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Recovery. What is it and Am I?

Bishop et al. (2007) define recovery as the ability to meet or exceed performance in a particular activity.

Recovery is the simple way, in terms of exercise physiology, of saying that your body is able to train again or is back to homeostasis (balance). This means that byproducts from the last strenuous training session are cleared enough to be able to train again with intensity without an increase in negative effects of training before byproducts are cleared.

Recovery is:

Restoring of glycogen to muscles and liver.

Normalizing of bodily functions like (autonomic nervous system):

-blood pressure

-heart beat


-breathing regularity

Mentally being ready to train again.

Recovery can be passive (sleep, etc) or active (cool down on treadmill, eating to fuel performance and recovery – which means adequate calories and macro/micro nutrients – etc).

It can take seconds (time between sets) or days.

Processes of recovery:

Intra Set Recovery is the time between exercise sets it takes to be able to do the next set. This is time it takes to catch your breath, get enough glycogen into your muscle to be able to exert force again and can be as little as a few seconds to upwards of 5-10m.

Post Workout Recovery ranges from the cool down period of your workout (walking, stretching, etc) that brings your heart rate down, allows you time to dissipate heat, blood pressure levels out, glycogen replenishes in the muscles and liver, to the day after your session which can include: nutrition, sleep, modalities to help the process (think massage, ice baths, foam rolling, etc).

Each of the recovery times is important to maximize the work you’re going to be doing in your next set or session. If you’re unable to train at the intensity that you need to, you may be leaving gains on the table. But how do you know that you’re recovered enough to train?

Well, for some of us it’s difficult without biofeedback help (trackers like Whoop and FitBit). We often become over trained because we are too stubborn not to train. This leads to burn out, elevated biofeedback systems such as heart rate & heart rate variability, blood pressure, as well as increased or decreased appetite and eventually exhaustion. Decreases in appetite, mood and inability to regulate it, sleep disturbances and lack of are some more easily distinguishable warning signs of over training.

Being unmotivated to train is very different than a complete lack of ability (physically or mentally and emotionally) to train. This is one that the general population will find more difficult to understand. An athlete has a drive to train, it’s enjoyable momentary discomfort in lew of a greater picture. General public rarely will be over trained and should be cautious that a lack of desire to do exercise is not always a sign of overtraining.

Fatigue. It’s different than tired. Fatigue in the general terms is exhaustion, being overly tired, to the point that it interferes with life, training, mood, appetite, and other functions. Being fatigued is your body’s cry for recovery and rest.

Often, I find, that the signs of fatigue are ignored because of the person’s desire to push to achieve their physical goals takes over their ability to use common sense or equate the lack of bodily response to the need for recovery; nothing will keep them from working out. But truthfully, if you’re experiencing fatigue, it’s time to take a step back and recover so you’re able to push forward with minimal time off.

Have you ever been so tired you can’t sleep? If you’re pushing extremely hard in the gym, you’re probably over trained or over stressed. Time off and some relaxation techniques could help lower fatigue and encourage recovery.

How do you know that you’re recovered?:

You could get a device that measures Heart Rate Variability. Along with that, measuring your heart rate and sleep patterns (some call this a sleep score), but that doesn’t tell you a whole lot (HRV can).

Best ways to know if you’re recovered enough to workout?

How do you feel?

If you feel drained, fatigued, super sore (it’s not bad to train through soreness, unless that soreness is not going away within a reasonable time period post training, 1-3 days should be sufficient).

Do you feel totally unmotivated, assuming you’re a very motivated individual when it comes to working out and training?

Do you feel your body freaking out? Perhaps this comes in the form of an over active appetite (ladies, beware of your menstrual cycle – tracking is legit a wonderful tool to use for training purposes).

Are you ready for a nap at all times of the day or are you not sleeping well?

Is your heart rate through the roof or less than usual, blood pressure elevated over the course of a few days?

All these things can help you determine whether or not you’re recovered. It can take some time to find patterns for yourself so you start to recognize when you may or may not be recovered. Signs and symptoms can vary person to person so keeping track of what’s working and not working for you and how you feel after certain recovery tactics is important to know your responses and needs for recovery.

For years recovery has been the last thing on my mind. Only when it was too late did I start to recognize symptoms and the need for recovery. I was over trained. My habits – which started out as well intentioned and good for me- started causing issues with my hormones, hair, skin, sleep, energy levels, extreme hunger and inability to lose fat or gain muscle.

I should have done more for my recovery but was so focused on my goals that I felt recovery days and techniques would deter me and put me further behind on my timeline.

Looking back I see that had I taken those recovery days I would have been able to continue to see results and have been further ahead as far as my general health is concerned.

Most training programs will include 1-2 days of rest/week. This day should be to recuperate from intense training. Don’t dismiss the power of gentle workouts for recovery. Workouts like gentle and enjoyable walking or yoga can be extremely beneficial, coupled with incorporating dietary maintenance days or even days of eating in a caloric surplus or higher carbohydrates to continue to aid in muscle and soft tissue recovery.

Because typically we are unable to measure, daily, the lactate and hydrogen ions floating through your system, glycogen stores, pH levels in muscles, blood, etc., we have to go off of ‘feel’ for the most part unless you have a HRV tracker or some other form of tracking system/device. Even those can be a little off, so I would strongly encourage you to pay attention to your body. If you know your body’s reactions over a period of time, to certain stimulus, you can better assess your body’s need for recovery and gauge the quality of your recovery.

It’s a great thing to push hard as hell.

It’s also a great thing to recover hard as hell.

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