People will often talk about the concept of over-training, where they have pushed the boundaries of their training a too far, resulting in negative adaptations.
Symptoms of over-training include physical and mental fatigue, prolonged muscle soreness, unquenchable thirst, altered mood, and more.
And it is a very real consideration.
Except that it is not an issue of over-training for most of us. What we're actually talking about if under-recovering.
Most of us are still training well within our physical capabilities and certainly within our absolute physical limits or potential.
The net affect is the same, but it is an important distinction.
The issue of recovery is not an athlete-only problem. It affects all of us who like to train intensely and is ultimately what determines our ability to push ourselves.
Anything that places demand on our system requires additional mental and physical recovery. This includes factors such as work, financial stress, emotional angst, and of course hard exercise, amongst others.
It is not just about what you do in you workouts three or four times per week, you must include the broader influences in your life.
We all have different constitutions for stress, which of course means that the variables and considerations will be specific to us.
But there is only so much stress that any of us can recover from.
You can only train over an extended period of time to the degree to which you can recover.
Or, said another way, there is a direct correlation between how well you recover and how hard you can train repeatedly.
It is not the training that you are doing is too much, more the recovery strategies that your are employing that are not enough.
So what can we do if you want to push the training envelope and what strategies can we employ that will allow us to train hard, for longer, more frequently?
Here are seven of the ones that we highlight @W10.
1. Daily monitoring
The best way to measure how you are recovering is by asking yourself how you feel today.
Am I ready to train?
Do I feel motivated to go to the gym?
Or am I looking for any reason to get out of going?
It is true that getting to know yourself better comes with experience, and that this is of course subjective, but in the end, who else is better placed than YOU are to tell YOU how physically and mentally ready YOU are to train?
You can also use more tangible markers, such as morning heart rate or temperature, grip strength, or even more advanced strategies such as Heart Rate Variability (HRV), all of which can be hugely valuable.
And I would recommend that you do in the beginning.
I personally use HRV, because it is east to use and I find it to be accurate according to my energy levels.
On my 'green days' I push hard, and on my 'red days', I back off.
Whatever you use, you need to learn when to push and when to back off.
This is a bit of a curve ball, a cop out even, but it is something that many of us do not think of - we just don't frame things this way.
Probably in part because it is the most un-sexy bit of advice that you will ever receive.
Pre-recovery is the broad term for all of the things that you do day-to-day BEFORE your workouts.
Not after your workout, before.
It is all very well worrying about pre and post workout shakes and other fancy supplements, but nothing will trump doing the lifestyle basics well.
At the risk of sounding airy-fairy and inviting a few of you to roll your eyes, you need to nourish yourself holistically.
Call it 360° wellbeing if you prefer, same thing.
If you look after yourself from a 360° perspective, you will be much better equipped to handle increased training stress.
This includes eating and drinking (enough) of the right things, getting restful sleep, limiting stress, meditating, playing with the kids, or whatever else it is that helps you wind down and regenerate.
The basics done consistently by a happy and healthy individual is that best platform you can provide for training and recovery.
I like the umbrella analogy.
The wider and more solid our umbrella, the more wind, rain and hale that we can throw at it before we get wet.
Flimsy umbrellas can only withstand infrequent light showers.
But for those of us with a solid one, let it rain.
We have all been here before, but the triad of nutrition, hydration and sleep will always the biggest factors in recovery.
This can extend to advanced nutritional strategies for the more advanced trainees, but this still needs to be preceded by the basics.
We do it in stages at W10, as shown in our Nutritional Stages model.
Stage one is about eating and drinking the right things, which is predominantly foods from the green list of our Nutrition Made Simple traffic light system.
We all need the right balance of macro and micronutrients to function at our best, particularly over time.
If we do not give our body the protein that it needs for example, it will break down, and we will be unduly sore following our workouts.
It will always be about balance, and we need to work on getting this right for our own individual requirements.
Sing with me...
'Sleep, eat, train, repeat'.
This is the point where I should write something about the body being more than 70% water and how water impacts on every function of the body.
But it is true, water is hugely important.
Without adequate water everything else will be compromised.
Just drink your water.
As a guideline try and drink 1litre of water for every 25kg of bodyweight.
So if you weight 75kg that's 3litres per day.
If you have been drinking significantly less than this guideline amount, step your intake up slowly.
Sleep might be the most underrated supplement available.
Adequate sleep, especially long term, will be perhaps the biggest determining factor when it comes to recovery.
It is where we do most of both our physical and psychological regeneration, which cannot be made up for with anything else.
Poor sleep will negatively impact just about anything you can think of, including mood, energy levels, insulin sensitivity, and appetite amongst other things.
As anyone who has had young children can tell you, poor sleep equals food cravings, namely sugar, and little or no appetite for gym training.
Tired is a really bad place to be if you want to make progress in the gym.
The jury seems to be out on exactly how much we actually do need, and it will be hugely individual, but everyone agrees that we need enough.
A recommendation of 7-9hours a night seems a sensible one.
If you are serious about your training, you need to be serious about your sleep.
6. Periodized programming
One of the most ignored or not talked about aspects of recovery is properly structured programming.
This is especially true outside of elite athletic performance circles, where most people and their personal trainers are just 'doing a bunch of exercises and training hard'.
But that doesn't work in the long term.
That kind of scattergun approach might work at the beginning, but if you do not programme in a structured and progressive way, you are asking for trouble.
It might be as simple as factoring a lighter training week every third or forth week.
Or having hard days and active recovery days throughout each week.
Whatever it looks like for you and your individual circumstances, you need to plan in periods of hard work with periods of recovery.
This is called periodization.
And a properly periodized programme will ensure that you don't push yourself too hard, too often.
It will also ensure that you manage your energy levels according to your set of individual circumstances, meaning that you will get more from your training.
All of which means better results.
7. Soft tissue work
Foam rollers, soft balls and other forms of self-myofascial (SMR)relief are great, but they do not do compare to a good massage.
SMR is a bit like tickling yourself.
It's ok, but it's not quite the same.
A good soft tissue therapist will relieve tension in aching muscles, break down adhesions and trigger points, and help to drain the lymphatic system, amongst other things.
If you have the luxury of a weekly massage, do it.
For those of use who do not, a once a month 'tune-up' would be hugely beneficial.
If you don't have access to massage, get serious and good at SMR.
8. Epsom salt baths
I know I said seven and that this makes eight, but there is nothing better than your expectations being exceeded.
This is also my personal favorite for recovery and regeneration.
Take a bath.
Stick 500g of Epsom salts in a bath and soak in it for twenty minutes or more.
The heat and the bump in magnesium will help ease your tired muscles and will in all likelihood give you the best nights sleep in a long time.
Do this once per week.
It works wonders.
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