Are you at a point in your exercise journey where you feel like you are giving 100% effort every session, every day of the week, but the progress you have made has stalled? Do you train every day because you feel if you stop you will lose all of the hard earned progress you have made?
This is a dilemma that many individuals working towards their training goals have. Like a lot of things in life, we believe that more is better. The more I work out, the fitter I will get. The more I work out, the more body composition changes I can make.
These statements do have some merit in the fact that in order to reach our goals, we do indeed have to work hard and push ourselves to new levels. However, we can assure you that if you opt for an “all in” approach to exercise day after day, your goals will be as far away as they were when you began.
We are all aware of the many training modes that can help us achieve our exercise goals, be it strength, cardiovascular, circuit, boxing, running or cycling, just to name a few. Yet there is one aspect of training that is often neglected due to our “more is better” mentality.
Rest and Recovery is the training component that is commonly overlooked by individuals because they don’t understand the need for it and are not aware of the benefits that it can bring.
All types of training put the body and its systems under physiological stress. By incorporating recovery protocols into a personal training programme or exercise journey, the body will be able to adapt to this stress and then cope with it. This adaptation is the body becoming fitter, stronger and healthier which allows the body to be pushed to the next level where training goals can be reached.
Aside to the positive effect that recovery has on training goals, it is also necessary in order to avoid injury and illness during a training phase, which can occur as a result of the accumulation of stress and fatigue over an extended period of time.
What is best and where should you focus your time when it comes to recovery?
There are many options when it comes to recovery tools, including ice baths, compression clothing and cupping (recently seen on some athletes at the Rio Olympics). Now there is evidence for and against these options, and we are not here to rule them out as useless. However, there are several options which are a lot more accessible and a lot easier for you to focus on and include in your training regime.
1) Include rest days and deload weeks in your training regime:
We all know what sore muscles feel like after a workout and this often will be a sign for us to take a day off before our next session. It is also important to know that along with this (good) tissue damage, the body will experience metabolic (body’s energy stores are reduced), psychological (mental stress & pressure) & neurological (nervous system tiredness) types of fatigue as well. Rest days will help limit the amount of fatigue that an individual will accumulate across a training week, while also allowing the individual to feel fresh and give full intensity in every training session.
Also by including a ‘deload’ training week, which is reduced in volume (total number of sessions), once every 4-6 weeks we allow our body and mind to recover from the continual stress and monotony of a regular training.
The most important time for your body to rest and recover is when you are sleeping. During this time your body is ticking away restoring energy levels and adapting to the stressors that exercise has placed on it. If we do not allow ourselves adequate sleep time, we reduce our capacity to recover and adapt. This means that fatigue and physiological stress will accumulate over days and weeks, eventually stalling our ability to take the next step in our training. Aim for a total of 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
3) Nutrition and Hydration:
We all know the body’s energy stores need to be topped up after exercise, but it is also important to focus on maintaining these stores throughout our training regime as all of our adaptations and growth will occur outside of training time. Therefore it is key that individuals ensure that they are getting the basics right in terms of nutrition and hydration. Make sure you eat regularly and include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Limit your intake of processed foods and those that are high in sugar. Limit the amount of alcohol that you consume during the week and make sure that you drink plenty of water throughout your day (aim for 2.5L per day).
4) Body & Tissue Maintenance:
This refers to a group of basic strategies that you can implement into various parts of your training week to help restore muscle tissue faster and help your mind and body feel refreshed. Often these strategies can be done on a rest day, which will also make you feel as though you are not just sitting around doing nothing.
Active rest refers to low intensity activities such as walking, cross-training or stretch/mobility training which can all have a positive effect on the body’s recovery by promoting muscle relaxation, oxygen delivery and the removal of waste products from the tissues. This can also be added to the end of a training session in the form of a cool down.
Massage is another method which can be used to help with recovery. Not only does it have physical effects such as; relaxing muscles, helping deliver oxygen and nutrients while also removing waste products, massage also improve an individual’s mood and allow them to feel more relaxed and rested. Passive rest will also have a big effect on improving mood and psychological fatigue as it allows an individual to “switch off”. Allow yourself time to read a book, listen to music or just go and sit and relax in the park.
If you feel as though your training progress has stalled, take a moment to see whether you are focusing on any of these strategies as much as you are on getting to the gym and training. We are sure that if you spend some time implementing a few of them, you will notice the benefits and see the improvement in your training intensity and results.