Why do we train? To get better, stronger, fitter, healthier, happier? It will be all or several of these options.
But are we doing everything we can to achieve this? Sure, we might be training hard and eating the right things, but there might be something missing: recovery.
Recovery from exercise is just as important as walking into the gym and picking up weights. You will make some progress without it, of course, but for optimal performance and desired results, recovery is of the utmost importance.
But how do we go about recovering
I’m sure if you’re into fitness and on Instagram you’ll have had foam rollers thrown in your face and heard ‘anabolic window’ shouted from plenty a rooftop. So let’s start with the latter, shall we?
let’s be sensible
The anabolic or metabolic window is the idea that your body has a certain amount of time post-workout where it is optimal to eat food for gains. Otherwise, you go catabolic and lose your gains. Real talk. They literally just fall off and disappear.
Or maybe not. The dynamics of recovery are not as black and white as that. You will not go catabolic (the breakdown of your muscles) if you don’t eat within the ‘magic window’ after your workout.
But that’s not to say that food isn’t important. It is. Food is essential for recovery, and if you’re like me, you won’t be able to wait an hour plus anyway to eat after your workout. What you put into your body is highly important for recovery; refueling your body with carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and with protein to assist with the repairing of your muscles is essential post workout – but not essential to eat it within a certain time frame.
And the rest of the day? Ensure you are eating for your a) your goals and b) your body. Eat in a caloric surplus to build muscle mass, a deficit to cut fat or lose weight, and at maintenance/untracked if you’re happy with where you are. And eat what your body likes: if you prefer a high carb, low-fat diet, then do it. Or if you like filling yourself up with fats and protein and eating a lower carb intake, go for it. Eat well, and eat smart to suit you and your training – and recovery – goals.
Foam rolling hurts but works
Again, foam rolling is really important. I remember the first time I foam rolled and I was sure it was some sort of sick joke. It hurt SO much. But that’s because my muscles were so tight and I didn’t warm down properly. Foam rolling is particularly great for recovery because it’s similar to a massage, it is self-myofascial release; a fancier word for a self-massage which releases muscle tightness and can be used to trigger point.
Your gym should have one or two, but if it doesn’t, they’re cheap from Amazon or eBay – I bought mine from Amazon. The best ones are those with the little spikes or bumps on them, because, although they do hurt more, it feels so much better and like you’re actually targeting properly.
Would you believe that recovery can even become before you work out?
We all know that stretching after a workout is helpful for recovery, but have you ever thought about stretching before you work out and how that can impact your body and its ability to recover?
We’re all guilty of skipping it, but warming up is vital to ensuring we don’t pull any muscles while working out. It’s also important in terms of recovering from the day before. Big leg day and you’re still aching? You’ll want to stretch to ensure your whole body is ready for whatever you’re training the next day, even if it’s not the same muscle group.
But there is a difference between pre and post workout stretching
Pre-workout, you’re going to be wanting to do dynamic stretching. This warms up the muscles and gets them ready to work out. Foam rolling is also handy for pre-workout because the movement will also warm your body up.
Static stretching is best for post workout. Hold positions for around 20+ seconds, or really as long as you like, and try and foam roll – especially if you’ve just trained your legs.
Better than your average spa day massage, sports massages are ideal for releasing tension and helping iron out any kinks. I’ve had a handful now, and they’re such a fantastic form of recovery. I still suffer from a slight back problem and I’ve had sessions focused purely on this area, as well as hamstring focus because they’re particularly tight. It can be a little painful, but they are so worth it.
I am an advocate of 7-8 hours. Not just because research tells us this is optimal, but because from my own experience I have found this to be enough sleep to ensure I am energetic enough for the next day. I don’t really drink coffee anymore, I don’t take a pre-workout, I simply get my energy from sleep (and then a good diet on top of that).
Sleep is also where your body actually does the most recovering. Think about it: it’s the only period of the day where you are actually doing nothing, so your body uses it to rest, recover and repair, make sure you’re giving it enough time to do this.
And I mean complete rest. Not an ‘active rest day’ but at least one day per week where you don’t walk into a gym, where you don’t exert yourself and where you take time out to recover properly. Nourish yourself with food – I know some people like to cut carbs and replace with fats on these days, but I keep everything to same because I believe your body needs food to repair itself just as much on rest days as it does on training days.
Stretch if you get the time, lie in bed and watch a film, have a bath, but whatever you do, make sure you’re taking days off to recover efficiently. Team no days off will soon become team no days at all because I’ve torn my hamstring if you’re not careful.
In my opinion, recovery is just as important as your actual training. Without it, your body won’t be able to keep up with your lifestyle, and, as so many of us have seen and experienced, it will catch up with you.