Recovery – DOs and DONTs

I had an athlete ask me the other day if she was working out too hard because she was constantly tired. My response was of course a question, “What have you been doing for recovery?” Her response; nothing. Then I asked her about her diet. She told me she eats yogurt for breakfast and has tried to stay away from carbs. Whhheeeww. No wonder you are tired.

Today we are discussing the importance of and what needs to be done to recover properly from exercise (competitive and fitness levels).

Contrary to some people’s belief, you are actually at your weakest right after a hard workout. The blood, sweat, and tears are tearing down your muscle fibers so your body has to regenerate, adapt, and make you stronger. If the body does not have time to repair, it will be difficult to see strength, speed, and performance gains. Therefore; adequate rest days are crucial from a physiological perspective, but also from a psychological perspective.

The recovery phase is when your body adapts to the stresses placed on it during training. It is when the body replenishes energy that has been lost, fluid that is now piled on the floor, and heals the damaged tissues from all the hard work you just put in. Without allowing this phase to occur, the athlete will begin seeing signs of overtraining (tired, lack of energy, general aches and pain, muscle/joint pains, a DROP in performance, headaches, poor immune system, depression, loss of appetite, loss of enthusiasm for the sport, etc.). This is when the psychological needs become just as important as the physiological from a rest and healing perspective. It is much more difficult to find the love of the sport again once you train to the point of exhaustion and udder dread of performing/competing.

Different categories of training and recovery include short and long term recovery, active recovery, complete rest, and periodization training.

Short term recovery is the hours immediately following the intense training. This is the (referring to previous post) NOT sitting at a desk for 8 straight hours without stretching after a hard AM workout. The cool down and time immediately following a strenuous training session is key to decreasing muscle soreness, improving flexibility and preventing injury.  Another MAJOR recovery piece is nutrition. If you are depleting your energy stores, you need to replenish in order to optimize protein synthesis to prevent muscle break down and increase muscle size. For the athlete that was eating yogurt for breakfast, working out hard in the morning, and then watching what she ate for the rest of the day, it was no surprise that she was exhausted and feeling beat up. She never gave her body fuel to burn, and never replenished what was lost after the training. Short term recovery also includes sleep. Our body heals itself while sleeping. If you constantly break down your muscle tissues and sleep only 4 hours a night, you are preventing the healing process from occurring and you will never see the strength gains you should based on the amount of training you put in.

I am going to group long term recovery and periodization training into one. Track and field has the easiest year round training schedule to use as an example. Though the athletes compete multiple times throughout the year (usually spring), they have a goal of peaking or having maximal performance for one meet (Nationals, Worlds, Olympics, etc.). These training cycles are planned out a year in advance and include weekly rest days, monthly rest weeks, and an increase/decrease in intensity based on the time of the year and training goals. We use this same principle at the CrossFit gym in that we go hard 3-4 days a week with 2 lighter days and a complete day of rest, also incorporating a de-load week or active recovery days where the intensity of work is way down. It is this up and down in the training cycles that allows for maximal strength gains AND maximal recovery. Based on the principle of adaptation, the body will adapt to the stresses placed on it. Trying a new skill for the first time is very hard, but over time it becomes easier and easier and you can push yourself harder and harder.

Though my examples have not been specifically about children or adult training, I do want to mention that we have seen a drastic increase in the number of YOUNG children participating year round in sports. With the dream of one day being a professional baseball player, NFL star, NBC hoopster, etc, at some point, you have to ask yourself is your 6, 7, 8 year old REALLY needing to play a sport 5-6 days a week ALL year. Just like adults, children need to have specific training regimens. Yes they recover faster, yes they heal faster, but they will get beat up and burnt out just like adults. With the growing trend of year round sport, you also see an increase in burn out and children not even playing their favorite childhood sport through high school. You have to be smart about how much and how soon you begin pushing them. With that said, a balance of exercise/training and rest and recovery is what will take the child, adult, athlete, fitness guru, etc. to the next level safely, effectively, and without injury.

Pay attention to how your body feels, how motivated you are to go train, how the rest of your life is affecting sleep, nutrition, and recovery. If your body is screaming at you to sleep, sleep. If you are hungry, lethargic, depressed, look at your diet. The psychological changes are usually what will be noticed first, but ignored the fastest. If you suspect you are not recovering properly, talk to your coach, get some nutrition advice, or just simply take some time off. Get a massage. Go try a sport you have never played and be really, really bad at it. When you are mentally and physically ready to hit the training again, go for it.

CrossFit Wylie will be hosting a Paleo/Nutrition Seminar THIS Saturday at 9am. If you have any nutrition questions, I highly recommend attending. With any questions regarding training, overtraining, etc. feel free to ask!

Be smart. Listen to your body. The improvements will come.