Basic Recovery and Training Misconceptions
Recovery is one of the most misunderstood and underutilized parts of training. In my years as a coach, one common trend is people training copious amounts of volume at random; followed by poor nutrition and sleep practices. If their training age (years of collected training) is moderate to high, they have some resiliency to initially handle this building stress. However, the body can and only will handle so much stress before it starts to break. This results in fatigue, strength loss, agitation, and potential injury. We take for granted how well our bodies handle stress. The trend for modern gyms is to attack what I like to call the “dopamine effect.” Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that elicits that “good” feeling. These gyms promote high intensity and “hard” workouts to bring in potential clients. The sympathetic nervous system (your flight, fight, or freeze response) is what they’re stimulating. That’s why people that can be defined as “type A” or “high strung,” are attracted to these types of training programs. Training these intensities leave you with that euphoric feeling of accomplishing a hard workout. The down side to this style of marketing is that these gyms don’t really care how well you’re recovering from this stress. Overtime, your ability to metabolize the stress hormone cortisol will lessen and along with storing fat, you’ll have trouble sleeping. As we continue to train these intensities day in and day out, we dip further into a catabolic (breakdown) state. Eventually the CNS is heavily taxed, the hormones are out of whack, and you feel “burned out.”
This is why copy and paste programming and high volume high intensity programming is dangerous . As a coach, gym owner, and programmer, it is my responsibility to write as balanced of a program as I can and make changes when necessary. Teaching progressions and aerobic sustainability, instead of intensity, intensity, intensity, is the means to a long and fulfilling training year and years. When people are left to their own devices, they will over program for themselves because of how they “feel” THAT DAY. Disregarding the rest of the week, month, and year. That’s one of the reasons I reiterate that its an accumulation of training days that gets results, not one day. In this modern era, the mindset is predominately on the result, not the process. “I need to be at this weight.” “I want to be this strong.” “I need to run this fast.” These are all great goals if we respect the process. The training journey can be a beautiful and humbling experience if we take the time to be present in it.
How To Recover
First, let’s understand that it is really simple. We over complicate this. You need 7-10 hours of sleep. I don’t care if you think you can handle 4-6 hours, that’s arrogance hiding a problem. Being warm blooded mammals, our body temperature does some damage to our brains and other tissues. Sleep is the prescription to become as anabolic as possible. It helps restore your muscles, hormones, brain chemistry, and immune system. Learning to down regulate from the overly stimulated modern lifestyle becomes crucial to having a good sleep routine. Removing blue light from phones, Tv’s, tablets, etc. 2 hours before bed helps reduce this stimulation. Practicing breathing and short forms of meditation can alleviate anxiety and an overly active brain. Respecting that this routine takes months to build not days, is a good way to start.
A little information on nutrition and recovery. If you are eating 21 meals a week and 14 of them are of poor nutritional value, you aren’t allowing the body to utilize the vitamins and minerals it needs to fully recover. You may also be over taxing the gut which can lead to an autoimmune response and cause more catabolism. Shoot for majority of your meals to have a quality source of nutrition and you’ll notice better energy levels, bowel movements, and GAINZZZ. Since this post is on recovery and not nutrition, I’ll sum up nutrition as this: keep it simple, popular diets work in short term but rarely in long term for majority of people, it’s a good practice to measure food for developing an understanding of the value of portions so you can mitigate overeating or undereating.
Learning to handle stress is probably one of the hardest skills to develop. I used to think that some people just have a bad temper. The truth is that they have trouble controlling their emotions and are reactive, resulting in a dump of adrenaline. Adrenaline is a great hormone, but if it’s over utilized it can really create problems. A good practice is working on breathing through stress and letting yourself become less reactive. Regardless of how hard you train and clean you eat, if you’re neurotic, negative, overwhelmed, etc., the body will not adapt accordingly. The more we can be in a parasympathetic state (rest and digest), the better we can recover. Down regulation at the end of a stressful day is very important to get into that PS state. You may have to give yourself a time frame of when you won’t be available to answer emails, calls, or texts. In the long run, you can give yourself a means to a better quality of life.
Training, Stretching, Active Recovery
Your body will only burn so many calories in a day. Doing more volume with the idea that you’ll get leaner, is wrong. I’m sorry, the body doesn’t work that way. Being in a certain heart rate zone may not actually burn fat like it’s sold to do. However, it does sell heart rate monitors and memberships. If we look at training as an accumulation of reps that will go on for years, we should strive for quality over quantity. Using fitness to make you feel better about yourself is great if you respect it. If you abuse it, by doing 3-4 workouts in a 2-3 hour period for example, you will see negative side effects over time. Also, doing 1 class a day and then sitting around the rest of the day isn’t beneficial either. Get out of the gym and away from urban stresses. Go on a hike, plant a garden, or ride a bike.
Stretching can be a useful tool for down regulation. Try not to self-diagnose if you’re tight but hold a position for a few minutes and breathe through it. It also doesn’t have to be done every day and overdoing it can lead to more tissue breakdown. Just be honest with it. Utilize it to prepare you for bed but don’t treat it like training.
Active recovery should be cyclical (bike, run, row) and low intensity. You’re simply trying to elicit blood flow. Utilizing carries and holds can also be thrown in but shouldn’t be too strenuous. Locomotion is trending and is a great way to move through different planes and help acquire more mobility along the way.
Keep it simple. Try to enjoy your time and don’t get lost in the results. Breathe through stress. Sleep more and eat better food. Remember that missing a workout isn’t the end of the world and you don’t have to make it up.