Oftentimes, when our athletes commit to a fitness routine, they tend to focus on the intensity and frequency of their workouts. A lot of time is, rightfully, spent on learning the movements and building upon that foundational knowledge. However, it is just as important to include rest and recovery days. Though it may seem counterintuitive to some– isn’t a workout routine supposed to be about, well, working out? – because some days may require little to no movement, but resting and recovery are essential to creating a long-lasting, consistent, and gains-inducing fitness routine.
To understand why rest and recovery are important, it’s first necessary to understand what is happening to your body when you work out. During exercise, multiple systems in your body undergo changes, including your musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and endocrine systems. In simplified terms, the cardiovascular system works harder during exercise to provide the muscles with freshly oxygenated blood, so the heart pumps faster and harder during exercise; think about all the times your heart rate has increased during exercise! The respiratory system starts reacting to exercise almost immediately by increasing your breath to make sure the body is provided with enough oxygen during movement. Meanwhile, the endocrine system– also known as the system responsible for hormone production– goes to work increasing certain hormones and decreasing others so the body can stay in homeostasis (in other words, stay stable) during exercise.
Then, there is the musculoskeletal system. This system includes muscles, bones, joints, and soft tissue. The purpose of the musculoskeletal system is to define and move the body. During exercise, especially strength training, the muscles contract and stretch repeatedly under various loads and cause tiny tears in the muscle fibers. These tears are normal and necessary for muscle growth. Once these microtears happen, the body sends good nutrition and good blood to the area to help repair the small tears; this, in turn, is how musculature can grow. Oftentimes, the soreness that is felt the day after the workout are actually these microtears!
As mentioned, these small tears are normal and expected during training. However, in order for the muscles to recover, the worked muscle/s need a break to repair themselves. Overtraining can lead to larger, more damaging muscle tears called strains, tearing of the soft tissue (aka sprains), excessive lactic acid build up in the muscle, or various other injuries. This is why taking the time to rest and recover is so critical to training; it’s better to take a rest if your body needs it than to push through and get injured. But what exactly qualifies as rest?
Generally speaking, it means anything that doesn’t work the same muscle group in the same way as the previous day’s exercise. However, for this article, we’ll be talking primarily about active recovery. Active recovery is essentially helping the body recover from a bout of exercise by using movement. During active recovery, blood circulation is increased, which helps remove waste products from soft tissue that have been broken down by intense exercise. Fresh blood flow then delivers nutrients that help repair and rebuild muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Active recovery movements should raise the heart rate slightly above resting and can be activities like swimming, walking, yoga, Tai Chi, or any other movement you enjoy. The point is to move your body in a different way than strength training while giving certain muscle groups time to recover.
Aside from the physiological benefits, active recovery is also a way to check in with your body and see how everything is feeling. During your active recovery efforts, take notice of what is sore or stiff. Are you having pain anywhere? Are certain muscles not recovering? If so, you can use the active recovery time to stretch or work on the mobility of certain joints. We understand that this may be challenging or confusing to some because there are A TON of mobility movements and stretches that can be performed and it can be hard to figure out what to do and when.
In that vein, we have elected to offer our Resilient Fitness Post-Rehab and Recovery (R&R) Sessions. During these 30 or 60 min sessions, clients can be manually stretched by a coach and have their movements assessed. We want to help you figure out movements that help improve your mobility, flexibility, and recovery so that you can continue making progress during training sessions. If you are interested in learning more about the services that will be offered or scheduling, please contact Coach Karina at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to help keep you strong for life!