Rest and recovery are critical components of any successful training program, yet they are also the most overlooked and underutilized aspects of enhancing performance. You may or may not be aware there is a difference between rest and recovery, or how to properly implement them both.
Muscle Breakdown During Exercise
While you exercise, your muscles work to meet the demands you place on them. During that work, muscles deplete their stores of energy (glycogen) and become tired. The glycogen is what fuels the muscle contractions that cause the muscle movement, and it is from these contractions that muscles experience small tears.
The Recovery Process
Recovery From Exercise
One of the most important aspects of any exercise or training program is the recovery phase, or time spent resting. Rest time is a period of doing no work, and while you are not actually doing any physical work, physiologically your body is repairing itself to become stronger in preparation for the next exercise stress placed on it. It is during rest that the body becomes stronger.
Recovery begins once you are done exercising. Muscle glycogen stores get replenished, and the body begins the process of rebuilding and repairing those tiny muscle tears. Time is necessary for this repair process as the body rebuilds the muscle stronger than it previously was. This is how any type of training works. Muscle is broken down to rebuild and become stronger, and more resistant to that level of exercise stress so that it can withstand more the next time. Rest is essential to implement these improvements.
Recovery is split into two categories:
Recovery between sets
Recovery between training sessions
Rest and Strength Training
Many people skip the downtime between sets. Higher intensity efforts require more rest between sets than lower intensity, and rest is specific to the goals of the workout. If you are trying to gain strength and power, more rest will give you greater gains.
It’s all very well being encouraged to exercise. However, if your body isn’t used to doing it, or you’ve started a new training regime or increased the amount of training you’re doing, you need to consider some recovery strategies to help your body to adjust.
Post-exercise rest is essential. Without adequate rest, you’ll experience a decrease in your performance. You will feel more tired than usual and exercise will become more difficult because you are not recovering and are not prepared enough to handle the stress of another workout.
Sleep is the most important form of rest and provides time for the body to adapt to the physical and mental demands of training.
Fun fact: While exercise provides the stimulus for growth, you actually grow while you are sleeping!
Getting inadequate sleep on a regular basis will compromise your recovery, so;
• Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. 7-8 hours per night will do.
• Ensure your sleep is good quality, make sure the room is quiet, dark, and without distraction.
Passive resting such as reading and listening to music are also great ways for the body to relax, both physically and mentally.
Cool Down and Stretch
A cooldown is a group of light exercises performed immediately after training to provide an adjustment between exercise and rest. Its purpose is to decrease muscle soreness and bring the cardiovascular system back to rest.
By taking 10-20 minutes after working out to do some light aerobic activity and stretching will help boost your recovery immediately.
Only 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise will help remove up to 60% of the lactic acid built up in your muscles, an additional 10 minutes will clear out another 25%.
It can take up to 4 hours to completely clear the lactic acid and other metabolic wastes from the muscle tissue if you decide not to cool down. Stretching helps to clear the metabolic wastes from the muscle tissue, as well as restore muscles to their normal length.
Hydration and Nutrition
Making sure that your body is fully nourished and hydrated is essential for recuperation. It is important to replace fluids after training and to refuel by eating the right foods at the right time. Complex carbohydrates and protein are important!
Alternating hot and cold showers speeds up the removal of lactic acid. The following provides the most benefits, within 30 minutes of exercise.
Begin and end with cold exposures.
Cold should be between 10 and 16 degrees
Hot should be between 35 and 37 degrees
Repeat cycle 3 to 4 times.
Cold exposure should last 30 to 60 seconds.
Hot exposures should be between 3 and 4 minutes.
Cryotherapy (Cold Baths)
If you’re plunged into a bath of icy cold water, the blood vessels constrict and the blood will be drained away from the muscles that have been working (removing lactic acid). Once you get out of the bath, the capillaries dilate and ‘new’ blood flow back into the muscles, bringing with it oxygen which helps the functioning of the cells.
Benefits of a massage following exercise include:
• Enhanced blood flow, increased oxygen and nutrient transportation to exhausted muscles, removal of lactic acid
• Warming and stretching of soft tissues, increasing flexibility, removal of knots
In addition to the physical benefits, massage has been reported to help improve mood state and help increase relaxation and reduce feelings of fatigue.
Implement the above rest and recovery strategies, and see how your performance improves!
Remember: Muscles are torn in the gym, fed in the kitchen, and built in bed!