Build Strength with Rest and Recovery
There’s a very important aspect to overall health that doesn’t get as much attention as regular exercise and good nutrition but is just as important for our overall well-being: Rest & Recovery. As I visit with everyone from fellow athletes, students in a variety of exercise classes and trainers in the field of fitness, I can totally relate to the occasional oversight of this necessity. I understand the enthusiasm we can feel when we go hard and go strong but the stress we cause on our bodies with exercise must be balanced out with proper rest in order to recover so we truly CAN get stronger.
The basic thing to remember is that the work we do when we train with any type of fitness regimen is that the muscles in our bodies are actually having to break down during that process. Imagine the next time you’re in Zumba, lifting weights in your conditioning class, holding planks in yoga or running to train for your next race—the fibers in your muscles that you feel working for you and getting tired are actually pulling apart and breaking down while you exercise. It’s not until you allow your body to rest that your muscle fibers actually have a chance to rebuild and become even stronger than before your workout which is why the same exercise will eventually get easier with regular cycles of breakdown and repair.
Some of you already know your trainer in class will encourage you to power through a workout (paying close attention to proper form for a safe challenge as opposed to feeling pain) but what happens after class or even a week or so of really hard training? According to Jason Benavides, Owner and Head Coach of Octane Athletic Performance, there should be a steady build up of exercise in intensity accompanied by enough rest such as at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night to allow your body to properly recover. Jason encourages all of his clients and training staff to rest properly because after 4-5 weeks of exercise without rest you eventually run your body into the ground. This, of course, opens yourself up to injury and exhaustion from which it could take days, weeks or even months to fully recover.
I think about this issue mostly when I see those who try to go “zero to 60” when first attempting to lose weight or reach goals that seem or feel a bit out of reach. They push really hard in class, never miss a day, constantly try to add extra weights before they’re ready, never allow their body to build back up between workouts and then suddenly find themselves hurt, injured or simply burned out! I speak from experience, as always, and after a shoulder injury (due to overuse) that prevented me from practicing yoga to my level of practice for several months, I committed myself to not allow anything to stop me from the activities I love again. I’ve even seen the burnout happen to those who only attempt to start a workout regimen for a few days trying to go straight from the couch to hardcore training! They just can’t sustain it, they’re not ready for the intensity and rather than easing back they stop completely which is NOT the same as “resting to recover”.
Proper sleep every night is important but having a “recovery day” does not necessarily mean “do nothing”. Learn what feels right to you but lighter activity such as a swim, an easy walk, gardening, a casual bike ride or a night out dancing can all qualify as a restful recovery day depending on how easy you go and given that your body isn’t telling you it needs more rest than that. Be smart in your classes and know how and when you need to ease up with lighter weights or slow down your pace rather than avoid class completely. Maintain that body awareness and learn what your body needs so you can rest as necessary, challenge yourself whenever you can, eat when you need to eat and, again, REST when you need to REST. Remember that it’s the right balance and consistent cycles of Physical Activity, Proper Nutrition and Rest & Recovery that allows you to improve and maintain your fitness as well as manage a healthy lifestyle.