3. Recovery: take it easy, gain more
I wanted to follow on a bit from my first blog "motivation" where I talked about how sometimes holding back with your training session can leave something in the tank to push to your max / limit on another day...
You know you are hooked when taking a rest day is harder than getting to the gym, and this is often the case for me too, for both training and work, which happen to be somewhat connected.
This blog is steered to those of you who feel addicted to training, think it's a must to keep on pushing it hard and to the limit and working out as much as you can, but it's also applicable to the exercise & training novice too who has been told or is already of the mindset that you need to get to the gym or train as much as possible to reach your goals as quickly as possible.
If you think about it, there's not many professional sports that don't have off-season, pre-season, then the full season, there's a reason professional sports are structured this way! One industry that quickly comes to mind that doesn't have an off-season is pro wrestling / WWE and I love WWE but, (on the extreme side of things).. consider how many tragic early death's this industry has had over the years from wrestlers being hooked on pain killers, medications, drugs and whatever else just keep their beat up, overtrained bodies going for the 300+ days a year they spend on the road, training, wrestling and beating up their bodies. I realize the company and industry is a lot cleaner and more wellness focused these days, but just something to consider. I'd also like to reference Ryan Hall's recent retirement. An elite distance runner / Olympian and still the only US athlete to run the half marathon in under 60 mins, Ryan Hall's recent retirement at 33 due to clinically low testosterone levels, continuous injuries and poor training performance from over-training is a sad example of how endurance training at the elite level, over-training & poor or inadequate recovery protocols can end things for us with hazardous health consequences. Both extreme examples I know, but a good way to remind us that the reason we train hard and exercise is for the very opposite reason to these extreme results... we want to be in top shape and optimum health. So, recovery...
Rest days are the cornerstone and building block of muscle recovery, it should be a hard earned chance to kick back relax and allow the past week's training to catch up, take it's effect and allow the body to adapt. There's the old saying of "you don't get better by what you do in the gym, you get better by how you recover from what you do in the gym". Training effect = work x recovery. Rest....it's part of the program!
Extended breaks from training:
If you struggle to even take 1 or 2 days of complete rest without feeling like yr getting "soft" or losing muscle, or losing fitness, then remember that extended periods breaks from training keep you mentally fresh so you can return to training freshly motivated. For example, last month I spent 1 week out of the country having not had a day off for close to 2 months. I left with my body & brain exhausted and sore, and despite the long travel, I managed to stay disciplined on my commitment to rest & recovery and only trained once in 8 days, granted I was severly jet-lagged, which helped the decision, but I physically rested. I now find myself in a position where I'm feeling very excited and itching to get back to the gym, full of inspiration & drive upon my return.
Physically, an extended period of rest from training triggers powerful physical, bio mechanical, neural and hormonal changes. Whether it's increased muscle mass, lean definition or cardio output like higher VO2 Max, it is not just the work itself that creates the changes & results you desire but the time you spend recovering. See your training as the stimulus, and if you don't schedule & prioritize the time to re-charge then you will not see the results and changes you've worked hard for. If exercise is a part of your daily routine / lifestyle then you know you will be back into regular training again at some point soon, so bear that in mind.
Negative effects of over Training:
Not only will insufficient rest & recovery halt your progress to your goals, it can be physically destructive. For example OTS (over training syndrome: excessive muscular, joint & skeletal trauma) can cause injury and strains that will force you sit it out, not to mention abnormal white blood cell function. The end result being poor immune function, low energy levels, poor performance, poor quality or lack of sleep and inadequate hormone levels. All of the above are crucial for physical growth whether your goal is fat loss, muscle gain, etc. changes in your body cannot happen without these being consistent factors, your body will enter survival & protection mode rather than growth mode.
Obviously it's dependent on your training schedule & regimen but for those pushing hard 5-7 days a week, I'd recommend taking 5-7 days off every 12-15 weeks and for everyone at all levels, make sure you have at least 1 day of complete rest per week. This will allow your muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, bones, hormones, etc to repair themselves and glycogen stores to be replenished. As much as you may love your gym & training, a few days without having to rush to a loud, intense, crowded atmosphere of the gym will work wonders for your mental clarity & freshness too.
Nothing to Lose:
To try and put your mind at ease about feelings of "losing fitness, strength or progress", I admit I am guilty of "feeling soft" and "slow" after not training for a couple of days, but this is purely psychological, and it's crucial to remind yourself of that. It's easily done after some treat foods too.
You are not going to lose any of the hard work & fitness gains. It takes 4-6 weeks of pure inactivity (bed rest) to see any severe catabolic effects (muscle breakdown / loss). Even after 2 full weeks of complete rest you will not see a rise in body fat %, a drop in strength, size, power or stamina. Aerobic capacity & VO2 max takes even longer.
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study proved 14 days of rest causes very little change in bench press & squat performance
A Journal of Applied Physiology study found VO2 Max dips by 6% after 3 weeks of complete bed rest & "laziness" (links)
So have a break, schedule & prioritize your rest & recovery, you have earned it. You will do far more damage to yourself over training than you ever will by taking some time off.
Here's a bullet list of a few 'active' & 'passive' recovery methods, you can google each for more info, be sure to begin including as many of these as you can into your training program / weekly schedule:
- foam rolling / myofacial release
- prioritize mobility & stretching
- cold: cryotherapy / ice
- heat: sauna / steam room
- focus on quality sleep
- sports physician assessment
- potassium rich foods