No pain, no gain? Is feeling bad after a hard workout necessary or, to take things further, is the amount of fatigue we feel proportional to the efficacy of a workout? Let’s take a look at an often-overlooked aspect of training: the importance of recovery!
Most people have the mindset that training is training and recovery is recovery; that these are separate and distinct from each other. In reality, they are tighter knit than you think! Remember, you break down your body while you train and rebuild it as you recover. Hard training demands serious recovery. Making sure that your body recuperates better and faster does not only improve gains, it also mitigates the ill effects of fatigue.
Here are a few tips on how you can recover faster and bounce back stronger:
- Recovery starts with the right program. The right training load has the biggest impact on our body’s ability to recover. Volume, intensity, and frequency of training sessions take its toll on our body. If we don’t nail each aspect properly, we are destined to fail. Doing too much too soon is a common pitfall for overzealous fitness enthusiasts. This can lead to injury, burnout, or over-training.
TIP: Don’t challenge yourself every single workout. Make it a point to do easier/shorter sessions 2-3x a week and a more challenging round once a week. Better yet, get the help of a competent coach!
- Get stronger with a proper diet. If you remember the law of conservation, the same principle applies to our bodies. For us to do work, we need to fuel ourselves properly. Yes, we do tap into our stored fat and carbohydrates for fuel but this can be a taxing process when we under-fuel ourselves. This is often seen with people who engage in crash diets or diet fads – they lose weight but they also lose a lot of muscle, feel lethargic, and suffer from long-term problems.
TIP: Begin by avoiding refined carbs or sweets, eating more vegetables and protein, and limiting fried food or animal fat. This often results in significant weight loss already. If you want to take it a step further, keep an eye on your calories and your macros (carbs, fats, protein). Aim for a calorie deficit that will allow you to lose 1-2lbs per week. This is more sustainable as it’s not as stressful on your body.
- Mobility is key! Mobility is defined as the ability of a joint to actively move through a range of motions. In layman’s terms, it’s a combination of both strength and flexibility. Why is this important? Proper mobility can not only lessen the occurrence of injuries, but can also delay the onset of fatigue. For example, we’ve often seen people complain of sore hip flexors or a bum back after a long or hard run. They keep stretching and kneading it to no avail. What’s surprising is that the main culprit is bad hip mobility. This causes an imbalance in their run form that leads to nagging pain or injuries. Instead of passively addressing the problem, an active approach (mobility work) is more beneficial.
TIP: Strength training is important. However, ditch the bodybuilding routine and focus on more practical exercises that target the often-neglected (yet still very important) muscles. Start with bilateral exercises (both legs) then progress to unilateral (single leg) ones. Tools like resistance bands can also come in handy for these types of workouts. When in doubt, consult a physical therapist!
- Your body needs a little bit of help in the healing process. When tired, our first notion is to rest. However, passive rest oftentimes doesn’t solve the problem entirely. Have you ever felt nodules on your calves, quads, back, etc.? Those are scar tissues deeply ingrained in your muscle fibers. They limit mobility, strength, and can often lead to other injuries. The sad part is, they don’t go away with just rest. I’ve been an advocate of myofascial release and other similar modalities (blading, shockwave therapy, etc.) that address this problem. This isn’t your regular massage as it’s specific to the range of motion and movement of your muscles. Think of it as a way to maintain your body’s tip-top shape!
TIP: Try getting released once a week or so. This is especially true if you have nagging injuries or tightness that can be problematic. Take note though that this is not a substitute for a proper diet, strengthening, and a good program.
- Recovery tools can come in helpful but don’t abuse them! The term recovery tools is vague as it is an umbrella term for a lot of things: supplements, taping, massage guns, etc. Physician’s Hippocratic Oath “Primum non nocere” (First, do no harm) is a core principle here. As long as these recovery tools aid the individual without causing any damage (short or long-term), they are often given a pass. When it comes to effectivity though, this is a controversial (and separate) topic by itself. Some would swear by their claims while others would cite the placebo effect. Remember, each claim will have a counter-claim; sometimes we just have to give it a try!