Recovery: The Missing Link in Your Fitness Game
You know what’s really good for achieving your training and fitness goals? Not training.
No really. Giving it 110% every single day of the week, is bad math and (IMO) bad training.
In case you haven’t heard me preach about it before, rest and recovery are top of my list for getting hella strong, so let’s talk about how training less, lighter, or not at all can help improve your long-term progress.
How Does Recovery Work?
Recovery is one of the 3 steps of the adaptation process that rules any kind of physical progress – you know, the whole reason you’re in the gym in the first place.
This 3-step process, known as the ‘stress-recovery-adaptation’ cycle, is pretty straightforward:
You are stressing your muscles by making them do actual physical work, obv. But in the process, by placing muscles under mechanical stress, you also create *chemical stresses* that disrupt the structure of the muscle, which is the very first step to getting stronger.
This disruption sends a signal to your brain that your system needs repair; more specifically, repair to your muscles, joints and nervous system that have likely taken a beating from a solid workout.
Once your body has signalled for repair your metabolism snaps into action. With adequate rest and nutrient intake, your body will direct the necessary resources to help repair the damaged tissues.
Putting yourself into an optimal state of recovery will allow your body to heal and replenish itself. If you neglect your recovery, it will be more difficult for your body to rebuild efficiently (see *chemical stresses* above) and stay resilient to injury. Your body won’t have the optimal environment necessary to re-synthesize muscle, which is key for making adaptations to your training capacity. You’ll end up spinning your wheels in the gym and wind up in a plateau, even if you feel like your workouts are amped right up and tougher than ever.
As your body struggles to recover and regain homeostasis, it will supercompensate. Supercompensation is when the body prepares itself for future workout-stresses by improving the strength of muscles and joints. With adequate nutrition and rest, you can optimize supercompensation. You will improve the ability for muscles, tendons and ligaments to synthesize stronger, more abundant fibres which will help you bounce back faster, avoid injury and handle greater loads in future.
Rest Days: What, How and When?
Rest days might be difficult to wrap your head around if you’re a serious fitness enthusiast or professional athlete, but for most of us its going to be nice to take a day off and enjoy some R&R. If you are someone who obsessively trains 6 days a week and you are seeing plateaus in performance (guilty of this often enough over here), more time in the gym isn’t the answer. YOU. NEED. REST.
What is a Rest Day and How Should You Go About it?
Rest days are simply days when you don’t engage in your regular training regimen – you might exercise lightly here and there, which can actually help your recovery, but you’re not going to be busting your ass in the squat rack.
Rest days are all about winding down from training. If you’re reeeeeally good, you will take rest days as your opportunity to do your other training homework: putting dedicated time and effort into the things that improve your recovery and prepare you for more training. Think mobility, activation, and other more passive movement. Spending your rest day on the sofa watching re-runs is a perfectly acceptable way to spend your rest day, however it might not drive your recovery as well as it could. By contrast, spending that time stretching, foam rolling, taking a long walk or even a gentle run / swim can all be amazing forms of active recovery.
Rest days are most definitely about relaxing, but they’re not meant to be a full stop. You’re a human – you’re not designed to be totally sedentary even when you’re resting. Try and find some simple, casual movement that you enjoy on these days. Rest days are also great opportunities for yoga!
When is a Rest Day Necessary?
One of the most important lessons here will come from just listening to your body. If you have a good coach, they will be able to recognize when you are ready or in need of some added rest and/or even a de-load in your training plan, but it is important to be able to recognize the signs yourself so you can take action.