Recovery is part of training: prioritise it to prevent injuries
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Recovery is the time between the end of an exercise activity and the body’s return to a resting or recovered state. Effective recovery means being able to exercise again, feeling good, on an ongoing or sustainable basis. It's a critical part of any training or exercise plan in order for our bodies to be able to respond to exercise by adapting: getting stronger and fitter. If the volume or intensity of exercise is not balanced by necessary recovery then exhaustion and injury are sometimes the outcome instead.
Cool down and active recovery
Cool-downs immediately post exercise and easy recovery sessions are forms of active recovery which, involve moving at a lower level after a harder intensity effort to stimulate circulation and blood flow to the muscles. This clears accumulated blood lactate and hydrogen ions produced by exercise and also promotes nutrient exchange to replenish muscle glycogen and enable muscle repair faster than complete rest, helping accelerate recovery. So don’t skip the cool down at the end of an activity - a 5-10 minute gentle jog or easy spin maintains blood flow to muscles post exercise and starts the active recovery process. A recovery session boosts blood circulation to your muscles through low intensity activity in the days following high intensity or long duration activity to accelerate muscle repair and return muscles faster to a recovered state. Go easy so as to not place stress on tired muscles, most people go too hard in a recovery session.
Relax to recover
Having a massage, using a foam roller and compression tights can all boost circulation and continue to help the process of muscle recovery. They also feel good and help us relax, another effective route to recovery, as relieving muscle tension further facilitates effective blood flow to muscles.
Sleep is the biggest single contributor to recovery: its importance cannot be over-emphasised. During deep sleep, Stage 3 of non-REM sleep growth hormone is released which builds and repairs muscle tissue, promoting recovery and positive adaptation to training. While we sleep our muscles are relaxed which allows them to be relieved of tension and can reduce pain or soreness. Sleep also helps us learn and consolidate memories, including muscle co-ordination acquired from training. A lack of sleep impacts overall physical health: it may sometimes be elusive but prioritising it, and having good sleep hygiene, is essential. Could I be overtraining?
Overtraining can affect recreational athletes as well as those at an elite level, especially when a big training goal is squeezed in with significant work and other commitments. Signs are an unexpected decline in performance, persistent fatigue and muscle soreness, loss of motivation for training, mood changes including depression & irritability and insomnia. It can take weeks or months to recover through reducing training load but the risk can be reduced by:
- increasing training volume or intensity slowly, a general rule of thumb is no more than 10% increase in any week
- planning every 3rd or 4th week as a recovery week where training volume is decreased by about 20% and intensity is also dialled down
- listening to your body and having a day off, or replacing a hard session with an easier one, in response to feeling rundown