Ever since we opened the doors of our training gyms, recovery weeks have been built into the training schedule. This is not an accident. Neither is it just "vacation time" for Dean and Nancy, although those are the only weeks we can schedule time off.
To me recovery is instinctual. Training hard is taxing on the body and the mind. There is a point where your CNS (Central Nervous System" says NO MORE, and training starts to make you worse, not better. Our goal is that you never reach anywhere close to that point. We were doing "recovery" before recovery was cool, and we ain't a gonna stop now! 🙂
In fact proper recovery between workouts is factored in as we design your training program as well. It's one of the reasons we do not have regular training on Wednesdays. Two days on, one day off, two days on, two days off is by design. More is not better, better is better.
As I have gotten older, I have become even more sensitive to recovery. I recently read a book by science writer Christie Aschwanden called "Good to Go". The subtitle is "What the athlete in all of us can learn from the strange science of recovery".
The science of recovery is pretty new, and there are some pretty weird, wild and yet-to-be-proven things that people do to recover. From recovery pajamas to float tanks, the book examines it all.
When it comes down to it, what we are trying to do is recover from the systemic stress that is placed on our body and mind on a daily basis. This is hardly just training stress. Work, kids, traffic, politics, illness - you name it, there are a lot of stressors in life. We want to manage the overall stress load in order that we can achieve physical and athletic improvement.
The biggest take home I got from the book is no secret - the #1 thing you can do to de-stress, and enhance recovery is sleep. Not always easy, I know. You are talking to a guy whose alarm goes off before 4:00am. I get it. But I do what I can to get as much as I can whenever I can.
I have used a lot of different tools to measure my recovery over the years. Right now I am testing a piece of software called RestWise, which monitors overall training load based on objective measures such as Resting Heart Rate (RHR), HRV, SpO2, and Weight fluctuations, as well as subjective measures such as energy and mood. It's pretty interesting, and they boast clients from pro sports teams and olympic athletes.
If you don't want to get that fancy, one of the simplest ways to monitor your recovery is to measure and log your Resting Heart Rate every morning when you get up. I use one of these $15 devices to take my pulse and SpO2 every morning - takes about 30 seconds. If your RHR is trending up, it's a good sign your recovery is compromised.
The bottom line. Enjoy your recovery week. It is a purposeful part of your training plan, and just like your don't want to miss workout days, you don't want to miss recovery days. You WILL NOT de-train in 7-10 days, so chill out - you are NOT a unicorn.
If you want more on the science of recovery, keep reading.
Train Hard. Recover Harder.
Our recovery weeks are what I would call Macro-Recovery. In other words we take a planned week off every training phase in order to let the body rest up from hard training and get ready for the next phase.
The Recovery Curve
I saw the recovery curve for the first time during my time with Australian physical preparation coach Ian King. His principles laid the foundation for the way we program, train and especially recover here at Get Fit NH. The principles that work with professional athletes apply to us too!
The following illustrates a “good” recovery curve:
The green line represents what we are all looking for – continual, never ending progress over time. We are getting stronger, faster, thinner, better looking (ok at least that’s what I wish for).
Reality Check – ain’t gonna happen. The process of changing your body is not linear, in fact what we are looking at in an optimal training environment is more of a “One step back brings me Two steps forward”.
A closer look at the chart will help explain what I mean.
The red line represents Equilibrium. This is where your body wants to stay, no matter if your goal is losing fat, gaining lean, or both. As you have no doubt found out, forcing your body to change is hard work – really hard work. When you walk into Get Fit NH, our training is designed to elicit that change. But it’s not as simple as “working out” day after day after day. In fact as I am about to illustrate, training without proper recovery is actually hurting you, not making you better.
The blue line represents the “recovery curve”. Starting at the left hand of the chart all the lines intersect. For this illustration that point is where your first training occurred – you “worked out”.
But what’s going on?
Instead of performance going up, that line is actually heading down – this is what is called Depletion. If you think about it makes sense – you have worked hard, you are fatigued, your body is depleted of nutrients – you are spent!
Don’t worry, your body will get over it, if you treat it right! This is what we call Adaptation. Your body wants to be able to handle the increased demand that was placed on it, and starts the process of getting better.
You are in charge of if and how fast that happens. A few of the factors that influence this adaptation include recovery nutrition, stress levels, sleep habits, supportive nutrition, age, and training history.
The recovery curve continues with Supercompensation. Here is how Coach King describes this process:
“It is only when recovery is allowed that we see the super-compensation effect, the unique phenomenon where the bodies physical capacity is elevated in response to training, in anticipation of another exposure to the same stimulus.” – King, I, 1999/2000, Foundations of Physical Preparation
In other words your body has gotten better in response to your training, a new Equilibrium is established and this state is when we will ideally train again. Our programming at Get Fit NH is carefully designed to give this the best chance of occurring, but as I hope you are discovering, you have a lot to do with this with how you treat your recovery!
As you can see, when things are clicking, this process when repeated over and over means you are getting better and better, the blue line is headed up – pretty cool!
The flip side to all this is what happens when the recovery process isn’t working so well.
This chart represents recovery gone “bad”:
When we continue to train in a state of “Depletion”, regardless of the reason, the adaptation to super-compensation effect doesn’t occur, and instead of getting better, we find ourselves in a downward cycle. This can happen when we train the same muscle groups too soon, when we haven’t taken the steps described above to recover optimally (sleep and nutrition for instance) regardless of time between training, when we train too hard coming off an illness, etc. The last thing we want to happen is new equilibrium to be established in a downward pattern – not good.
The long and short of it is your body absolutely needs to recover from hard training. Consistently training in a fatigued state results in injury and illness. Your body is an amazing machine designed to put up with a lot, but it was also designed to need rest. Recovery weeks provide that rest.
If you want to know more about the recovery tools I use and why you should consider them, hit me up and let's talk.