You’re serious about your training, and that’s great! Consistent effort is what will determine your success in reaching your goals.
But if you’re not as “hardcore” about your recovery as you are about your training, you risk undermining your efforts. Proper rest and recovery is at least half–maybe more–of the health and fitness equation.
While intense training can be beneficial and necessary for many goals, part of that training includes breaking the body down. You need to balance that out by allowing the body to build itself back up. And that’s where proper recovery techniques are essential. When you prioritize recovery, you’ll have a much easier time reaching your goals.
In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of recovery, go through some important strategies, and address some common questions and concerns.
Do You Really Need to Spend Time on Fitness Recovery?
For people who train intensely and regularly, the idea of taking a break and allowing the body to recover can sometimes feel like a cop-out.
After all, so much of our capacity for training is really mental, rather than physical. For most of us, mental fatigue is far more of an issue, and if we isolate the physical aspect, our bodies can probably handle a lot more than we think.
But, of course, there are a couple of issues with this.
- For one thing, isolating the physical aspects from the mental is impossible. The connection between the mind and the body is very real, and trying to emphasize one to the detriment of the other will only lead to trouble in both arenas.
- It’s common to overdo things and burn yourself out before you even realize that’s happening. This is where autoregulation comes in handy, as it will help you pinpoint when you’re pushing yourself too hard.
Whether or not you are acutely aware of your body’s (and mind’s) need for recovery, it’s an essential part of keeping yourself healthy, while continuing to move steadily toward your goals.
If you don’t give yourself the time you need for proper recovery, you risk injuries and other setbacks due to fatigue and burnout. In the next section, I’ll share four simple strategies that will help you speed up your recovery time, so you can make the progress you want.
Four Essential Strategies to Speed Up Fitness Recovery
Recovery has become something of a hot topic in the functional fitness community, which is good, of course. But I’ve seen some recommendations that tend to overcomplicate things. You don’t need fancy gadgets or special supplements for recovery.
The four strategies I’ll show you below are very simple and they work.
1. Keep Moving for Reduced Muscle Fatigue After Exercise
One common mistake intense trainees make is avoiding movement on rest days.
You might think that lazing on the couch is a great way to let your body recover, but in fact, your body will recover from a tough training session much better if you keep moving.
The physical benefits of movement include improved circulation, digestion, and functional mobility. You may train hard and stretch and move your body in all kinds of great ways in your 90-minute workout session, but that leaves you another 22.5 hours (minus sleep) in the rest of your day.
Simple movements like we show in our relaxation routine can do wonders:
If, like most people in the Western world, you spend most of your time sitting, it’s especially important to keep your body moving on your rest days. This will help you recover much more quickly and effectively.
2. Get Enough Food and Sleep for Exercise Recovery
Food is fuel, so you want to make sure that, as much as possible, you’re filling your body with good quality fuel (nutrient-dense foods, avoiding too much in the way of processed, empty calorie foods).
You have to know your own circumstances, but for many “hardcore” trainees, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough food to fuel your activities. If you do three or four intense training sessions per week, you’ll need more fuel than someone who does one or two intense sessions per week.
Sleep is certainly less complicated than diet, especially because the vast majority of people simply don’t get enough sleep. If you work on getting even one more hour of sleep than you do now, you’ll be doing great.
We basically have a built-in reset button that helps us recover and repair our bodies every night. If you’re not taking advantage of this and getting enough good, quality sleep, you’re really missing out. And it will catch up with you eventually.
3. Be Realistic and Consistent
I can’t stress this enough: consistent effort is the most important thing that will determine whether you reach the milestones you want, or you’re left sitting on the sidelines.
The disconnect for most people is how to be consistent.
Of course, prioritizing recovery is one of the key parts of staying consistent for the long haul, as injuries and burnout are common monkey wrenches for consistent practice.
Another key, though, is having a healthy dose of realism.
It’s all too common to have expectations of yourself that don’t really match up with the realities of what your body (or your mind) can handle, whether that’s on a particular day or over the course of a program.
Doing a realistic amount of work aids your body’s natural recovery process. Progressive overload done right also strengthens your recovery ability and you’ll be able to handle more work in the long run. But push beyond your current capacities too often and you’ll quickly discover that it’s not the best idea for sustained growth and improvement.
Our bodies are great at adapting to stress–it’s a simple formula for self-improvement. However:
- Too much stress, and we’ll break ourselves down.
- Not enough stress, and we won’t grow.
But just the right amount of stress, and we grow and benefit from the experience. And, equally importantly, we’ll be able to stay consistent with our efforts this way.
4. Improve Recovery by Making Time for Mindful Reflection
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to start sitting on a mountaintop in solitude.
Mindful reflection may sound kind of “woo-woo” but really, it’s just about being more present and mindful in your life (including in your training). This is an important part of our training methodology for a reason.
Prioritizing mindfulness will help you get as much benefit as possible from the training you do, and will help you recover better in between your training. In this article, you’ll learn a lot more about how to bring mindfulness into your training, but on your recovery days, I also highly recommend practicing some form of meditation.
Here’s a really short and simple breathing meditation I like to use to aid in my recovery process. This simple technique may be both the easiest and most advanced mental training practice you’ll learn.
- In a comfortable position–choose sitting or lying down, and stay with it for a while before switching around–close your eyes and just observe your breath.
- Some teachers have you count, while others ask you to regulate the breath in some way. I’ve found it’s best just to “watch” your breath and concentrate not on controlling the inhale and exhale but simply to observe it.
- Set a timer and start at 5 minutes, adding a minute every day or so until you reach a max of 15 minutes.
- It will be difficult at first, just like everything that’s worthwhile, but keep at it. Don’t do anything but concentrate on how you are breathing. Don’t force it and soon you’ll find that you’ll be “losing” yourself and the timer will ding before you know it.
- The key, and I cannot stress this enough, is to not strain. You can’t force yourself to relax! Keep at it everyday but if in a session you find yourself working too hard to concentrate, it’s best to bag it and try again later.
You can also use an app like Headspace or Calm to aid you in this. Or, if breathing doesn’t do it for you, try bringing mindful awareness to another activity. Even something simple like washing the dishes can be a meditative activity if you approach it the right way.
FAQs About Fitness and Muscle Fatigue Recovery
Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time on recovery, but especially if you’re trying to make it a priority, you might have some questions. We get many questions and concerns from our clients and readers on this topic, so I thought I’d address the most common ones below:
My muscles are really sore and fatigued after working out yesterday. Is that bad? What should I do?
Muscle soreness is very normal, especially if you’re just starting a new program or working on some new exercises. It’s nothing to be concerned about.
With that said, there is a big difference between soreness in the muscles (which is totally fine), and pain in the joints (which is not). If you’re experiencing the latter after a workout session and the pain persists, you should go see a medical professional to see what’s going on.
As for how to handle muscle soreness, the best thing you can do is keep moving and stretching.
I know that’s uncomfortable when your muscles are really sore, but the increased blood flow will help you work through that soreness much more quickly.
My muscles didn't get sore after my last workout. Does that mean it didn't work?
This is a really common misconception. While muscle soreness is a normal occurrence, it’s not a necessary process for getting benefit from your training program.
In fact, the only way to ensure you’re always feeling sore after a workout is to keep changing your training program. I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but consistent practice is the only way to make lasting progress. If you keep changing your training program, you will never get the consistent practice you need to reach your goals.
Muscle soreness usually only lasts for the first week or so of a new program. When the soreness fades, that’s when the real benefits of consistent practice begin, so keep at it.
Should I be taking any specific supplements for recovery?
There is some research on certain supplements for certain aspects of recovery (Examine.com is a great resource for that), but truthfully, if you’re focusing on the other recovery strategies above, you’ll be fine without any fancy supplements.
And that’s especially true if you’re making sure you’re getting enough food, and particularly enough protein to keep your muscles supported.
What do you think about taking epsom salt baths?
Who doesn’t love a good soak in the tub?
While there’s no great evidence that magnesium (that’s what epsom salts are made of) is absorbed through the skin, there’s certainly no harm in adding some to a hot bath whether or not your muscles are feeling sore.
Don’t Neglect Your Fitness Recovery
If you’re serious about your training, you owe it to yourself to be serious about your recovery too. It’s not just a matter of being a good idea for your overall health, but you’ll also have a harder time reaching your goals if you’re not spending enough time on recovery.
The strategies in this article will take you far, and they work well alongside our free Body Maintenance Guide. If you have specific areas you’re concerned about keeping healthy and moving well, the Body Maintenance Guide will help you address those head-on.
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