When it comes to training, there is assumption that the more you can do, the better. In theory it makes sense, but when you break down the training process, the importance of recovery quickly becomes very clear. Unfortunately, the most neglected part of training is recovery.
Training is a catabolic process, which means it causes tissues to break down. Essentially what happens is that during a workout, we create ‘damage’ in the muscle tissue by making it work harder than it is used to. This process sends signals to the body, telling the muscles to work to repair bigger or stronger.
The body creates these bigger, stronger and more robust tissues when the right conditions are created – namely, the body has to be well-fed with correct nutrients – protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats and it has to be given adequate time to rest. It is during the rest that the body gets to work on creating the new muscle, bone and connective tissues.
If you don’t rest and recover adequately, you’ll never really make sufficient progress in the gym.
Of course you have to earn the rest – if you don’t train very hard then you don’t need the rest, but let’s assume you are hitting the gym 4-5 times per week and training hard each time, you’ll certainly need to make sure you allow for good quality rest in your overall schedule if you want to see significant strength and physique changes.
In professional sport, it’s not uncommon to see athletes using ice baths and cryotherapy chambers to help with their recovery. Here’s Andy Murray taking an ice bath shortly after winning Wimbledon…
The opposite end of the temperature spectrum is heat. Like ice baths, many athletes use saunas and heat treatments to help improve the quality of their recovery. Some research now suggests that heat treatment is more effective than ice when it comes to promoting healing from injury and as such it is being used by a number of Olympic teams from around the world.
Massage is another recovery tool. Almost every single professional sports team will employ a masseuse on the staff to ensure that the players and athletes are kept in the bets possible condition. Massage helps to prevent tissue damage, improve general tissue health and speed up the recovery process.
You can certainly boost your own recovery by incorporating a monthly massage into your health and recovery regimen.
There’s a saying in fitness and nutrition ‘you are what you eat’. If you live on a diet of poor quality food, expect your body to react by reducing tissue quality, increasing the amount of fat it lays down and reducing the amount of energy you have. By improving the food choices you make, you’ll improve your recovery.
Your tissues will be stronger and healthier, your susceptibility to injury will be lower and you’ll have much more energy if you live on a healthy, varied and fresh-food diet than if you live on a diet of fast food and takeaways.
This is one of the easiest and most important parts of your recovery strategy. According to a recent survey, nearly 40% of Brits don’t get enough sleep every night. Sleep is the most vital part of the recovery process, because it is during sleep when the body recovers and undertakes much of the repair work required to help restore tissues to their best condition.
Sleep is more than just repair though – it helps restore the hormonal system to where it should be, allows our brains to ‘sort out’ everything that has gone on during the day, it allows every single physical process time to do rest and bring the body back to a full state of working order.
For more sleep tips, read our article on improving sleep here.
Some of the most effective recovery can be achieved with some gentle, low-level exercise such as walking or a very gentle cycle. This is because the movement stimulates blood flow around the body, so if you have a particular area of the body that is stiff, some use of it can be really helpful.
Take a runner for example – they may have particularly stiff calf muscles or Achilles tendons – if they were to go on a gentle walk, there’s a good chance that the improved blood flow to the area will be of benefit to the stiffness and would actually force an improvement of the stiffness.
Just be careful not to overdo the exercise, otherwise you could end up back where you started!
By following these tips you’ll recovery quicker and more effectively, which in turn will improve your fitness and performance. Of course, make sure you are working hard enough when training to justify your recovery, otherwise you’re still selling yourself short in the performance and physique realms!