Simple and Effective Recovery Strategies for Increased Work Capacity
by Coach Michael Garrity
Ever since I became a strength coach and a personal trainer the most common question I receive from clients and athletes is “I want to see results fast, is it okay if I do extra workouts?”
This question is a loaded one; it takes more than just a simple post-WOD conversation to quench. The fact is, whether it be adding an extra strength session, cardiovascular workout, or an extra sports practice — people want to do everything they possibly can to hit their goals fast. However, in this age of instant gratification, it’s difficult for many to understand how physically and mentally taxing training at high volumes can be.
My first piece of advice for the athlete hoping to add extra credit to workouts would be this: TRUST THE PROCESS. Your coach or trainer has a curated plan for you; one he/she knows will garner results. And while you may not see them right away, if you are training consistently and doing your homework outside of the gym (proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle), you are going to achieve greater results than you expect over time; it just takes hard work and consistency. So before you start adding two-a-days into your schedule, stick to your current program as best as you can with as much devotion as possible to healthy choices outside of the gym. The results will come, I promise.
On the flip side, there are people who just flat out love training and want to push themselves to be better every day. If you truly wish to add in extra workouts, I am fully supportive of it. In fact, I know first-hand how effective training at high volume can be and, most importantly, how much fun it can be if executed properly. The key is ensuring it’s done properly and attention is paid to the strategies of how to maintain both the lifestyle and substantial physical commitment.
In order to become more fit and/or improve in your sport, the body must be exposed to the stresses of training. Once this has happened the body then needs time to adapt to the stresses, meaning the body must recover properly. Once recovery is dialed in, the athlete will begin to see his/her results.
Recovery is just as important as training when it comes to seeing results, but it is often neglected and overlooked because it is much more passive than the actual training. This is the foundation needed to be able to train consistently at a high volume; all while attempting to avoid overtraining and the nemesis of all fitness and athletic goals: injury. The following are some simple and extremely effective recovery strategies for the everyday athlete looking to add in an extra workout to not only increase their work capacity, but also see results faster.
1. Rest and “Deloading”
Training is designed to progressively overload the body systems and fuel stores, placing stress on the body. The more efficiently you recover from training stresses and fatigue (and the
fresher you are at your next training session) the better chance you have at improving and seeing results. One of the most important strategies for recovery? Sleep. It provides time for the body to adapt to the physical and mental demands placed on it through intense training. At least 8 hours of sleep per night should be sought after by an athlete in an intense program. However, one must ensure that these hours include quality sleep. Additional helpful strategies for passive recovery include reading or listening to music; these help the mind and body relax between sessions and recover from the physical and mental stresses of intense training. Also, simply occupying your mind with other activities or hobbies than training aid in the recovery process. People need time to focus on more relaxing activities where they are not worried about hitting a new weightlifting personal record or beating a certain time in a workout.
Another helpful strategy to increase recovery is to plan rest days and “deload” weeks throughout your program. Deloading entails scaling the loads and volume of training back from the prescribed amounts to let the joints decompress and allow the body to adapt. Plan recovery days within your training week to allow for rest and adaptation between heavy sessions. A simple format to follow is two days on and one day off. One can also plan and set up “deload” weeks for which the athlete still trains, but at far less intensity than usual — this allows the body to adapt to the stresses of the previous weeks. A strong format for deloading is three weeks on and one week off. It’s important to remember that during a deload week, you should continue to follow the same movements and exercises to keep the body active and help maintain commitment to the program.
In the pyramid of recovery, rest is the foundation — but hydration is the cornerstone that allows for the pyramid to stay intact. Athletes within an intense training program would not be able to maintain training at a high intensity without proper hydration, nor would they see the same results. Since you sweat during exercise, it should come to no surprise that Intense training will increase your fluid needs. Some people naturally sweat more than others but even small sweat losses can cause fatigue and impair recovery. What’s more, many people don’t realize just how dehydrated the body can become during training; especially if he / she isn’t drenched from head to toe post-workout. It’s imperative to be aware as hydration can impair many physiologic functions. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, effects of dehydration include: decreased blood pressure, increased core temperature, increased heart rate, decreased blood flow to the muscles, and increased perceived exertion — all of which leads to a tough time trying to recovery between sessions. Properly hydrating before, during and post-workout will help your body adapt to the stresses of intense training by regulating temperature, transporting nutrients and oxygen, detoxifying the liver and kidneys, and also dissolving vitamins and minerals which leads to better recovery by replenishing nutrients lost during exercise. Drinking the proper amount of water while training at high intensity also returns your muscles to the more supple/elastic state at which they were meant to move, allowing them to stretch and contract at a more efficient rate. This in turn allows you to move pain-free and with a decreased sense of exertion. In other words, less muscle soreness and enhanced recovery times between sessions.
The best way to estimate how much fluid you lose during a session (and how much fluid should be consumed) is to weigh yourself before and after exercise. Each pound of weight lost is equivalent to one liter of fluid lost. (Just a 2% loss in body fluid can lead to 10% decrease in performance.) These fluids must be replaced during and after exercise. In general, we need about 2-3 liters of water to function properly while adhering to an intense training program. However, if you are looking to add in extra sessions, I’d recommend aiming for at least a gallon of water per day.
3. Active Recovery Strategies
Within the realm of recovery strategies are some more active forms of recovery that allow the body to adapt to the stress of training and maintain performing at a high level. The first and easiest of these active strategies is mobility and flexibility training. Just like strength and conditioning training, mobility must be regarded as a pillar of fitness that will help the athlete see results quicker and continue to train at a high level with less risk of injury. Anyone can improve flexibility with consistent training. When you’ve finished your session is a great time to stretch. Your muscles are warm and therefore there is less chance of damaging them. A light stretch after a session will help prevent injury and is a great way to wind down from the stresses of training. This will also kick start the recovery process for next session. Flexibility improves posture, prevents hip and low back pain, releases muscle tension and soreness, and increases your range of motion which all in turn decrease your risk of injury. A more exciting active recovery strategy is the dreaded ice bath. My advice? Grin and bear it. The ice bath is probably the most infamous recovery tool in the entire arsenal for a reason: they work. Upon plunging into the cold water, the blood vessels constrict and the blood will be drained away from the muscles that have been working, which removes lactic acid. Upon exiting the ice bath the capillaries in the muscles dilate; after which, fresh blood flows back into the muscles bringing with it oxygen and other nutrients vital to recovery. An ice bath should be no longer than 20 minutes. Since the sensation ice baths provide is often intense and uncomfortable for most people, first timers should “test the waters” for at least 5 minutes. Make it a goal to increase the time spent in the water each time to eventually hit the 20 minute mark. You will feel instantly refreshed after an ice bath and your ability to recover will be enhanced.
There’s no question that reaching fitness goals is just as contingent with recovery as it is with training. They must both be shows the same commitment and respect.