Whether you’re an elite athlete or just going to the gym a few times a week, it is important to allow your body to rest and recover between workouts. Many of us enjoy going to the gym, running or joining in with team games, but there is a tendency to feel guilty about taking a day off training.
The thing many of us don’t understand though is that the body really needs this time off to recover. Even elite athletes at the very top of their field still take days off to rest and recover, and it’s important that you do the same.
Exercise – any exercise – is a stress on the body. The real benefits from exercise can only begin to take place when the body recovers from that stress. For example, lifting weights actually breaks down your muscle. What bulks them up is their recovery from this tearing.
There are two main types of recovery: long-term and short-term.
We sometimes refer to short-term recovery as active recovery; it occurs in the hours immediately after an intense period of exercise. This includes a cool-down process after a workout, and low intensity workouts in the days following a big workout – this is why people who run a marathon still go for a run a couple of days later.
As well as exercise, we recover by making sure we drink to replace lost fluids, and eating to replace depleted energy stores. During short-term recovery our soft tissue repairs itself and removes the chemicals that have built up within the body during exercise. Sleep is also an important (and often overlooked) aspect of short-term recovery.
Long-term recovery is something we build into a seasonal training program. If you’re a weekend runner, this might not be something you would think of, but any sort of training program should include a long-term plan, and this should incorporate recovery. If you look at the training plan of an elite athlete you will see that they change their training program throughout the year, modifying workouts and adding in crosstraining as well as changing up distances, intensity and workout time. This is not just to keep them from getting bored; it is to ensure their body is able to recover from exercise sufficiently.
Ways to incorporate recovery into your training plan
- Days off – this one is obvious. Taking a day completely away from training can feel counterintuitive but it is important in ensuring adequate recovery.
- Sports massage – in the lead up to a big race, many people benefit from sports massage to keep their muscles working well. This can also help after an event, to ease muscle soreness.
- Sleep – when we sleep our bodies engage in deep repair of all cells and muscles. Consistently getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to ensure great performance.
- Post-workout meals – ensure that what you are refuelling your body with is actually refuelling you. Unlike the ads we sometimes see on TV, a chocolate bar is not the best choice!