Forgotten recovery


How many times have you heard from your teachers, friends or fitness people the phrases “do more”, “try harder”, ” no pain no gain” etc.?  These are all very challenging words that are aimed at pushing you that little bit further in your physical and mental progression, but how often do you hear phrases such as “stop, have a rest”, “you should take a break”, “you need to recover”?

We all like to think that training to the maximum limits is the best way even though working out smarter is much healthier for our mind and body than working out harder.

It is common knowledge that the body needs times to recover, but we rarely hear about resting our nervous system, not to mention our psychological wellbeing. Overloading our systems is no good, too many stimulants pushes us into regression.

This issue of lack of emphasis on recovery has led me to do some research into how we can be more efficient in training.  The following information I have gleaned from reading such books as:

  • “Strength training anatomy” by Frederic Delavier; Michael Gundill
  • “Periodization Training for Sports” by Tudor Bompa; Michael Carrera

For those who are interested in finding out more about recovery, I would highly recommend the above two books.

So let’s start by looking at different types of recovery. We have five types of recovery system:

  • Energy recovery
  • Hormone recovery
  • Contractile system recovery
  • Joint and tendon recovery
  • Nervous system recovery

All of these systems in themselves will need time to recover.  The length of time required for regeneration depends upon the intensity of the workout and the technique(s) used.  All of us have our own unique recovery times.  The systems mentioned above differ in their “recharging” rate, not only because of the amount of time they need but also because they recover via different mechanisms.

  • Energy recovery – after working out our energy level is low and it should be topped up by nutrition and supplements.  If our nutrition intake is adequate our energy recovery should be completed in a few hours.
  • Hormone recovery – our hormone balance changes after an intense workout.  Our overall testosterone level will fall and cortisol levels will rise. This distortion should pass after 24-48 hours after an intense workout.  When completing workouts back to back with similar intensity the changes in our hormones will increase further as the body does not have time to recover to normal levels in between.  This is why it is recommended that people have a day or two to rest between similar workouts.
  • Contractile system – the recovery of small muscles after moderate workout takes around 16 hours, with larger muscles taking around 24 to 48 hours to recover, and so we can see that different parts of the body will recover at different rates.
  • Joint and tendon recovery – our joints during a heavy workout are put under a lot stress.  If we do not allow adequate time for recovery, over time we will slowly developed chronic pain and may experience limitations in movement and the loss of ability to do certain exercises. We have to be especially careful with larger joints as they are used in multiple exercises, for example the shoulders and hips.
  • Nervous system recovery – when training our brain sends signal to our muscles through a network of nerves.  Just like our muscles, our nervous system will get fatigued, which will result in the signals getting slower and weaker.  The recovery of the nervous system is very slow.  A study was published in the Journal of the Neurological Science  [2000 Deschenes] that showed that the recovery following a heavy thigh workout resulted in:
  1. Muscle soreness, which lasted for 5 days
  2. Loss of strength for 7 days
  3. Distortion of the nervous system for more than 10 days

Another system which needs recovery is our psychological system.  If we continuously workout without rest our body and brain becomes exhausted, which can lead to monotony and a lack of motivation that can stop our progression.  In the same way that we need to take holidays away from work, we need to take breaks from our sport/art.  If we take regular breaks from our workout routine to recovery our body and mind then after that break we will regain a feeling of hunger for training and when we start working out again we will progress.  The required length and frequency of these breaks will depend on the individual.  Some people will be refreshed after a couple of days, others after a couple of weeks.  Some people will want to take a yearly break from their training whilst others may have to take a break from their workouts once a month or once a week.

When resting all of our recovery systems this does not mean that we should just sit and do nothing.  Studies have shown that active rest speeds up recovery times in comparison to non-active.  That is why it is a good idea to engage in other light sports or activities when resting to stimulate other nerves paths and let the weary circuits have a deserved rest.

I hope that the next time someone says “no pain no gain”, “do more”, “be tough” we will also consider the possibility of doing smarter workouts and ensuring that we include resting as a part of our training regime…

Thanks for your time!

Please share this with a friend who could find this article helpful or interesting!

Regards, Les.

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