Recovery is one of these things that many people don't really think about. In our heads, not exercising can sometimes be the equivalent of recovery. Although this is technically correct, recovery is much more than just not exercising. How long should your recover for? Can you exercise while recovering? Will you lose all the progress you've made? And what about food!!
To make things even more fun/complicated, your recovery is going to be unique to you, depending on your lifestyle, your training routine, your sleep schedule, your social calendar and age amongst other factors.
Let's look over some basic aspect of recovery.
The most crucial part of recovery is the quality and duration of your sleep. You've already heard that you need a good 8 hours of sleep. But why? Our bodies release growth hormone (amongst others) during sleep which help repair muscles, make them grow, repair organs and replace ageing cells. But it only does this during REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep only accounts for 20-25% our of total sleep time. We go through various sleeping phases that have different physiological processes, and REM is the "deep" sleep we really need. If you sleep for 8 hours, you are really spending 2 hours of it in that sweet zone. Now take someone that has a crazy lifestyle, busy with work, busy with kids, finds time to train but only sleeps 5 hours a night....They are only getting 1h15min of REM. Even though it's only 45 minutes less, the long term consequences will not be fun.
Get quality sleep is what I'm trying to get across here.
Recovery between workouts
Going to the gym, taking group classes or other forms of intense workouts will usually require 48 hours of recovery. But the thing is you can workout different muscle groups each days. For example, if you do a group class that is very leg intensive, you can still do an upper body day at the gym the next day.
A very basic and effective guideline is do avoid doing the same workout or type of workout two days in a row.
Your nervous system
This deserves an entire blog post to itself and I will write one later. For now, understand that your nervous system plays a huge role in your recovery and fitness. A good nutrition plan and adequate sleeping will make sure your system nervous system is happy.
If you've been following this blog for a while, you know how important food is for recovery. Eating the right, healthy foods will allow you to recover quicker. A good rule of thumb is to only eat foods that you can either hunt, pick from a plant or dig up from the ground. Stick to dry condiments like spices and make your own dressings with olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
If you have been working out consistently for a few months, you need to pay attention to recovery weeks. That's right, a whole week of recovery! Why do this?
- Give your body a chance to fully recover
- Prevent over use injuries
- Increase motivation
- Take a mental break
- Try something new
To better understand why we need them, take a look at the graph below.
The undulating pencil line is your performance over time. As you can see, it goes up and down, but the general trend is for it to go up.
The recovery weeks are scheduled during where the stars are. The time between them will vary tremendously from person to person. The range can go from 3-12 weeks depending on your training, age, nutrition and recovery during the workout weeks.
It is important to understand that recovery weeks does not mean do-whatever-the-f*ck-you-want week. Think about the following quote by Mike Mancia (Lebron James's trainer):
"Recovery never stops"
So during the recovery weeks, your sole focus should be on getting the best recovery as possible. These are the weeks where you eat extra clean, where you pay extra attention to your technique and maybe hit up 2 or 3 yoga classes or stretch sessions.
Here are a few general guidelines you can use for your recovery weeks:
1. Do 50% less volume than usual. These can be done a number of different ways.
Example 1: Julia usually does 4 workouts during the week. Each workout usually has 20 sets. She wants to keep going to the gym 4 times a week, so during her recovery week, she only does 10 sets per workout.
Example 2: Greg goes to the gym 4 times per week. Each workout is usually has 20 sets. Greg wants to use the recovery week to recover mentally and thinks going to the gym 4 times a week is not the way to go. So he only goes to the gym and does his usual 20 set.
At the end of the day, both Greg and Julia have decreased their volume by 50%.
2. Use easier weights. Use anywhere from 30-50% lighter weights. You can still get a very slight sweat on, but the workouts you do should not be stressful. You are going to focus a lot more on technique and feel your body work the right way that light weights should enable that.
3. Keep your diet the same. If you have found a healthy, balanced way of eating, you will not even want to deviate from that during the recovery weeks. If you find yourself craving and indulging in shitty foods during your recovery weeks, reassess how you eat during your regular weeks.
4. Try something new. You should have more free time during these weeks so it's a perfect time to try something new. This could be anything, and it can be non fitness related. Take the time to go to an art show, read a new book, go to a talk or find a new way to relax. If you are traveling on holiday or a work trip, this could be a fun way to try out new gyms or new fitness classes.
Recovery weeks are important to incorporate into your training life. Your fitness progression will not be linear, in order to progress you will need to push beyond your limits and you will need to give you body the adequate rest.
For most of us, recovery weeks are imposed on us by of professional and social obligation. You have a business trip coming up, or a family holiday or a special event. These occasions offer a good way to let your body recover as long as some of the guidelines are applied.
Get some good rest!