The following article was written by Ed Norman who is TNE’s head physical trainer. Ed’s CV includes serving as a Royal Marines PTI (Physical Training Instructor), working as a PT to royalty, Hollywood actors and Olympic athletes, and coaching ‘The North Face’ athletes who are pioneering the most extreme outdoor pursuits on the planet.
Recovery: The Forgotten Art Form
Many of us love to get excited by the thought of overcoming a training challenge and pushing ourselves beyond what we thought was possible. It ignites a dopamine receptor and gives us that feel good factor.
But how much excitement does the recovery side of things provoke, especially when we are feeling great and hitting PBs? If we are honest then probably not much. And so often it gets neglected and many of us fall into the land of diminishing returns. Years go by and we struggle to make the progress we want.
Studies have shown as little as 2% of our brain time is spent thinking about the recovery aspects in our training schedules. Even though 90% of our progression is made outside of our training whilst resting.
When we train, we elicit stress on the body. This stress is both neural, physical and psychological. It affects every pathway of the body’s function and, when utilised correctly can greatly enhance our well-being, health and fitness.
When we place stress upon the body it will always have a side effect in terms of being either advantageous or detrimental. Which path it follows is down to how good your recovery is.
If you don’t have enough recovery, both in terms of quantity and quality, then stress from training will have a negative impact on other systems that play key roles in managing emotions, hormonal balance and energy levels. This in turn will affect how you perform on a day to day basis at work and back home interacting with your family and friends.
Are You Under-Recovered?
You can use the following checklist to see if you are under recovered:
Workouts seem harder than they should.
You might be on a gradual overload plan and suddenly you feel completely wiped out. You try and use mental strength to push through but this could result in injury.
You crave high energy foods.
Increased cortisol reaps havoc with your blood sugar levels. Too much training and under recovery can lead to poor food choices as you are in need of “pick me ups” to get you through the day e.g. partnering coffee with a slice of cake just to feel normal. This simply adds stress on stress and the cycle continues.
You’re less socially interactive.
Being constantly sapped of energy, lethargic, moody and short tempered is a result of struggling to unwind and can be a sure sign of being under recovered.
Sleep patterns are poor.
Being in a stressed state, especially if you are overtraining and/or in an excessive caloric deficit can destroy your ability to function. Often one of the first things to go is sleep. Not sleeping could well be down to you not being able to recover from the stress of your training. And since sleep is absolutely vital for our wellbeing this can result in a fast downward spiral.
Where To Go From Here
So what can you do to make sure your recovery game is on point? You can use the TAP system:
If you start showing any of the signs listed above you need to stop and identify what is causing the issue. But you can only accurately reflect on what you have been doing if you have been tracking your activity.
By logging your progress you will be more able to correlate any sudden changes in how you feel with your training load. This doesn’t have to be a complex affair. A simple notepad will suffice or use one of the many apps now available.
Adding a place to note down your mood, approach to the session, your mental and physical ability to tune into the session itself, and most importantly how you felt afterwards can also be incredibly beneficial.
Nb. You can read our full article on tracking your training here.
Active recovery strategies are key to ensure you have a successful training phase:
1. Pre/post and intra-set stretching and mobility.
This is a powerful tool which can limit injury and offset exercise induced DOMS. When you are more supple, and when you prime the body effectively, you are able to reach a greater range of motion and avoid unwanted stress on structurally limiting joints and muscles. And you can actively start promoting the recovery phase before you even finish your workout.
2. Adequate fuel pre and post workout.
Your body needs fuel to perform. If you want to progress then you must provide the correct nutrition to feed your systems. This is the cornerstone of any successful training plan. Limiting inflammation and promoting a positive nitrogen balance is gained through smart pre/post nutrition, and by having a good diet overall.
3. Progressive programming of hard and easy days and hard days.
Wave loading intensity can be your biggest friend. I like to use the traffic light system in my weekly training cycle. Session 1: easy (green) Session 2: Moderate (Amber) Session 3: Red ( Hard). Then back to green. This method is great as it keeps discipline to the intensity curve and allows you to maintain not only consistency, but allows you to manage fatigue and your adrenal function more effectively.
4. Ensure your training aligns with your goal.
You can use the SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) principle to avoid multiple stressors. If you have a goal then you need to be specific. If you want to complete a 10km run then doing HIIT classes, strength training and yoga on top of your running is not a smart idea. The goal is to run 10k: That means max 3-4 runs a week plus 1 specific strength session. Simplicity is your friend when you have a specific target. A low volume of specific training is much better than a high volume of non specific training.
5. Steady overload over 8-12 weeks, as well as factoring in tapering and deload weeks.
Progressive overload is essential in any well designed program. In managing stress and recovery you need to make sure you slowly expose your systems to both intensity, duration and volume. You can’t jump underneath a 100kg squat and expect to do 10 clean reps without prior movement pattern orientation and structural integrity!
6. Contrast bathing, cold water therapy, massage, compression garments.
These strategies are accessories, and although there is no conclusive evidence, they can help promote healing and enhance the speed of recovery. In my experience, when used in conjunction with a balanced plan they can greatly aid all round health and wellbeing.
Passive recovery is immediate short term recovery. Manipulating these simple variables can greatly enhance the ability to perform in your actual workouts:
1. Resting between sets.
In any good plan you will have rest periods between lifts/movements. This ensures you return to the lift in a good state to achieve the next set and is essential for success and safety. Too often not enough rest is allowed between sets. This increases fatigue and causes you to breakdown to a greater extent, negating your ability to recover.
2. Rest periods during the lift itself.
In a squat we are in a relative resting state before we initiate the lift and immediately after the concentric phase of the lift. When we deadlift, we are in relative rest when the bar is back on the floor. These finite rest periods can alter the intensity of the set itself and should not be underestimated.
3. Resting between workouts.
This is the frequency of your training each week and what days you factor in your sessions. Being smart with this is crucial in optimising recovery between workouts. By working out on a monday morning then again on a tuesday morning you are leaving 24hrs between sessions. By working out on a monday morning but working out on a tuesday evening, you are still training back to back days but leaving an additional 8-10hrs for your body to recover. This system works great when going through a higher volume week.
Being fatigued and under recovered will not only stall any progress with your training, it will also have a knock on effect in all areas of your life.
Be sure to constantly listen to your body. Being strict with your program is one thing, being diligent with self care is another. It has to be a balance for sustainable long term gains. We as humans, are incredibly complex creatures with high tolerances and an innate ability to adapt and overcome repeated stress.
In order to thrive and not just survive, we need to be educated on the signs and symptoms of under recovery and how best to deal with it. Combining knowledge with an intuitive approach is a good way to lead your pursuit of long term health and fitness.
As a final point it is worth noting that being sociable, and around people you like spending time with has proven to be a big part of the overall recovery strategy. So make sure you include happiness and laughter in your recovery plan!
The Limitless Challenge
Stressproof Your Mind And Body For Bulletproof Focus, Resilience & Mental Calm In Just 30 Days.
We are running a 30 day challenge to:
- Eliminate chronic stress
- Unlock your mental toughness
- Optimise long-term health
- Build confidence and self-reliance
- Enhance your ability to thrive