Recovery is the manner in which you recuperate after a workout, which we all know. And we all know that recovery is important, but how important? Today’s article will explore the science of recovery and provide some suggestions for proven recovery techniques.
A lot of people mistakenly think that they are getting stronger, faster, bigger, enhancing endurance when they work out. This is actually a false belief. When you workout, regardless of whether it’s for endurance or strength or size, you are actually creating damage to your muscles and other soft tissues. The process of repair during recovery is when you get stronger and adapt in a positive fashion.
Positive and Negative Stress
There are 2 kinds of stress, positive and negative.
- Positive stress tends to be acute and short-lived, like when you have a great workout. You may feel the lactic acid burn, or perhaps have some soreness afterwards, but it’s all generally short-lived. And this type of stress is what will make us stronger and better during the recovery process.
- Negative stress, on the other hand, tends to be longer term and chronic. An example of this is consuming excess sugar every day for years on end. This will have negative long-term consequences on your health, eventually leading to a higher probability of disease.
Needless to say, we want to do our best to find good recovery techniques to manage positive stress, while trying to avoid negative/chronic stress as much as possible.
The Stress of Exercise
When you workout, your body releases hormones and other chemicals, that some refer to as the “hormonal mileau.”
Catecholamines are the fight-or-flight chemicals that give you fast energy when you need it. Adrenaline is an example. A burst of adrenaline has the effect of driving glucose (sugar) into your blood to help you move/act fast, it inhibits pain and creates a feeling so invincibility. Examples includes getting chased by a bear or when getting amped up to pull a 1RM deadlift.
Cortisol also frees up blood sugar for the body to use. Intense exercise, particularly exercise that makes you feel jacked or anxious, like a 100 meter sprint, will release cortisol (as well as adrenaline).
So, cortisol can be very useful, so long as it’s acute. When cortisol is chronic, it encourages calories to be stored as body fat.
Neurons are the “wires” that drive the body and when they fire, they act as a signalling agent to tell your muscles to move. The more intense the movement, the more action has to happen in the CNS (central nervous system) and the motor neurons.
I was recently watching a video of one of my favorite elite strength and conditioning coaches who was coaching an elite athlete on ironman triathlon prep. It was week 2 in the program and the athlete asked the coach what more he could do. He was coming at it from the perspective of wanting to do a little more mileage, etc…The coach’s response was priceless. For week 2, he wanted him to “chase recovery and make it a priority.” This coach knows how important recovery is, and if you don’t recover properly, you’ll eventually stagnate or worse, burn out.
With that, here are some great suggestions for you to “Chase your Own Recovery.”
- Sleep well, at least 7-8 hours/night – I’ve written about the importance of sleep before. Cut back on the night-time electronics. Find a way to de-stress and wind-down. Block artificial light. Supplement as necessary.
- Have a positive attitude – Self-criticism does you no favors. Instead, positive self-talk is the way to go. Believe in yourself. See yourself as capable and a “winner” as opposed to a “screw-up.”
- Focus on the Big Picture – Stop worrying about the small details that don’t really matter. Place your focus on the big things, and rather than wasting energy worrying, use your positive self-talk and solve problems.
- Hang-out and socialize with positive and supportive people – I know this is going to sound awful to some people, but if you continually hang out with people who drag you down, its high time to dump them. Perhaps you only speak to them once in a blue moon, but stop hanging with them on a regular basis. And that goes for family as well as friends. They say that you are the average of the 5 people who you are closest to. Well, think about this. If 3 of those 5 people are jerks who drag you down, then what does that say about you?
- Pay attention to your body – learn to do proactive body sensing and pay attention to the information that your body is giving you. Things like pain, fatigue, feeling sick or run-down (Endurance athletes – pay close attention to this one).
- Practice SMR (self myofacial release) – SMR techniques include foam rolling, rolling with “the stick”, lax ball work and/or massage. Learn about them and practice them.
- Eat enough lean protein.
- Eat plenty of colorful veggies and some fruit.
- Keep your carb intake moderate (neither too low nor high), and choose smart carb options (i.e. sweet potatoes or quinoa instead of Frosted Flakes or Snickers bars).
- Hydrate appropriately with fluids that add value to your body – such as water, coffee and tea.
So, what’s your recovery plan? What are you going to do to “chase recovery?” As you can see from above, nutrition is just as important as finding physical techniques. Find what works for you and be awesome!