Recovery is important…I think that’s pretty commonly accepted now.
Unfortunately, it’s almost too accepted…and now is something many companies are trying to take advantage of to make money or people are preaching of 10 different means of recovery…
Sauna, ice baths, cryotherapy, IV fluid “bars”, massages, active therapy, theraguns, etc. The list goes on and on and on.
But in reality, are all of these recovery tools and strategies really necessary? What’s best for you?
What are ones you should invest money in and what are the ones you can go without?
Today, I’m going to teach you the best means of recovery specific to you and your goals.
First, why is it important even to recover??
Recovery is what allows us to 1. stay healthy and 2. reach our goals. Everyone is subjectable to fatigue, injury, burnout, overuse, etc. Proper recovery avoids that.
Recovery does a couple of things. The quicker you can recover, the quicker you can return to your training program, which helps you progress quickly and build more strength. The more effectively you recover, the healthier your bones, muscles, and joints will be allowing you again to perform better at the gym, helping you lose weight or build muscle easier. The better your recovery, the less likely you’ll injure yourself. Lastly, good recovery lowers stress and inflammation, which does your body a world of good.
How do you know if you’re currently NOT recovering well?
You’re constantly or frequently injured.
You’re constantly sore
You frequently experience DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
You have broken sleep
You can’t get through an hour-long workout.
You have no motivation
You struggle to lose weight.
Now the types of recovery...
As with anything, start with the basics. There exists a hierarchy when it comes to your recovery. You can do all the cryotherapy you want, but it won’t matter if your training volume is too extreme and constantly breaking down your muscles or if you’re eating too few calories to recover fully from your training.
1. Your training
You need to follow a smart and safe training program. If you feel like you’re not progressing, if you frequently injure yourself, if you’re always sore, then it’s likely your training program is too high in volume.
Now, you DO want adaptations because that is how we progress. Occasional soreness is okay and even encouraged especially at the start of a new training cycle or block, but if everyday leads to impossible soreness, you’re doing too much. In fact, you’re breaking down muscle too much…which makes weight loss very difficult and muscle growth almost impossible (the only muscle you’re building is what was broken down).
To adjust your training volume, first consider a more individualized training program. If that’s not an option for you (say you go to group classes, like CrossFit for example), then individually adjust the volume and/or intensity of your training program. You can decrease reps or increase rest between sets. You can lower the weight. Your training should not always be at 95% and above. Include some days where you lower intensity…especially you CrossFitters out there. Have some days where you stay at a 60-70% effort rather than the usual 110%. If you have a 6RFT workout, ask the coach how long this workout should take, and use that time (let’s say 20 min.) to make it a 20 min. effort with quality movement the entire time.
While you adjust your training, you may want to switch to an on-off-on-off approach. Follow each training day with a day off (just for a week or two) to evaluate the training from that prior day only. If you go 4 days in a row, you don’t know if you’re sore from Day 1, 2 or 3.
2. Passive Recovery
This is the next level up on the recovery hierarchy. Passive recovery is stress management, relaxation, your work environment, and sleep (quality and quantity)…basically everything outside your training session. I also add stretching and mobility here because it’s second most important outside of your training program and is not the same thing as active recovery (and is way more important than active recovery).
Sleep 7-9 (more on the 8-9 side) hours/night. To learn how to sleep better during the night, read here.
Move during the day at work. This is especially important if you work at a desk job. Chairs are manmade…your body is made for movement…getting constant blood flow during the day (not just at the gym) is crucial for recovery. It reduces stiff joints, improves hip mobility, and lessens low back pain.
Practice mindfulness and stress relieving activities. Training, no matter what you’re doing, is a stress response…it’s a good one but still a stress response nonetheless. Meditate daily. Journal. Deep breathe at least once a day. Go to yoga (yin or vinyasa not hot or power yoga…that’s active!). Do things that relieve stress outside of exercise.
Along the same lines, add relaxation into your day whether it’s a date night, night with friends, an hour of TV sitting on the couch, or hell even an hour laying on the couch scrolling through Instagram reading all of my content (jk 😊). Do something daily that relaxes you and lets you unwind!
You’ll see nutrition and active recovery intermingled. I disagree. Nutrition should be right above passive recovery and before active recovery.
Why? Because it doesn’t matter how much active recovery you do if you’re not eating enough. In fact, if you don’t have the right nutrition, active recovery can hurt you rather than help you. I see this with a majority of incoming clients.
You need to eat enough food. I’m currently running an IGTV series on Instagram that teaches you just how to perform well at the gym while also getting that dream body comp change. If you haven’t watched it, go do that now. Eating too little food downregulates your body, slows your metabolism, increases stress, and worsens energy and recovery.
You need to eat protein to protect and preserve muscle mass. You need to eat fats to keep joints lubricated and healthy. You also need fats for healthy hormones, which is crucial for recovery because poor hormonal health increases stress…which worsens recovery.
Most importantly, you need carbohydrates. Carbs provide the glycogen which serves as the fuel for your workouts. Additionally, carbs post-workout not only will replenish glycogen but will also bring down cortisol…helping you recover. IF you don’t lower that cortisol (through food and stress-relieving activities), melatonin can’t be released at night…so your sleep will be broken and your body will not repair and heal itself from the previous day.
Lastly, hydrate and replenish electrolytes. Drink 8-10oz every hour and add roughly a tsp of salt to each meal.
4. Active Recovery
NOW we’re into active recovery. This is added movement that is going to help your recovery. The biggest form of active recovery is added cardio, whether it’s walking, running, biking, swimming, or rowing, this is a way for you to get the blood flowing without having to lift weights and put joints and muscle under the fatigue from lifting.
I recommend using lower impact forms of active recovery such as walking, biking, or swimming. Additionally, I encourage active recovery to be used as a creative or social outlet. Go hiking or rock climbing. Go play spikeball with your friends. Go bowling or to the trampoline park.
A huge part of active recovery also ties in with your training program. Include deload weeks every 4-6 weeks in your training.
5. “Sexy” Recovery
Finally, all the recovery you want to do…but don’t necessarily need to be doing.
Here you’ve got cryotherapy, acupuncture, saunas, massages, cupping/needling, theraguns, electric muscle stimulation (such as Compex USA), etc.
These are fine if they’re what you enjoy doing and are willing to put forth the cash to do so, but they’re not the end all be all to your recovery. If you have a solid foundation in your training program, your passive recovery, and your nutrition, you most likely don’t need any of these.
Again, it’s completely okay if you want to pay the money…but understand that in some of these cases, no studies have even demonstrated successful recovery. Does that mean they don’t work? No. Take massages. It’s been proven that massages don’t promote recovery…but many people would say that they do work. This is because it’s a relaxation technique that helps you feel better.
It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just that you should build the foundation first…then by all means do all the sexy recovery you want.
Now, in some cases, they are completely necessary. This is especially true in cases of injuries. Not sure if you’re one of those cases? Consider seeing a professional, such as a physical therapist, who understands these more complicated techniques and when they’re appropriate.
Recovery is oftentimes the missing link in people’s training and nutrition. Lack of recovery could be the reason you’re not reaching your goals.
You need to be training smart, eating well, and encouraging your body to recover…you also need to be giving it the time and space to recover. Take rest days (true rest days). Not every day has to be 15,000 steps and 200 active minutes. Your body needs its space. Let me promise you that if you do give your body rest days and recovery days, you won’t lose progress. You won’t gain weight. You won’t fail your diet or your training program. You’ll actually be doing what your body needs and wants.