First of all, thank you to everyone who has been commenting on and sharing these two blog posts from the past couple weeks. Really, thank you. Those were two of the most challenging posts I’ve published, and knowing that others have round something beneficial or resonant in them makes it worth it.
As for today, let’s talk about recovery.
I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned it before here (I know I talked about it in my guest post for Lindsay’s List), but recovery and rest are just as important to health as exercising. Not only is it important for mental and spiritual reasons, but speaking from a biological standpoint, your body will not function optimally if your recovery is lacking in quantity or quality.
To put it very simply, your muscles grow when your body is at rest. Exercise is the process of breaking muscle down (stimulus), and recovery + nutrition is the process of building more muscle (response). Think of it in terms of architecture:
Demolition breaks down the old foreclosed house that is infested with vermin and a level-5 black-mold situation (aka, exercise creates stress on the body and muscle fibers incur microscopic tears), and the talented construction crew (aka, the body’s recovery efforts) uses high quality building materials (aka, the solid nutrition required for repairing and maintaining a healthy body) to create a new, better-looking and more functional house with a stronger foundation.
Demolition breaks down, the construction crew + building materials create a new house.
Without the construction crew, the building materials will just sit there. Nothing is going to be built in place of the old house without a crew to put those materials to use. Not just any crew, but a crew that is big enough and qualified enough to tackle the job. Without the construction crew, all that you have is a broken-down foundation with a heap of potential but no actual progress.
Exercise creates stress, recovery + nutrition create a stronger body.
Without proper recovery, your body can’t build itself back up. It would be like hiring a demolition crew for your project and buying all the necessary materials for the new house, but deciding that you “are too hardcore” to hire a construction crew. Well guess what…I had that attitude for years, and it did me no good.
So in the words of Barney Stinson, “Pull your head out of your ass, Ted.”
Strength and badassery do not negate the need for proper recovery. Stupid training (or “bro science”) and bullheadedness will tell you that you don’t need to recover or take rest days- after all, you’re “hardcore,” and hardcore people don’t take days off.
And that’s fine. That’s your call. If you want to be so hardcore that you compromise your nutrition, inhibit your body’s repair, and stall your progress, then be my guest. If you want to improve your workouts, put your carefully-planned nutrition to good use, and smash your fitness goals like the Spartan warrior you pretend to be (maybe that’s just me?), then you better start recovering hard.
If you’re not putting equal effort into your recovery as you do your workouts and diet, you’re only getting two-thirds of the results.
So on that note, here are my official
Rules of Recovery
1. Get in bed.
Seriously, yall? Get in the freaking bed. Turn off your phone, turn off the light, and hit the sack. Skimping on sleep will screw with your recovery (not to mention your workouts) immediately, and chronic sleep deprivation will have serious detrimental effects on your overall health. Sleep is part of the daily recovery process, and if you’re shortchanging yourself on sleep, you’ll be shortchanging your training as well. Maybe you don’t need eight hours- some folks do better with ten hours, some find that their sweet spot is six hours- but chances are you need more than you’re actually getting. So get some (sleep)…and make it count! Don’t keep your phone on and by your bed, “just in case someone needs to get in touch with you.” First of all, that’s disgusting- do you know how much bacteria phones carry?! Secondly, nothing good comes from phone calls at 2am- that’s a booty call, and it’s not worth the lack of sleep or risking a nasty case of crabs. And most importantly, you’re supposed to be focusing on your REM cycle here, not your potential booty calls and/or middle-of-the-night Twitter mentions.
2. Size matters.
The quantity of your recovery is important. Just like sleeping four hours per night is not the same as sleeping eight hours per night, one “active rest day” per month is going to be much less effective than taking one (preferably two!) dedicated recovery days per week. How much rest time you need for optimal recovery will depend on multiple factors- the intensity, frequency, and type of workouts you do; any health conditions or injuries you have; your sleep habits (part of recovery); and the cumulative stress from all other areas of your life. If you’re not quite sure how much recovery time you need, err on the side of more rather than less. It’s better to hit the weights (or track, or box, or ring, or dance floor, or whatever you do) with a little extra in the tank than not quite enough. You’ll figure out your sweet spot pretty quickly if you’re consistently practicing good recovery habits.
3. It’s what you do with it that really counts.
Stop getting in your own way. If you spend your rest day going on a six-mile hike, walking the dog, taking a Bikram yoga class, and hitting the town for a night of dancing, you’re not actually recovering. Recovery is about letting your body build itself back up, which it won’t be able to do it you’re still busting your behind outside of the gym without formally “working out.” You know when you’re doing it, too. Don’t cheat yourself out of quality recovery. I’m not saying you have to lie on the couch all day (although, you know, I ain’t gonna judge you for it, either), but you should be getting some good, solid rest. Can we get a little real here? I’ve done that. I’ve been scared that taking a real rest day would somehow let my body gain five pounds. Newsflash: It doesn’t work that way. Chill the eff out, enjoy some down time, eat some good food (Yes, you still need to eat good food and enough food on your recovery days. Come on, now.), and let your body do it’s sweet recovery thang.
4. Don’t forget the pre-game and the after-party.
All those little recovery “extras” are the equivalent of pre-gaming and hitting up the after-party for your recovery time. Not necessary, but it makes the whole experience so much better. Remember to make the most of your recovery time by hydrating properly, getting lots of high-quality protein (no use in hiring that construction crew if you’re not going to buy the building materials), taking the time to get in some extra stretching and foam rolling, and most importantly, using the extra time you have to be refreshed in all the other areas of life. Meet up with a friend, sit down with a good book, take the time to cook a nice dinner and/or do food prep for the week, clean your dang house, put together a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child or a care package for one of our deployed servicemen. Recovery is about physical repair and rebuilding, but it’s also about giving yourself a chance to focus more on things outside of training. Your mental, emotional, and spiritual health are just as important as the physical, and probably more neglected.
You want to be hardcore? Then you better work hard, eat hard, and rest hard.
Now go forth recover like the studmuffin you are.