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The Art & Science of Recovery

Great performances can only come from an equally great recovery, right? This is unquestionably true. Think of it like this; before you take on any workout, you complete a warm up, right? So, what if we viewed our recovery as the warm up for your warm up.

What is your ‘recovery’ though? Well, to keep it simple, your recovery is the period of time from the moment we complete one workout to the moment we begin the next. For some, this might only be a handful of hours, but for others, this might be 24 hours or more. But for everyone, this is your time to prepare your body and mind for your next big effort.

And yes, every second counts here! Preparation, performance and recovery absolutely go hand in hand.

That doesn’t have to mean that in every second we are thinking about our next workout. Let’s be honest, that would be pretty daunting let alone exhausting. But it doesn’t have to be… and that’s where we come in.

 

As leading experts in sports recovery nutrition, you can imagine we get asked a lot of questions on the topic of recovery and it goes without saying; we absolutely welcome all of them. The questions that we get asked time and time again from athletes, fitness enthusiasts or just busy, active people are: how can I best approach my recovery? What are the best forms of recovery? Do I need to practice these every single day? What are the cheapest recovery methods? And so on and so forth.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to be tackling these questions in a mini-series of sports recovery focused blogs. We’ll be talking about rest and sleep, active recovery, nutrition and hydration. You name it, we’ll probably be covering it.

And if by chance we don’t – make sure to leave a comment down below with your next blog topic and we’ll get on it! Remember, these blogs are here for YOU so if there is a particular subject that you would like us to cover, just let us know.

 

Back to business then and to kick things off, we are going right back to basics and to dispel a few unfortunate fitness myths. Number one being that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all approach to recovery or training. Disappointing right!

Whilst there are a lot of actual experts out there, there are also a few who are significantly less qualified. And these might even be your friends, training partners or gym buddies for all we know. But what works for them might not be what works best for you.

Wouldn’t it be great if that wasn’t the case? You would certainly find yourself with a lot less of guesswork to do. But, guess what, this is actually the fun part! After all, this leaves you with the awesome opportunity to find out for yourself what works best for you.

And first and foremost in helping us do just that, is learning to listen to and respect our bodies AND minds… they go through a lot so it’s the least we can do.

The best thing? They are actually pretty good at telling us how things are going already, we just have to learn when to tune in, take note and take action.

So why is this important? Well, whether you exercise infrequently or follow a structured workout routine, we are all susceptible to overtraining either by too much training altogether (let’s be honest, we all get carried away sometimes) OR by undertaking exercise and physical activity that our body simply isn’t ready for right now. That’s not to say you won’t ever be, just not right now. And don’t forget, that’s perfectly ok!

We all know it because we live it; exercise and training can be really tough. Whether you’re training hard for your next Parkrun or maybe even a triathlon, or working towards a deadlift PB; your body is bound to be going through some tough times. And you are not alone… everyone is going through this.

All the more reason why we should be able to pay attention to the tell-tale signs that your body just needs to chill for a bit. This isn’t just for your own benefit, if you regularly exercise with others, you might just be able to spot these signs in others which would really help them out too!

 

Signs that you might be overtraining right now!

  1. Soreness
  2. Fatigue and ‘heavy’ legs
  3. Increased resting heart rate
  4. Slower recovery times
  5. Performance decreasing over time even with structured training
  6. Illness & injury

And these are just the physical signs that you are suffering the consequences of overtraining. What about some of the mental signs…

  1. Prolonged feelings of fatigue and lack of energy
  2. Poor quality of sleep
  3. Losing motivation and enjoyment for the sport or workouts you used to love
  4. Increased feelings of tension, anger or even depression and confusion

Recognising any of these signs is step one. Knowing how to respond to them is step two.

Before we go any further, let’s quickly reiterate that everybody is different, which is why we leave this here as a very open guide which you can apply to your own lifestyle to help you understand how you can get the most out of your performance and recovery.

So as we said earlier, your first point of call should always be…

  1. Listen to your body

Your body has the ability to tell us exactly how it is coping at any given time, we just have to listen and take note accordingly. This is what a lot of athletes call ‘training on feel’. And this ability to listen and respond to your body’s signals is called ‘autoregulation.’

This primarily works on your own perception of your capacity to perform on any given day or in any given workout. This isn’t always a true reflection as our motivation to exercise may often outweigh and mask your body’s limited capacity to undertake more strain through exercise.

Being able to track and accurately measure your body’s capacity to undertake exercise is becoming more and more accessible with new technologies and software. It’s as they say, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. But we’ll come back to this topic later on in our recovery series, so stay tuned.

Next up…

  1. Keep a training diary

This is a great way to reinforce everything we discussed in the previous step. By keeping a daily or even weekly training diary we can look back at how our perception of our performances and recovery stacks up with the reality.

In doing so, we can start to experiment with and understand other lifestyle factors that may be affecting our physical activities; both positively and negatively. That’s a double win in our books.

This could be written on old school pen and paper or entered digitally. Other than a trusty Word document, there are plenty of fancy software packages out there that help to manage and track more fitness data than you can shake a stick at so it’s definitely worth looking at.

  1. Plan time for recovery activities

Just like you plan time for exercise (or at least you should be), planning time for recovery is super important! How you do this, again, is completely unique you and so should go through a process of trial and error like everything else.

For some people, a complete day of rest (time away from exercise) is enough to leave them revitalised and ready to go again. Planning a set rest day every week is a great way to acknowledge and respect the work you are putting your body through on your ‘active’ days whilst giving yourself a consistent amount of time to relax and refocus.

For others, they may need to less frequently take multiple days or even a whole week away from physical activity to allow their body and mind to recover fully. If in doubt, it never hurts to take that little extra time out to aid your recovery rather than push through, risking illness, injury or both.

 

This is especially the case if the type of exercise you are doing is particularly damaging on the muscles themselves.

It’s well noted that muscles can take anywhere from 12-72 hours to fully recover so that extra time may well be worth it. This however, all depends on the types of training you have been doing and how conditioned to exercise and recovery you and your muscles are.

We will all get the dreaded D.O.M.S at some point or another. Intense HIIT sessions or long, hilly bike rides damage your muscles – in a good way of course – in order to stimulate adaptation and repair.

Effectively, each we time we exercise and recover we have to build our muscles back up, but this time bigger and stronger than before. The idea being, if you did the exact same workout the next day, you would be able to complete it faster or with more weight for example.

You’re probably thinking, shouldn’t the point of this process be to make sure that attempt 2 is easier than attempt 1? Unfortunately not, and as the saying goes (this also happens to be one of our favourite sayings as well)… it never gets easier, you only get faster or indeed fitter and stronger in this case too!

As a general rule of thumb simple practices like stretching, foam rolling, soft tissue massage and even yoga or Pilates are all excellent recovery modalities (that’s a fancy word for activity) that anyone can fit in after a workout or at the end of the day as you start to wind down.

It’s also worth noting that you should never underestimate the power of mindful activities like meditation and mindfulness and the almost endless positive benefits these can have on our physical readiness to perform.

 

We’re pretty confident now that after reading this, you’ll be plenty clued up to spot all the tell-tale signs of overtraining and fatigue. Not only that, you’ll be able to experiment with new ways to respond to those signals and get the most out of your recoveries and workouts too!

 

Here at U Perform, we don’t just celebrate and support those athletes at the peaks of their sports – and at the end of the day, it’s important to recognise that not everyone wants to reach those same peaks. So, let’s take a moment to celebrate everyone who is living a healthy and active lifestyle, working towards their goals whatever they might be, striving to perform at their best every single day… GO TEAM 💪

What goals are you working towards at the moment? Let us know in the comments below! Don’t forget to share this blog with someone who you know would benefit from reading this. The U Perform family loves sharing ideas and encouraging each other.

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