Scheduling in a weekly recovery day is important for the long-term, ongoing improvement in your strength and stamina. Schedule active recovery days in your training plan, and consider the following ideas to get the most benefit during your downtime.
You train hard, focus on Post Workout Nutrition, even get enough sleep. Wondering why your lifts are feeling heavier and your run times slower?
Whatever sport you train in… lifting, running, or anything in between… the time you don’t spend training is just as important as sticking to your training plan.
Workout Recovery Day Is Important
Have you ever noticed yourself fighting a cold the week after your big race? Or just feeling a bit blue after the softball tournament you looked forward to all summer? The importance of recovery is directly related to the intensity of our training. A good training plan forces the body to adapt to physical and psychological stressors. Lifting creates small tears in our muscle fibers and strains our tendons. This results in increased circulation to repair these areas, which increases in our strength. Intense cardio training results in a slightly compromised immune system, making it even more important to provide our bodies with rest and quality nutrition.
And it’s no secret that training hard involves getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Whether you’re pushing for a 5K PR or sprinting for a home run, the motivation of competitive spirit and team support lead to completing feats that are otherwise impossible. With the right tools, your trained body adapts. Muscles repair and grow stronger. Circulation and immune response improve. Psychologically and physiologically, we adjust. Like good nutrition, rest, and intelligent programming, recovery days help us adapt better. Removing the stressors of training for controlled periods of time, lets you get better results from your training.
Muscle Recovery Time
The amount of recovery needed depends on the intensity of your training and other factors in your life. These include age, genetic potential, nutrition, sleep quantity and quality, and overall health. Not surprisingly, this ends up being very individual. While a conservative recovery plan might include working out every other day, many athletes don’t need that level of recovery. More aggressive approaches include two to three days of training, followed by a day of rest, active recovery, or lower volume training. Really, you need to experiment with your tolerance, personal schedule (family, work, etc.), and note how well you are recovering from your workouts. For a trained athlete, a good rule of thumb is at least 2 days per week of lower intensity and training volume. If other factors are not optimal (i.e. age, injury, nutrition, etc.), then recovery needs will be higher.
Active Recovery Day
Much like the frequency of recovery, the intensity of recovery needed is individual. For a seasoned runner in the middle of a training season, a 28 minute three mile run can be just enough to work out the kinks and provide a psychological break. For a person completing their first Couch to 5K training plan, the same workout will represent a personal record and may leave them physically depleted. Recovery days range from total rest to gardening and housework to an aerobic level workout of less than an hour.
When planning your recovery day, consider both psychological and physical recovery. If your joints and muscles are sore, avoid recovery activities that involve heavy lifting or impact. Good choices are using an elliptical at an aerobic level, training accessory muscles with resistance bands, or swimming. Also, consider how you are feeling about your workouts. If you’re dreading the tough workouts on your training plan and finding it hard to get up to head in to the gym, you might need a psychological break as well. In this case, try out a massage chair, take a walk or bike ride with family, or try a little yoga. Improving flexibility, skills, and neuromuscular recruitment are also great recovery day activities when you are in the middle of a training season.
Long Term Body and Mental Recovery
Just as you need to include days of lighter or no activity in your training week, a good training plan includes recovery weeks over periods of months. Be aware of dangers of overtraining. As you come to the end of your training season, move beyond a simple recovery day and look at what your body and brain really need. After a big event, such as a race or tough game, include a day or two of lighter activity to recover. At the end of a season, your recovery and reset periods will be longer. A week or two of lighter workouts with more recovery days is normal and will help avoid injury and psychological exhaustion.
A good training plan will build this in as you begin training again gradually. This is also a great time to start changing up your training plan by focusing on different elements, such as speed, cross training, or different ways of strength training. Remember, recovery is an important, and often overlooked, part of your training plan. Plan it wisely for better performance, less injury, and more enjoyment in your workouts, training, and competition.
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.