So you’re focusing on your health and wellbeing. Great work! With all the training you’re doing, ensuring you get the right recovery balance is important to giving your body a chance to repair, while also keeping you motivated and on track with your training.
What should recovery look like?
It is important to remember that recovery is different for everyone and that there is no one perfect way to recover. As mentioned at the beginning, diet, quality rest days and arguably the most important factor, sleep, will determine how well you recover.
One of the significant advances in wearable technology has meant that sleep tracking is providing insight our recovery while sleeping. When you sleep your body is going through a significant state of repair in every regard, not just for your muscles. Lack of quality sleep can result in impairments to the endocrine and immune system which in turn will impair the ability for training adaptations to occur and your body to return to a state of homeostasis.
Keep in mind, a significant factor that can influence sleep quality is alcohol intake. Unfortunately, we are often not educated (nor want to hear) the detrimental effects that alcohol can have on our system. It goes well beyond that nasty hangover!
A recent Whoop podcast looked at the effects of alcohol on slow-wave sleep, the suppression of human growth hormone and how this effects our training adaptations, it’s well worth a listen. The main takeaway, avoid alcohol on the days that surround training if you want to allow your body to recover and for training adaptations to occur.
How often you take a rest day will be heavily dependent on your training routine and exercise you are completing. A person training in the gym may need far less recovery than someone completing an ultra-marathon. Training programs completed by an exercise professional will commonly include a deload or taper week to allow for an individual to recover, and for training adaptation to occur. In saying this, I am a strong advocate for listening to your body and trusting your intuition, if your body is telling you need to rest, take the rest!
Rest days do not always mean sitting on the couch and doing nothing, it could be getting out and going for a walk, going for a slow and steady swim or heading to a slow-flow yoga class. If you’re feeling exhausted, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a day to do nothing. The main thing is, that you are able to recognise if you’re taking those days because of a lack of motivation or because you really are physically tired.
If you do have the opportunity, get out in the sun and soak up some vitamin D. Research has shown a strong correlation between increased levels of vitamin D with an increase in muscle function and physical performance, reduced inflammation and pain. There is a reason those sunny days make us feel so good!
Recovery aids and stretching
Recovery aids such as massage, foam rolling, cold water immersion, compression garments and stretching are something we hear of and see regularly when it comes to recovery. As I mentioned at the beginning, the other previously mentioned components should not be overlooked however, these aids certainly can be a great addition to a recovery routine.
Foam rollers have been shown to be an effective aid in the short-term improvement of muscle soreness and flexibility pre and post exercise. Rollers can also be a fantastic addition to your workout and mobility routine!
Compression garments are designed to increase blood flow, aid in the removal of waste product and reduce the inflammatory response through decreasing the potential for swelling. Evidence to support compression garments widely varies, however they have been shown to reduce DOMS and accelerate the recovery of muscle function after various forms of strength training if worn in the 24 hours post.
Stretching is usually the first thing that comes to mind when we think of cool-downs and recovery. There are many different forms of stretching and contrary to popular belief, it has not been shown to decrease muscle soreness. Instead, stretching can aid in reducing muscle stiffness and increase range of motion.
It is suggested that active recovery post exercise should include:
Low-moderate dynamic activity to increase blood flow and prevent the development of additional muscular damage and DOMS
Be no longer than 30 minutes to allow for energy source restoration
Include exercises preferred by the individual and relevant to the workout completed