We live in a ‘more is better’ culture, where a higher degree of effort or exertion reaps more significant rewards. This is something that transcends into human performance.
We have a firm belief that we need to do more, push harder, train longer and diet more restrictively in order to get the best results.
Yet, despite this assumption, our bodies just don’t function this way.
Many of us put a lot of time into the practical side of our training, but why don’t we spend more time incorporating recovery into our programming?
It just so turns out that this often negated factor is critical to our success… and we’re all missing out.
A Few Scenarios
Let’s set the stage for three typical clients that we have at Integra:
1. First off, we have Wendy. She’s 48 years old, has three children, and runs a successful business, which requires her to travel every month.
2. Secondly, we have a competitive bodybuilder (Let’s call him Geoff) approaching a competition, whilst maintaining a job within a fitness facility and working with clients of his own.
3. Lastly, we have Sam. She used to be a competitive triathlon athlete in her late teens and early twenties. She now practises law.
All three of the above individuals train in some way physically, but they also experience other stressors from work, family and more. Regardless of the avenues from which these stressors emerge, they all make their way into the same ‘stress cup.’ This means that if we have a particularly stressful week at work, it has the potential to impact other areas of our lives. Because of this, we may want to back off or limit stress in certain areas to allow for the added stress in others.
Downtime & Recuperation
Due to the pace of modern life, we see a higher potential for stress to be present in our lives. Whilst we may not be surprised to hear that the response to these stressors can manifest emotionally, stress also has the potential to cause physiological wear and tear on the body. This wear and tear is often referred to as “allostatic load.”
When our allostatic load accumulates, we can look at compromised digestive function, immune function, reproduction & hormonal imbalance.
A few examples of the above could be more frequent bouts of illness, higher levels of fatigue, lower levels of focus, mood swings, less frequent or erratic menstrual cycles and more.
We could view our endocrine (hormonal) system as a set of dominos. If one falls out of place, we are going to see a cascading effect as the body strives to achieve homeostasis.
Systems grow by being stressed & then being given time to recover. So when we think about the importance of recovering from a session and repeating said session with a higher intensity, we can recognise why recovery is such an integral part of the training process.
Here are a few tips we have put together to minimise unnecessary stressors & emphasise recuperation:
1. Prepare as much as you can in advance. A good example would be next day food preparation or task management a week in advance. The prior taking care of nutritional needs for recoverability, and the latter ensuring time allocated towards recuperation.
2. Ensure that you allocate your weekly training volume appropriately. Not only do we need to think about stress accumulation from training generally, but also with specificity towards WHAT we are training.
We don’t want training volume or frequency to exceed our tolerance.
4. As we mentioned earlier, more is NOT always more. Treat the body as you would getting a suntan. Would you rather sit out in the sun for 15 minutes at a time a few times a week? Or would you prefer to lay out for 6 hours straight, skin peeling as you walk off the beach? (I know what I would rather do!) Think frequency & low to moderate progressive volume.
5. Programme in recovery days as you would training days. Once we identify WHY we need to recover, it gives us context and encourages us to prioritise.
6. When things get hectic, think about using a week of training as a ‘deload.’ This would involve reducing stress (volume) on the body. We don’t want that ‘stress cup’ to overflow.
7. Finally, trust the process! If you have a rest day, be sure to take it. By training excessively, we are cashing cheques that our bodies cannot write.
So where does this leave us?
It’s true, many of us admire those who grind for 18 hours a day or spend upwards of 3 hours training six times a week. But in reality, it’s all a matter of diminishing returns. Just because we do more, it doesn’t necessarily mean we actually DO more (or at least, we don’t get more out of doing more!).
While we may not be able to control some stress-causing factors, we can undoubtedly practise self-care & compassion so that we are equipped to deal with the stressors in a more productive manner.