve your fitness levels. You need to break it down to build it up stronger than it was.
It helps you prevent overtraining. Essentially, if you aren't woarking with a Coach who is mapping out your workout week, well timed recovery can save you from yourself.
It also helps you from the neck up just as much as it does the neck down. Your brain needs a break just as much as your body does if you want to stay consistent with your workouts.
For those of us who HATE, LOATHE AND GENERALLY VERY MUCH DISLIKE recovery days with complete rest, you can try to utilize active recovery. Essentially, this is LIGHT movement, like going for a walk, to get some blood flowing and help your body put itself back together (2). This one works much better for me, and more importantly, my brain than passive recovery being completely still for a day.
One of the things that can help you a ton is to make sure you're getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night. This is the ultimate tool to put you back together after a series of hard workouts. Trust me on this one, I've tried to beat this system by burning the candle at both ends (and maybe even the middle) and found out the hard way it just isn't possible. Making sure you avoid eating "cardboard carbs" and things that come out of wrapper. This is another effective way to help you stack the deck in your favor to help you recover with what you eat (3).
When it is time to slow down, and I finally come to grips with it, here are some of my favorite ways to recover. Rolling out with my Myostorm Meteor.
This is a massage ball that heats up to 120 degrees and vibrates. I LOVE this thing because it hits the areas of my back I'd have to dislocate a shoulder to hit with the massage gun. Here are some of the benefits (4):
It increases blood flow.
Reduces pain in sore muscles.
Helps relieve muscle stiffness.
Improves joint range of motion
I've found it to work really well to help me feel better. This is assuming I can actually find it and it has a charge after the kids have used it.
I also like using my percussion massager for my legs and the front half of the upper body. Here are some of the benefits of using one (5):
Improved range of motion.
Can provide relief to achy muscles.
May help preventing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
I've also used it during a workout to give me better muscle activation. It seemed to work well for me, your results may vary.
Here are a few more things you can try for recovery:
Meditating. I find this to be one of the absolute best ways to slow you down and get you centered.
Going for a walk. Getting out in nature, getting some fresh air and walking along the creek lined pathways near the house always mellows me out.
Taking a nap is one of my absolute FAVORITE ways to recover. Its like a quick hit battery recharge for both mind and body. Especially if all three feline household inhabitants join me.
You can always take a complete rest day, but again, it is always the absolute WORST day of my week when I do it. I HATE sitting still. Like I'd almost rather have a crunchy peanut butter sandwich and a cup of cold instant decaf while being joined by a spider the size of an octopus than take a complete rest day.
One of my newest happy places is a local infrared sauna place. I absolutely LOVE it. I go every Friday and it helps me relax a ton and there are several benefits to doing it (6):
Fighting off illness by boosting your immune system.
Helping with sleep.
Helping your muscles recover
Plus, it gives me something to look forward to each week which gives my moods a boost.
So there you have it people. If you're constantly keeping the gas pedal to the floorboard, it will catch up to you at some point. However, with the proper recovery strategies, you can keep your body running smoothly and hopefully delay or eliminate being volunteered to rest by your body.