We all know that if improvements are to be made to performance or general health and fitness goals, commitment to training is vital. However, rest and recovery are critical components of any successful training program also - I'm going to strongly suggest here it is at least 50% of the equation! Yet rest and recovery are the least planned and underutilized ways to enhance performance.
The opportunity for muscle growth begins when exercise finishes. Muscles do not grow in the gym or during activity. When we exercise our muscles are broken down and microtears occur (process known as catabolism). When exercise stops the recovery process begins, however, without a prioritized post work out recovery regime, recovery will not occur efficiently and “gains” will not be made - indeed decline in many areas may occur which would lead to fatigue, frustration and failure on many levels.
You may not be aware there is a difference between rest and recovery or how to properly implement them both.
Most easily defined as a combination of sleep and time spent not training, rest is the easiest to understand and implement. How you sleep and spend this time is very critical.
Recovery, however, refers to techniques and actions taken to maximize your body’s repair. These include hydration, nutrition, posture, heat, ice, stretching, self-myofascial release, stress management, and compression. Recovery is multifaceted and encompasses more than just muscle repair. We have different systems that need to recover. These include hormonal, neurological, and structural.
Our structural system includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Muscles recover the quickest because they receive direct blood flow. Tendons, ligaments, and bones receive indirect blood flow and therefore can take longer to recover and be more susceptible to overtraining stress.
Below we break down the subcomponents of rest and recovery to provide you with better insight on how to improve performance and overall quality of life. A healthy and happy athlete not only performs better, but is more resilient (injury, colds etc.). Whereas one that has a strong training regimen but does not adequately rest and recover will be injury prone and experience fatigue, lowering your immune response and making you more susceptible to illness. The answer is simple - Train hard is great, but train smart is essential.
Sleep is the most important time to recover. Adequate levels of sleep help to provide mental health, hormonal balance, and muscular recovery. You need to get enough sleep, which is between seven to ten hours for most with eight hours being the standard recommended amount. Everyone has individual needs based on their lifestyle, workouts, and genetic makeup.
Research has shown that going to bed early is proven to be more effective than going to bed late.
Sleep in the most natural setting possible, with minimal to no artificial lights.
Wakeup with the sun if possible.
Fresh air and cooler temperatures help to improve the quality of sleep.
Some individuals may have to make sacrifices and changes in daily routines in order to achieve this, by perhaps cutting time watching TV for example.
Remaining hydrated is key to remain healthy, stay energized, enhance recovery and perform at an optimum level. Many athletes often pay close attention to hydration during competition, however, frequently fail to pay attention during training and recovery, which can sometimes have just as much of an impact. Water has many functions within the body, from being part of muscle contraction process, to allowing the heart to pump blood more easily, whilst also improving skin tone, hair quality and flushing toxins created by exercise out of the body.
There are many ways to understand hydration levels such as studying osmolality (measure of solutes) of urine, or using dip sticks, however, the simplest way is to look at the color of the urine. If it is a clear, yellowy color you are hydrated, but if it becomes a darker yellow, brown, or black, dehydration has set in and water must be consumed. Some tips;
Try to consume at least 2 litres of water per day.