Principles of Training Part 3: Recovery
We've all heard the old-school sayings like "no pain no gain," and "train insane or stay the same." But if that was actually true, then why isn't everyone who works hard in the gym an elite athlete already? It's because good training isn't that simple, and so in this article, we'll be looking at the third principle of training, recovery. Specifically, we'll be looking at why recovery is important, the different types of recovery, how much time you need to recover, and how you can actually improve your own recovery from training.
Let's get started, shall we?
Why Recovery Is Important
Training is a stress that you place upon your body, it is catabolic, meaning that it breaks your body down. In order to actually build muscle, increase strength and improve fitness, your body needs adequate amounts of recovery time, which is anabolic, meaning that it repairs your body. The principle of recovery simply states that without enough recovery your body never gets a chance to repair itself, so you'll never see any positive adaptations to training (you won't get bigger, faster or stronger)
The Different Types of Recovery
Muscular This is the type of recovery most of us think of. Your muscles hurt after training, but in 24-48 hours the pain subsides, and you can say that your muscles have more-or-less recovered from the stress.
This one's a little trickier because things like tendons and ligaments don't get DOMS, so you can't easily tell how beat up or recovered they are. The best you can do is be aware of any low-level aches and pains around major joints.
Training places stress on your skeletal system. In the long-run, this is a good thing as it strengthens your bones. However, chronic overuse without enough recovery can lead to injuries like microfractures.
Your nervous system is responsible for the coordination and activation of all your muscles. Generally speaking the more complex the movement, and the more force production required, the more your nervous system will be stressed. Nervous system stress is most detectable through losses of explosive power, coordination reductions, and an overall sense of fatigue.
Mental stress from training is very real. High-level athletes across almost every sport deliberately take off-seasons and breaks from training in order to recover their mental energy. This type of recovery is also complex because other life factors (relationships, work etc) can significantly impact it.
How Much Time Do You Need to Recover From Training?
As much as I hate to say it..."it depends". On things like...
The type of training
How hard you're training
How often you're training
The amount of pressure you're under
And a few more factors beyond this
So all I can do is give you some general guidelines. Generally speaking, if you're training 2-4 times per week, with moderate difficulty, in a sport like middle-distance running, and you're competing at a low level with not too much pressure, you won't need very much recovery. Occasionally taking a day off or an easy day should be close to all you need. On the other hand, if you're training 4-6 times per week with moderate to high difficulty in a heavy strength sport like weightlifting/powerlifting/strongman, or worse yet in a contact sport like rugby, then you'll likely have much higher recovery needs. This is especially true if you're competing under pressure at a high level.
Run through the list above and try to decide where on the spectrum of recovery demands your training falls.
How to Improve Your Recovery From Training
Alright, so you're convinced that you need to follow the principle of recovery. But what are some things that you can actually do to improve your recovery?
1) Sleep More
Sleep is the number 1 factor for recovery, beyond food, drugs and anything else you can think of. Even a single night without good quality sleep can wreck your training. Take it seriously, get to bed at a reasonable time and aim for at least 8 hours per night.
2) Eat More Food Being in a calorie surplus is one of the biggest, most proven ways to improve your recovery from every single type of training. 3) Eat Better Food As much as the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) crowd would love it to be true, a calorie is NOT just a calorie. 3000 calories worth of quality proteins, carbs and vegetables per day is going to help your recovery far more than 3000 calories worth of junk food.
4) Drink More Water So many of the athletes that start working with me don't drink anything like enough water, so one of the first things I do is ask them to buy a litre bottle, fill it up in the morning and make sure it's drunk by mid-afternoon. Even a small amount of dehydration impacts recovery, so drink plenty of water throughout the day . Forget the fancy stuff. Forget saunas and ice baths and massage and cupping and all those random extras. The science is inconclusive at best. Focus on consistently doing the 4 points I've mentioned above, and you'll be following the best, most evidence-based approach to recovery.
The Principle of Recovery From Training Summary
Recovery is important in order to actually make progress in your training. There are numerous different types of recovery to consider, and the amount of recovery that you need varies based on a number of factors. To maximise your recovery, focus on sleeping more, eating more, drinking more and consuming higher-quality food sources. That's it for today. Feel free to check out my other articles on the principles of training... Part 1: Specificity Part 2: Overload Part 3: Recovery (You're here) Part 4: Variation (Coming soon) Part 5: Individualisation Part 6: Reversibility And as always, if you're looking for intelligent guidance and programming from a coach you can trust, you can book a call to chat with me here. 'Til Next Time Alex
MSc Strength & Conditioning
British Weightlifting Tutor/Educator