Are your knees sore or stiff? Do your muscles ache for days after exercise? Is it difficult to get out of bed in the morning? Has there been a recent decline in your exercise performance or energy levels? Have you experienced a loss of strength or desire to exercise?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, it may be necessary to evaluate your exercise frequency, intensity, time, type, and RECOVERY.
Recovery is a generic term used to describe a return to a state of performance readiness. Recovery involves both physical and mental restoration. Replenishing nutrient and energy stores, a return to normal physiological function, a decrease in muscle soreness, and the disappearance of psychological symptoms (irritability, anxiety, disorientation) are all necessary to perform at your very best. Whether you are a high performance athlete, a weekend warrior, or you exercise for general health or aesthetic reasons; recovering from exercise sessions is essential for success. Understanding and applying the five elements of recovery will allow for successful training adaptation, resulting in improved performance, and a decrease in the risk for injury.
Progressive overload is an organized way of applying a greater-than-normal stress to the body systems over time. Our bodies actually respond to stress by adapting to it, in order to cope with it better. As your fitness improves, it takes a greater exercise stimulus to enhance performance, create physiologic change, and prevent training plateaus. Professional athletes and high level sports and fitness competitors utilize this training principle all the time.
To understand the value of recovery, it is important to first understand the fundamental principles of “progressive overload” in training.
Periodization – A well-designed training program will progressively and systematically overload the body systems and fuel stores over time. Training variables will be manipulated while periods of recovery are integrated into the plan.
Adaptation - Exercise in and of itself is not enough to produce results. Our bodies need time to recover and adapt to training.
Workload – If the workload is too much, is applied too quickly, is performed too often, or if the intensity of the workload is too great, injury will likely result and performance will decline.
Exercise Stimulus – If exercise stimulus is insufficient to overload the body, then adaptation will not occur and performance will likely stay the same or decline over time.
Fatigue – To encourage adaptation and reduce post-training fatigue, it is important to incorporate periods of both passive and active recovery.
Recovery – The more quickly you can recover from fatigue and adapt to a training stimulus, the more able you will be to enhance performance and stay injury free.
So, what exactly are you recovering from? Fatigue – the overloading of body systems. Fatigue is multi-factorial and can present itself in a number of different ways. Table 1 provides an overview of the different types of fatigue, and examples of how this fatigue may occur.
RECOVERY AND RESTORATION STRATEGIES FOR AN ACTIVE LIFESTYLE
Recovery does not have to be difficult. Some planning and the implementation of a few simple strategies will have you on the path to success in no time. To take the guesswork out of this process, please refer to the “Recovery Pyramid” in Table 2. The pyramid provides a hierarchy for the recovery process. Level one provides foundational strategies, while levels two, three and four add additional good recovery practices.
Sleep/Rest (passive and active): Sleep is one of the most important forms of rest. Sleeping is like hitting the reset button. Restful sleep allows for adaptation to the physical and mental demands of exercise. Additional forms of passive rest include reading, listening to music, and watching TV. Active rest may include activities such as walking, cross-training, biking, swimming, or anything recreational that requires movement at low intensities.
Nutrition (refuel, rehydrate): Rehydration and refueling are key to recovery. Physical activity causes an increase in heat production and fluid loss through sweat, which can lead to dehydration. Maintaining proper hydration can be achieved through adequate fluid intake before, during, and after activity. Refueling within one hour after exercise with high quality proteins and carbohydrates will accelerate the recovery process, replace muscle and liver glycogen stores, and begin protein synthesis (the rebuilding and remodeling of muscle tissue).
Periodization Programming (cycling training): Periodization is the foundation of any training program. A well-thought-out and planned training regime applies the principle of “progressive overload” and incorporates recovery periods within the training schedule. This planning will allow for adaptation, recovery, and improvement each time you exercise.
Reactive Programming (based on individual needs): Once a plan is in place, accept that there will be times when you need to deviate from it in order to recover. The ability to read your body and how you feel is extremely important in the process. If you pushed your body to its limits and are fatigued, rest (passive /active) may best the option for you. The bottom line is this:
Exercise does not build muscle, decrease fat, or improve cardio-respiratory fitness; exercise is only the stimulus for this change to occur. RECOVERY is when adaptation takes place and the body gets fit!
Active Warm-Up /Cool-Down: An active warm-up should be performed before each exercise session to prepare your body for activity. A warm-up gradually increases core body temperature, blood flow, and muscle elasticity, and prepares the central nervous system for activity. The cool-down is performed at the end of the exercise session and is designed to gradually reduce heart rate and respiration, and bring the body back to a pre-exercise state.
Stretching / Myofascial Release: Stretching should be performed during the cool-down period to improve muscle elasticity, remove waste products, reduce muscular tension and soreness, and bring the cardiovascular system back to rest.
Ice: Incorporate icing as part of your recovery routine to reduce exercise-related inflammation and microtrauma. Icing will accelerate the recovery process and help keep you active and feeling great for years to come.
Pool Exercise for Recovery: Performing 15-30 minutes of active recovery exercise in the pool after a day of intense or long duration training is an excellent way to accelerate the recovery process. The buoyancy and fluid resistance of the water places minimal impact on joints and reduces the effects of gravity on the body. Light to moderate basic swimming strokes, walking (forwards and backwards), aqua jogging, and aqua stretching are all examples of excellent recovery exercises.
Massage: Incorporating massage as part of the recovery process may have the following benefits:
Increased removal of lactic acid, blood flow, enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery to fatigued muscles.
Warming, kneading, and stretching of soft tissues increases flexibility, aids in the removal of knots and adhesions, and reduces microtrauma.
- Decreases the feeling of fatigue.
- Increases muscle and soft tissue relaxation.
- Improves mood state.
Contrast Baths: Alternating hot and cold has been shown to accelerate recovery through vasodilatation (increase) and vasoconstriction (decrease) of blood flow to the working muscles, removal of lactic acid, and nervous system stimulation (hot and cold stimulation). Contrast baths have been shown to improve muscle function, reduce muscle damage, and decrease soreness associated with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
Mind – Body: Mind-body exercise combines fluid body motion with cerebral focus on movement and breathing to improve strength, balance, flexibility, and overall health. Examples of mind-body exercises include some forms of yoga, tai chi, and meditation.