Recovery: The Missing Piece
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
When it comes to starting a workout program, emphasis is typically on, well, the workouts. The same is true when you look at a list of group fitness classes, a practice schedule, or the Instagram feed of your favorite fitness influencer.
Exercise is an important part of any routine, but why is nobody addressing what occurs in the downtime afterwards? Recovery is an important part of any workout plan, and is much more than just the absence of planned physical activity.
“Wait though, aren’t I supposed to be resting on my recovery days?”
There are many ways to go about doing so, and some are far more beneficial than others. What you eat, how you move, and the amount of true rest you get all have an impact on how effective recovery is for both your physical health and overall wellness.
Fueling for Performance
Fueling properly for a workout is key to success, but what you eat afterwards can have just as much of an impact on performance. It is important to properly replenish nutrient stores in order to aid in muscle recovery and ensure you have enough energy for the rest of your day. Food is fuel, so make sure you are eating enough to support your level of activity.
The same goes for water and rehydration. During exercise, your body loses water through sweat, but the process of preventing dehydration starts way beforehand. Even on rest days, make sure you are consuming enough water to keep hydration and electrolyte levels high.
As you can see, a lot of the preparatory steps that you take on days that you workout should be continued even on days that you aren’t in the gym.
Sleep and Fitness
Another example of this is sleep. While important for everyone, sleep is essential for active individuals. After a hard workout, sleep is when the body releases growth hormones that aid in muscle repair. One might even say that sleep is the most important part of an exercise program!
In terms of amount, the number of hours you should aim for depends on your age.
For 12-18 year olds, 8-10 hours of sleep is needed each night. For those above the age of 18, 7-9 hours is recommended. However, studies show that only 28% of people meet these benchmarks.
Stretching it Out
Another aspect of recovery that leaves much to be desired is everyone’s favorite thing to procrastinate: stretching.
Everyone knows they should stretch, and everyone feels better once they do, so why don’t we all do it? Even 5-10 minutes of stretching can make a difference, but when it’s not considered part of a workout, it is easy to neglect. This aspect of recovery will actually enhance the quality of a workout by increasing blood flow, aiding in repair, and expanding range of motion.
Not to mention, there are plenty of ways to do it. Simple stretching on a mat is beneficial, but so is a massage, a quick yoga flow, a Theragun, and foam-rolling. If you find yourself neglecting this essential part of your workout routine, try switching it up a bit and seeing what works (and feels!) best for you.
In addition to all of the components I’ve discussed thus far, it is also important to keep in mind the concept of active recovery.
On your days without a scheduled workout, it can be tempting to spend that time on the couch instead. And while you should certainly take the time to catch up on your favorite shows, there are other, more productive ways to recover.
Active Recovery is the concept of light movement on your rest days in order to increase blood circulation and prevent the buildup of waste produced by the breakdown of soft tissue during exercise. This movement could be anything from walking, to gardening, to cleaning the house, to dancing around the living room. An activity that gets the heart rate up above resting can still be considered recovery- just don’t go too hard!