5 Pillars of Exercise Recovery
How much time do you spend on recovery? I do not mean hypervolt, marcpro/stim, or foam rolling, but lifestyle improvements to help your body heal itself.
While the hypervolt and muscle stim machines can help you feel better, they promote overtraining by reducing muscle soreness. At some points in the training season, this is necessary, however, if you are doing this all year round without improving lifestyle habits you are putting yourself at a disadvantage in the long run.
Sleep is more often than not the lowest hanging fruit that people can improve on to aid recovery. Being able to rest, recover, then perform more work the next day is the most important aspect to keep improving to reach your goals.
Ask yourself these questions:
Do you sleep between 8 and 10 hours a night?
Do you sleep through the night?
Do you wake up feeling refreshed?
Do you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day?
If you answered no to 1 or more questions you may need to focus on fixing your sleep habits.
Sleep is the only time that our body is able to repair itself and reenergize for the next day. Sleep also helps us recover from injury. Training hard can be considered micro-trauma, or small controlled injuries to the muscles, ligaments, and bones. Getting a good night's sleep makes sure these microtraumas do not accumulate over time and cause a more serious injury or something that is nagging and will not go away.
While there is no perfect sleep duration, a good place to start is 7-10 hours a night. Some people may need less and some people may need more, this can be highly individualized especially if you are looking for improved performance in the gym or at work.
How do you figure out what time frame is best for you?
Take 2 nights where you do not set an alarm for the next morning and go to bed at your usual time. Sleep as long as your body wants to, as long as you wake up refreshed within 5-10 minutes of waking up. You should not need coffee to get your day started. This will give you an idea of how many hours your body and brain need to be recovered. This method is not perfect. If you have been sleep deprived for days, weeks, or years it can be much harder to get an accurate idea of how much time you need to sleep. If sleep deprivation is normal for you, it would be better to start with general sleep habits before dialing in how much sleep you need.
For many people, daily rhythm is an easy yet important fix to help them sleep better. We should be awake with the sun and sleep with the moon, however with stressful jobs and electronics many people work during the day and the night. This means they are never winding down from the day and are always in a state of go-go-go.
Your sleep environment plays an important role in how well you sleep. Here are a few recommendations that have helped clients improve their sleep hygiene.
Blackout all light sources in the bedroom. Investing in a good blackout curtain to cover windows will help keep light from the street out. Using a sleep mask can also help block out light, I have found that the mask may not stay on all night which may be a problem if there is outside lighting in the room.
Dropping the temperature of your room to 66-68 degrees Fahrenheit will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep more soundly. Your body temperature begins to drop at night signaling it is time to rest and recover. This will also help regulate your body temperature in the middle of the night when your body temperature is the lowest. If you have woken up soaked in sweat, you know how annoying this can be to get back to sleep.
Fixing sleep hygiene practices is typically the first step I take with clients that are seeing a plateau in performance or recurrent, nagging pain issues. These are signs that you are not recovering well.
Nutrition is a highly debated topic in the fitness industry today. While I have my opinions on which “diet” type works better for some things than others, for most people food hygiene is the MOST important factor that is left out.
What is nutrition hygiene?
Food hygiene includes food quality, digestion, and the ability to absorb and use nutrients.
Food Quality is looking at not only the nutritional value of that food but also the source of that food. Most fitness nutrition looks at only the macronutrients, fat, protein, and carbs while missing out on the micronutrients of that food.
A simple way to look at food quality for recovery is macronutrients fuel you for the workout while micronutrients help you recover from the workout. With high-quality food, we are less likely to take in toxins such as pesticides, or animal products that are given antibiotics and hormones.
Making changes in food quality does have to take into account a person’s financial situation. If you can afford organic produce and grass-fed meats, that is great, however, it is not always necessary. If you go from eating a sandwich made with deli meat to a sandwich of meat that you cooked yourself that is still an upgrade. You know what your meat is cooked with and how it was “processed”.
The small changes are an easier transition to make for people. If someone gives a list of 50 things to do overnight, that is a setup for failure. To get better at anything, you only have to make a 1% improvement each day or training cycle. Making small stepping stones will get you to your goal faster than one big change that does not last.
Another low-hanging fruit for optimal health and recovery is hydration. The goal is to drink 50% of your body weight in ounces of quality filtered water. Our body is made up of 60 or so percent water. This water is not just hanging around, it helps with many important functions that help us survive and perform activities we enjoy.
Keeps mucosal membranes moist
Allows body’s cells to grow, reproduce, and survive
Flushes body waste mainly in urine
Helps deliver oxygen
Needed to make neurotransmitters
Regulates body temperature through sweating and respiration
Helps with digestion
Acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord
Getting sun exposure during the day is an amazing way to get your necessary dose of Vitamin D which is essential for human survival. While taking a supplement can help it is an inefficient way to get vitamin D. Sunbathing can produce up to 20,000 units of vitamin D in 20 minutes of whole-body exposure around noon.
Getting sunlight can also help reset circadian rhythms. Getting sunlight to your eyes soon after you wake triggers a response that controls the timing of the hormones cortisol and melatonin which both affect sleep. While sunlight in the morning is important, getting sunlight in the evening as well can help lock in your circadian clock. The best times to be in the sun for rhythm are 15-30 minutes after the sun rises and about 30-60 minutes before the sunsets.
Easy movement and play
Active recovery days have become more prevalent in the fitness world today. However, most people are just using this phrase to get in another hard workout. I am a huge proponent of active recovery days, but they must be done right. If you are doing a 40-minute amrap of barbell movements and high-skill gymnastics, this is probably not a recovery day for 99% of people. If you use active recovery days right, you should feel better leaving the gym than when you walked in.
These days should be used for getting the blood moving in your body, not challenging the system. My favorite active recovery technique is to just play. Practice a sport or activity you enjoy doing that gets you outside (more sunlight) and moving. Going for a long unplugged walk can be very beneficial to clear the mind and move some blood around, this can also be a great time to build relationships with friends or loved ones. You are able to talk and enjoy the outdoors.
When it comes to recovery, there is no one-size-fits-all program, but there are principles that you can apply to help improve your performance. Try one or two of these ideas for 4-6 weeks and track your performance or energy levels at the end of the 6 weeks. If you feel better and your performance improved, then keep the new habit in your routine, if you felt worse or had no change, this habit might not be the right one for you at that time.
It is always a good idea to get assessed by a professional to help find the lowest hanging fruit to go after. Having a consultation, or hiring a coach is an easy way to have an unbiased opinion and help figure out what you need.
Dr. Kopp is now offering online and in-person consultations along with remote individualized coaching to help you live your most fulfilled life.
If you would like more details on individual coaching send Dr. Kopp an email at Dr.Kopp@kalamazoochirorehab.com