Recovery: The Most Important Part of Your Training Plan
This is the easy bit! Sounds easy and is easy, but it’s often neglected or under appreciated. Crazy as it may sound, rest is just as important as exercise. Too many people focus on cramming in more/harder training and forget to take the time out, in their day, week or season. Time to find out why…
Rest Is Best
The body gets fitter/stronger/healthier by being exposed to stresses (i.e. training or exercise). Once you’ve done this, the body then needs time to adapt to these stresses and for this there must be a period of recovery. Recovery and rest are also key in preventing injuries.
New to Exercise
If you’re new to training, it’s imperative that you start slowly to allow the body to adapt to the demands of sport. Maybe try exercising on two consecutive days, but have a rest on the third day. If you just keep going, without any rest, your body will soon start to fatigue and you’ll find it difficult to complete (or even start!) any exercise sessions.
If you have just started physical activity or performed a new exercise for the first time, you might be feeling a little sore or stiff but don’t start doubting all those promises of feeling better for exercising just yet. In most cases this is a reaction from your body as it tries to adapt to the new experience. Starting exercise or performing a new movement pattern can result in:
• Severe muscle soreness
• Muscle stiffness
• Decreases in strength
• Decreases in skill levels
The feelings you may be experiencing are referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS for short. Although DOMS is not fully understood, it is thought that the feelings generally materialise sometime after the exercise is performed (hence the ‘Delayed’), this can be as long as 24hours after. Feelings may last from a couple of days or even reports of up to a week or longer. It is suggested that some recovery strategies may help prevent or a least reduce some of the associated feelings. (See below – Recovery Strategies) The more an activity is repeated, you are less likely to feel the effects DOMS, or to a less extent.
More Experienced Athletes
For those who are more experienced exercisers and are maybe training for an event, rest and recovery is also vitally important. You may have heard of a term called ‘Progressive Overload’, the principles of which are as follows:
• Training is designed progressively to overload body systems and fuel stores
• If the training stress is insufficient to overload the body’s capabilities, no adaptations will occur.
• If the workload is too great (progressed too quickly/performed too often without adequate rest), then fatigue follows and subsequent performance will be reduced.
• Work alone is not enough to produce the best results; you need time to adapt to training stress.
• To encourage adaptation to training, it is important to plan recovery activities that reduce residual fatigue.
• The sooner you recover from fatigue, and the fresher you are when you undertake a training session, the better the chance of improving.
Plan your training carefully, include rest days where you let you’re body recover from the stress and begin to adapt to the training. Try thinking ahead to the race/event date, plan different sessions for each week. Maybe do a couple of weeks of more intensive and hard sessions, but follow that with an ‘easy week’ where you’re body can adapt to all the hard training you’ve been doing. This is known as periodisation. Most of my athletes work on the basis of 3 to 4 weeks of increasing training (maybe hours, or intensity toward particular targets) then a week of lower magnitude to allow that adaptation. Every week will have at least 1 rest day, sometimes two depending on the athlete and the intended target. Rest days can include some of the recovery strategies below, though we would tend to encourage these on a day to day basis anyway!
It’s all very well being encouraged to exercise, but if your body isn’t used to doing it, or you’ve started a new sport or even increased the amount of training you’re doing then you need to consider some recovery strategies to help your body to adjust.
Sleep is one of the most important forms of rest and provides time for the body to adapt to the physical and mental demands of training.
– Make sure you get enough sleep (8hours per night is a good guideline)
– Ensure your sleep is good quality, make sure the room is dark, quiet and peaceful.
Passive resting such as reading and listening to music are great ways for the body to relax, both physically and mentally.
Nutrition & Hydration
Ensuring the body is fully nourished and hydrated is vital for good recovery. It is most important to replace fluids after exercise and to replenish energy stores by eating the right foods at the right time. This can include eating higher protein snacks immediately after training or competing to help repair muscles and prevent catabolism (muscle breakdown). You could even look to specific sports nutrition – though this should be supplemental to what you already do rather than instead of.
Cool Down and Stretch
The cool down is a group of exercises performed immediately after training to provide an adjustment between exercise and rest. Its purpose is to increase muscular soreness and bring the cardiovascular system back to rest. Stretching is often combined with the cool down.
Alternating hot and cold showers/baths provides increased muscle flow to the working muscles and speeds the removal of lactic acid. The following guidelines should provide the most benefits:
Complete within 30 minutes of training/exercise
Begin and end with cold exposures
Cold should be between 10 and 16 degrees
Hot should be between 35 and 37 degrees
Repeat the alternations 3 or 4 times
Cold exposure should last between 30 and 60 seconds
Hot exposures should be between 3 and 4 minutes
Cold Baths (Cryotherapy)
If you body is plunged into a bath of icy cold water, the blood vessels constrict and the blood will be drained away from the muscles that have been working (removing lactic acid). Once you get out of the bath, the capillaries dilate and ‘new’ blood flow back into the muscles, bringing with it oxygen which help the functioning of the cells.
The physical benefits of a massage following exercise include:
• Increased blood flow, enhanced oxygen and nutrient delivery to fatigued muscles, increased removal of lactic acid
• Warming and stretching of soft tissues, increasing flexibility, removal of microtrauma, knots and adhesions
In addition to the physical benefits, massage has been reported to help improve mood state and help increase relaxation and reduce feelings of fatigue. See our partners at The Sports Performance Clinic, Energised Performance, or Tri Physiotherapy
Remember we all do sport to enjoy it! It’s not a job, you have friends, family and a job as well as a life to live before training comes in. Make rest and recovery a key part of your training schedule, and you will enjoy the active training far more – hopefully with far increased results! #RecoveryIsKey #TrainSmart