The Importance of Recovery After Exercising, and How to Do It Right

on September 23, 2019 • Grace

When you’re in the middle of training — maybe for a big event, or maybe just for your own personal goals — it can be easy to trade a day of rest in for another day of progress at the gym. After all, how can a day of sleep or simple stretches get you closer to making the last mile, or gaining that last bit of muscle?

Well, more than you think, actually. Post-exercise recovery is actually necessary for making you physically stronger and getting you closer to your peak performance. 

Here’s why a good recovery day is so important, and how you can make the most out of yours:

The Importance of Recovery After Exercise

John Gallucci, the president of JAG Physical Therapy, says, “Recovery is one of the most important aspects of a successful training regiment, but for some reason, it’s commonly overlooked. Especially after intense or prolonged training, your body needs time to repair tissues that have broken down.”

This is because when you exercise, your muscle tissues actually tear, and you lose important fluid. 

If you jump right back into your training workout after an intense session, your muscles won’t have the chance to rebuild and grow. Instead, they will only continue to break down, leading to symptoms of overtraining such as fatigue, decreased performance and even injuries such as muscle strains or stress fractures. 

Michele Olson, a professor of sports science, says, “Pushing another workout onto your body when it’s trying to reload its glucose stores and lay down more muscle can cause overtraining, difficulty sleeping or even lead to injury. If you rob your body of the energy it needs for recovery by doing extra workouts, all of your efforts backfire.”

Because of this, it is essential to listen to what your body is telling you. If you are feeling physically worn out, it is probably time to take a rest. But don’t worry: There are some serious benefits to reap from a good recovery day!

The Benefits of Recovery

As Jonathan Mike, an exercise physiologist, strength coach, writer and competitor, says, “The overwhelming majority of novice athletes — and many intermediate athletes as well — underestimate the power of recovery.”

Just like training, recovery has big-time results. What many people don’t understand is that you don’t actually build any muscles during your workout — you build them between workouts. 

This is because during recovery, you: 

  • Repair damaged muscles, which get micro-tears when you exercise. These tears help the muscles expand as they heal. 
  • Replenish fuel and energy stores. “If you don’t fully replenish those substrates prior to your next exercise session, then your performance will be compromised and fatigue will set in much sooner,” says Dr. Lance Dalleck. 
  • Clear out metabolic byproducts, such as lactic acid, which can impair muscle contraction if it builds up too much during exercise. 

In other words, when you spend time on recovery, your three energy systems — hormonal, neurological and structural — are once again restored and able to function at maximum levels. 

Try following the 80/20 rule when it comes to exercise and recovery: Spend 80% of your time focusing on your training, and 20% on rest, relaxation and recovery. 

Short and Long Term Recovery

There are two different categories of recovery: immediate and year-round. You need to think about both in order to improve your overall performance and reach your training goals. 

Short-term recovery: This is also called active recovery, and it occurs hours after an intense workout. In order to recover in this way, you should engage in low-intensity exercises both during the cool-down phase of a workout and during the days following your training. You should also put extra focus into the nutrients you are consuming. 

Long-term recovery: This type of recovery is considered more passive, and should be built into your seasonal training program. You should implement complete rest days, or even weeks, into your training schedule, as well as focus on your long-term sleep habits. Also try cross training techniques and modifications of your workout type, time and intensity. 

How to Recover the Right Way

Here are all of the factors you should consider when building your short-term and long-term recovery routines. 

1. Sleep

As Jonathan Mike says, “Most of us don’t get enough sleep, or lack overall quality. This can have devastating effects on recovery, and thus impede training progress.” While one or two nights of poor sleep won’t impact your performance in the long-term, consistent inadequate sleep will negatively affect your hormone balance, muscle recovery and stress levels. 

On the other hand, quality sleep is one of the best ways to quickly recover from both the physical and mental strain of training. This is because the human growth hormone, a protein that is essential for the growth and repair of your muscle tissue, is released during slumber. Try shooting for seven to nine hours each night, with at least a few of those hours including deep sleep. 

2. Hydrate

You’ve probably heard by now that water is magic. Not only is proper hydration critical for your overall health and energy,  but it also helps you recover quicker and better improve your performance. Drinking water will also help you deliver nutrients throughout your body prevent muscle cramps post-workout. 

In order to achieve proper hydration during your recovery, you only need one thing: water.  While sports drinks are good for before, during or right after intense training, you shouldn’t rely on them during your long-term recovery routine.  

3. Get Nutrients

Eating clean and balanced meals, in moderation, is a behavior proven to help you remain healthy and, ultimately, reach your training goals. After workouts, your body needs lean proteins in order to build muscles and repair tissues. 

Protein supplements can be helpful for recovery after intense training, as long as they are combined with complex carbohydrates and antioxidants, such as cherries, blueberries and pomegranates. 

4. Stretch

In order to remain pain free during and after your training, you need loose, flexible muscles. Stretching during your warm-ups and your recovery will help you with this. 

During you recovery time, mix rest and relaxation with light stretches, or even a yoga class. Jen Jewell, a certified person trainer, says, “Yoga sessions or mobility work, such as foam rolling, are great for rest days. Flexibility and mobility are all part of the fitness process, too, and help make us stronger for when we’re in the gym lifting.”

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