Whether you’re an experienced trainer or someone getting started with workouts for the very first time, making sure that you’re giving your body every opportunity to recover is important and will allow you to train consistently. Your body won’t be conditioned to the stress of exercise and if you don’t employ the right approach to training and recovery, this will lead to some serious aches, fatigue and potentially taking some time out. This can, for many people, be disheartening but, with the right advice, things don’t need to be that way.
To help you avoid the pitfalls of jumping in at the training deep-end, here are four tips you can follow to help ensure your recovery is on point.
#1 Take a Sensible Approach to Exercise
Although the temptation when going back to training, or starting for the first time, is to attack things full-on and ‘beast’ yourself, this is probably not the best approach. More isn’t always better when it comes to training.
This is because our bodies take time to adjust to exercise stress. By jumping straight in with high training volumes you’ll undoubtedly be placing your body under stress it’s not used to and it will take much longer to recover from.
Gradually increasing our exercise stress over time allows our bodies to adapt and become more resilient. Though we still need to recover, this will be a much shorter time period, allowing you to exercise more consistently. In the long run, this will help you reach your goals.
If lifting weights is your thing, start with whole-body workouts focusing on 1-2 exercises per body part instead of focusing on a single muscle group. This will mean that you aren’t going to be stressing the muscle so much that recovery will take several days, or potentially even weeks if recovery strategies are particularly poor. Then after a few weeks, you can start to increase the amount of focus you place on each muscle.
#2 Schedule Rest Days
In the early stages of exercising, it’s unrealistic to be training 5-6 days a week. Exercising regularly is obviously great but, we have to balance this with our ability to recover. Instead of focusing on training every day, start by training every second or third day. If you do feel the need to train more often, make sure that you’re mixing up your training intensity so that you’re not pushing yourself to the limit during every session.
Proper recovery is as important as the exercise itself, and this starts with allowing the muscle to rest and adapt to exercising. If we don’t rest, then chances are we’ll be slowing down our progress despite feeling that training more often is better.
Increased training frequency is an effective way to build training volume and force positive adaptation to exercise. However, we need a base level of resistance to stress before we can think about training more frequently.
If we consider the previous whole-body resistance training example, we could start with whole-body training 2-3 days per week with 1-2 days’ rest in between. Then we could move on to focus on a single body part in each session, training it with higher volume but once per week. We could then program training with an increase in the frequency with which we hit each body part, aiming for twice per week when we become more advanced.
Your ability to progress and handle this level of training stress as a more ‘serious’ trainer will be heavily dependent on the other lifestyle factors that support recovery.
#3 Get Enough Quality Sleep
This is an obvious one, yet an area where many people struggle to help support recovery. That’s usually because they don’t place enough attention on getting quality sleep.
Give yourself time to power down before bed. About half an hour before you want to sleep, turn off the TV, put down your phone and do something relaxing like listening to music or reading a book – anything that doesn’t involve a screen, basically.
It’s also important to make sure your sleeping environment is the most conducive to good sleep. Make sure any light entering the room is blacked out as much as possible, any lighting on electronic devices/TV is off and place your phone face down if it needs to be on.
If you struggle to sleep because you’re a ‘worrier’, get into the habit of writing down a to-do list for the next day before bed. That way you can put your thoughts on paper and create a plan of action. Try and do your worrying before you go to bed but, if your brain won’t switch off you can always get up and make your to-do list then.
#4 Don’t Neglect your Nutrition
If we’re exercising, then we’re using up fuel that needs replacing and breaking down tissue that needs repairing. The two most important nutrients for recovery, in this case, are likely to be carbohydrates and protein.
The main fuel for muscle during strenuous exercise is glycogen, and this is replenished by consuming adequate carbohydrates. This can be provided by eating whole food sources, but for convenience, there are recovery ‘drinks’ that contain everything, including protein.
Although protein is often seen as something for building muscle, and indeed that’s important for this process, during all forms of exercise we not only break down muscle that needs repairing, but our body uses up proteins in other ways. For example, the enzymes that are responsible for allowing physiological processes to take place feature proteins. No matter how you exercise, consuming enough protein is important.
The amount of protein you require will largely depend on your goals. On a general level, aiming for 1.6-2g per kg of body weight will put you on the right track to supporting recovery. Getting enough protein from whole foods can be difficult, but the simple addition of a quality source of protein like whey can help you meet your daily targets.