Ask any professional athlete about recovery, and they will tell you it is critical to both their performance and their continued improvement in the areas of strength and conditioning. That being said, most amateur fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors don’t pay nearly enough attention to this critical element. Whether your goal is overall health improvement, running a marathon, or competing in the next USMC Mud Run, recovery is just as important as your workout and your nutrition.
There are two aspects to recovery…
Rest can be divided into three separate categories…
- Rest between work (or sets)
- Rest between workouts (or training sessions)
- Rest between workout cycles (or training phases)
Rest between work (or sets) is that period of time that you recover or rest before you do another work set. For example, weight lifters usually have a specific period of time that they rest between sets. This time period varies depending on their goals. The shorter the time (typically 10-15 secs) the more the cardio effect. The longer the time (2-3 min) the more the strength/power effect on the muscles. Fat loss effect falls somewhere in between the two (around 1 min is typical).
Recovery between intervals is also very important. For example, during a sprint or fartlek workout, if you rest too little, you will be too winded to get to full speed in the next interval. If you rest for too long, you won’t get the maximum cardio effect from the next sprint. A good thumbrule for sprint training is to jog/walk until your breathing is close to normal again.
Rest between workouts or training sessions is that period of time required for the body to recover from a workout, run, bike, swim, etc. that includes a good night’s sleep (another topic for another day). This subject has been debated for decades (maybe centuries), but most fitness experts believe the ideal recovery time between heavy strength training workouts is 48-72 hours. The reason I used the word “heavy” here is that I’ve seen some great improvements in strength and fat loss in myself and others doing moderate bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, planks, etc. on a daily basis (24 hours rest) for weeks at a time.
HIIT or high intensity interval training is where you need to be careful. Crossfit has become widely popular in fitness circles recently. But if you don’t pay heed to proper form (another topic for another day) AND recovery, the odds of you ending up with an injury are extremely high. And not a simple, get-over-it-in-a-week injury either.
Runners: this subject can be sensitive to many of you because of your love (aka: addiction) of this endorphin-releasing activity. Here’s my advice for you: pay close attention to your body. As soon as you feel “bad” pain (you know the difference between “good” pain and “bad” pain), slow down or even walk, and see if it subsides or goes away. If not, take at least the next day off from running (go for a bike ride if you must). If you are running through pain every day because you’re too manly to tell your running partner you’re hurting, you will eventually have to stop running for months to recover from the surgery you’re going to need. Which brings us to the next subject…
Rest between workout cycles (training phases) is exactly that: a period of time, usually a full week of significantly reduced/minimal physical activity to allow the body an opportunity to recover before the next phase of your training. Or in some cases, to repair itself from that injury you developed because you didn’t listen to your body when it was screaming at you. The common school of thought is every 6-8 weeks depending on what you are training for or trying to accomplish. The exceptions to this rule are the athletes who are training for a marathon/triathlons. If you are smart you are using a formal running plan from Hal Higdon (I used his novice marathon plan for mine) or Jeff Galloway or some other expert. They formulate their plans with recovery in mind.
Unfortunately, this recovery phase is the most ignored of the three. Most amateurs don’t even know about it, and if they do they think it only pertains to the pro’s. In my opinion, it may be the most important of the three, particularly for us over-30 folks with full time jobs and families who depend on us. The last thing we need to do is get an injury that incapacitates us in such a way that it impacts the other, more important areas of our lives.
The nutrition aspect to recovery is pretty simple. There is a 30-45 minute Window of Opportunity after a workout that if used properly can significantly improve muscle recovery and strength. I won’t try to explain the science behind it (feel free to Google it), but drinking/eating a meal with a 3:1 or 2:1 Carbohydrate to Protein ratio within 30-45 minutes of your workout will feed your muscles exactly what they need to recover from that brutal workout you just gave them.
There are also a handful of supplements created for recovery, such as L-Glutamine, that I will talk about in a later post specifically on supplements.
….If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.