I used to feel absolutely destroyed after my harder workouts. I had no idea why I was taking sometimes up to 4 days to recover, just that it definitely wasn’t normal. Over the years, particularly since I become a certified personal trainer, I had to learn some pretty hard lessons on how to get myself back up after thoroughly being beaten down.
Recovery is probably one of the least talked about things in the fitness world, but in my opinion, it is absolutely the most important aspect of an active lifestyle. When we exercise, we are literally tearing up our muscles and creating inflammation. It is perfectly healthy and natural for our bodies to go through this breaking down process because it will rebuild itself to be stronger, faster, and more resilient. It is often thought that working out is when we are building muscle, but in reality, it is when we are at rest that we are actually forming adaptations. Thus, if we are not tending to our recovery, we will only limit our athletic potential, and make staying active much harder and more painful.
1) The Stress-Anxiety-Sleep Triangle
Stress and anxiety puts our body into a fight or flight state, where the only thing that matters is survival. Our body secretes adrenaline and cortisol, which among many things, diverts blood away from our major muscle groups and actually slows down our digestion process. When we are chronically stressed, we not only hinder our ability to perform in the gym, but we also cannot heal, because the last thing the body is concerned about is repairing those micro-tears you just made in your quads with your latest set of back squats. Moreover, chronic anxiety prevents our ability to not only fall asleep, but to get enough deep sleep, which is the period when we do the most healing. It is absolutely essential to learn healthy coping mechanisms during periods of high stress so that we can allow our bodies to relax, realize that it is not in danger of being hunted by a saber-toothed tiger, and just get back to repairing those quads. Practicing mindfulness, meditation, and enrolling in cognitive behavior therapy are all steps we can take to maximize our ability to heal, both mentally and physically.
2) Micronutrient Deficiency
My friend Serena, a naturopath doctor, (http://www.drserenagoldstein.com/) explained to me that just about every single one of us in an urban-industrialized society is deficient in micronutrients, particularly vitamin D3, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, and B vitamins. All of these micronutrients, (and plenty more), play a crucial part in dealing with soreness, stiffness, and inflammation. If we aren’t feeding our body what it needs on a cellular level to repair tissue, then we are fighting an uphill battle with both comfort and performance, and on a larger scale, our long-term health.
3) Self Care Investment
When I say self care, I mean taking the time to work on our bodies, such as rolling out our knotted muscles, developing a good stretching routine, and seeking the help of healing practitioners. While maintaining our body is entirely our own responsibility, sometimes, especially during periods of high stress, when our body’s ability to heal itself is hindered, practitioners like licensed massage therapists, acupuncturists, naturopath doctors, P-DTR practitioners (http://www.drpalomar.com/), neuro-kinetic therapists (http://neurokinetictherapy.com/for-clients/overview), etc are absolutely essential to getting us back on the pavement.
The moral of the story is, if we can’t heal, we can’t get back in the game. If we don’t assist our body in the recovery process, we are doing ourselves a disservice, not only from a performance perspective, but also in our ability to prevent disease and slow down the physical signs of aging. Supporting recovery is really just supporting our health, holistically.