The Value of Recovery
And How It Helps You Reach Your Goals
Imagine for a second that your body is its own little city. Inside your city, things are constantly changing. There is either building up as in construction or tearing down to make room for bigger and better (demolition). It is simple physics to say we cannot do both simultaneously. It would be pointless to construct a building while purposely tearing it down at night. Likewise, there is only so much growth possible before something must be torn down to make room. The only difference between our body and our city is that, in our bodies these processes are called anabolism and catabolism.
The catabolic process is systematically tearing down muscle fiber through exercise. Anabolism is the building and repairing that creates bigger, stronger muscles.
When we workout, we are in the catabolic phase, creating micro-trauma, tearing down the muscle fibers. This is part of the soreness that you feel. It may even feel as if you are doing damage, but it is a necessary part of the process, demolition to make room for progress. When you rest and recover, you become anabolic, allowing for the construction of new stronger, denser muscle fibers, capable of more work and effort.
When we get serious about making a body transformation, it is easy to neglect recovery. Particularly in the US we tend to think more is better, but in exercise that is not always the case. We are guilty too. As a fitness company, we tend to talk a lot about the sexy side of working out: the pump, the burn, the rush, building, getting stronger. However, if we neglect recovery, we will tend to see more injury, illness, demotivation, and burnout, and that doesn’t promote change for anybody.
So today, I want to focus on the other side, the less sexy side, but to my mind the more important side. Recovery and the two things needed to ensure recovery: Nutrition and Rest.
The Importance of Nutrition to Recovery
Imagine your city, where only demolition is occurring, there are no resources available to rebuild. Without proper nutrition, it becomes impossible to repair and rebuild. This means having sufficient protein, your source of amino acids, the building blocks of your muscle cells, and an energy source in the form of fats and carbohydrates to transport those blocks to the construction site (muscle cells). Fail to have enough, and your city’s landscape changes in a negative way. Or to put it another way, you don’t look as good naked. Your muscles become flat, and your skin begins to sag off of your frame.
If you are limiting calories or specific types of food in an effort to transform your body, supplements can help. By providing the building blocks without the additional calories, you are able to provide for your muscles while protecting your waistline.
Rest and Recovery
Although it seems almost simplistic to say, rest is the primary component of recovery. You must allow your muscles time to repair, and it not instantaneous. Also, the more stressful and demanding the workout (or your life), the longer it will take.
There are two important things to remember about the rest and recovery process.
There is only one thing that your body can focus on at a time. This is why you are recommended to not workout when you are sick. Your body has to focus on healing, not the more acute micro trauma created by your workouts. Similarly, if you want to get stronger, faster or better, there must be distinct periods of work and recovery. Catabolism and anabolism cannot work concurrently.
The second is that you repair when you sleep. During sleep, your body quiets the inflammation in your muscles and shuttles amino acids in to repair the micro tears. The better your sleep, the quicker your repair process. This can happen overnight or may take several days in the case of an intense workout session.
This is why we suggest you have a base of 4-6 weeks of regular training, before using split routines or single muscle group workouts. Intense workouts create deeper soreness, and more DOMS, and require a longer period to recover. (See managing soreness in the member education center for more specific ways to tackle sore muscles).
Besides adequate sleep, what can you do while your body is repairing?
If you are currently doing total body workouts, we suggest light cardio, stretching, foam rolling, ab work, or light yoga. These gentle forms of exercise flush blood through the muscles without creating muscle trauma. This brings healing nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and promotes faster repair. If you have moved on to split routines or single body part workouts, you can allow a worked muscle to rest while still using other muscle groups. This allows for 3-7 days of recovery before your revisit a body part.
Although rest and repair is not as sexy as hauling iron, it is just as important to your overall success. Give your body time to do its repair work. You will be glad that you did.