Ask any person on the street what you need to do to get fit and healthy and the majority will say “exercise and eat right”. Music to my ears! however, one essential element is missing in this otherwise foolproof plan – rest and recovery. Joe Friel, author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible, says that recovery is the single most forgotten element of training plans, to the detriment of greater fitness gains. Don’t get me wrong, i’m not advocating naps over a brisk run. However, we all need to build in proper rest and recovery into our fitness regimes to ensure that we get the most out of each and every workout. The trick is to practice each element of the training triangle – training, nutrition and rest – with consistency.
Recovery is necessary to avoid overtraining, illness and injury, which all affect your ability to maintain consistency. If you feel under the weather and question whether or not you should skip your training session do a quick ‘neck check’. If symptoms are above-the-neck, including sneezing, runny nose or a scratchy throat, you should feel free to start your session. Warm up well and if you don’t feel worse after 10 minutes, continue at a low intensity for a short duration of time. If symptoms are below-the-neck, such as a chest cold, chills, achy muscles or a fever, do NOT work out. Exercise and viral infections are not friends – you could prolong your illness and potentially suffer serious, possibly life-threatening complications.
So after you’ve worked out, had a hot shower and a nutritious meal, how should you recover to ensure you are fresh and ready for your next training session? Here are three types of recovery to choose from:
1. Active Recovery
Recovery sessions include very light intensity workouts that raise your heart rate slightly, up to 55% of your maximum heart rate. These workouts can be done directly after a very high intensity workout (or race) or in the few days following a big effort. You should choose an activity that you are familiar with and that complements your normal training regime. Recovery sessions are a great time to cross train. runners might head to an indoor cycling class, cyclists to the pool. Low-intensity active recovery increases blood circulation, whisking away accumulated blood lactate and other toxins, which in turn speeds muscle recovery. Studies show that active recovery leaves athletes feeling fresher, faster, than passive rest alone.
2. Stretching and Self-Myofascial Release
Stretching is one of the most natural actions we do at all stages of life. Watch a baby waking up from a nap and you will recognize the movement patterns immediately! Aside from being part of our wake-up routines, stretching is an excellent way to recover from daily workouts. Stretching improves flexibility, improves circulation and improves balance and coordination.
Fascia is the soft connective tissue that lies just under the skin. It connects our bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and the circulatory system together. Think of it as the microscopic netting that encases your body. Fascia is everywhere and it responds to stress by creating tiny adhesions that limit our freedom of movement. Self-myofascial release is a technique that involves active stimulation of the fascia by rolling on a foam roller or a myofascial release ball. Foam rolling, for example, releases fascial adhesions by applying firm pressure and gentle movements to sore spots along the muscles. By keeping the “fuzz” out of fascia we recover quicker and reduce the chances of developing incorrect movement patterns. Stretching and self-myofascial release offer huge benefits for recovery and can be done directly after a workout or whenever you are feeling tight. Be sure to ask for help if you need a few tips on how best to achieve good results.
3. Passive Recovery
Ahhh, this is the one you’ve been waiting for. An afternoon nap, a hot bath, a solid night’s sleep – these are all essential elements in any rest and recovery plan. Hard workouts require quality rest, and anyone who is serious about their health should be sleeping more. Study after study shows that we are getting less sleep than ever before. The pressures of normal life (plus the stresses of working out) can place intense demands on your wellbeing. Sleep allows the body to reset and our minds to relax. It is also when you gain the benefits of your workouts; yes, that’s right, when we sleep the body absorbs the training stress of the day and you become fitter. Along with training and nutrition, rest needs to be consistent to give you the most benefit. Rest and recovery, like hard training sessions and sound nutrition, are crucial to attaining your ultimate fitness goals. The recovery methods outlined here also share the added benefit of improving your overall sense of wellbeing. Enjoy your training and celebrate the gains you make in your fitness. What better way to reflect on your successes than with a well-deserved time out!