In my experience, balance in fitness – as in life – is really hard to achieve. I have clients who struggle to be consistent with their exercise routine and others who get addicted and shift into overtraining. Yep that’s right. Some people feel guilty because they are not exercising, others feel guilty when they take a day off. But why balance – or more specifically – recovery is said to be so important?
Rest days are paramount to fitness performance for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Building recovery time into any training program is important because this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training benefit takes place; it is during this time that the body repairs damaged tissues and muscles grow. Aerobic exercise follows the same progressive overload principle as weightlifting: the more cardiovascular training you do, the more your VO2 Max increases. In other words, your body will be able to use more oxygen while working out, which boosts endurance. But even endurance athletes need Recovery for stress adaptation and replenish energy stores (glycogen in their muscles). Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise.
When I say adaptation I refer to the body’s ability to undergo the stress we put it under when we exercise. The more we exercise the more the body adapt to said stress and becomes more efficient. It’s just like when we learn a new skill: at first seems difficult, but with time it becomes second nature. Adaptation explains why when you start a new exercise routine are often sore, but after doing the same exercise for weeks you experience very little or no DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) at all. Additionally it makes your body very efficient allowing less energy expenditure doing the same movements. So it’s important to vary your workout routine if you want to see continued improvements.
There are limits to how much stress the body can tolerate before it starts to break down. Doing too much too quickly can result in muscle damage and injuries. Equally doing too little too slowly will not achieve much result. This is why following a specific training programs that increase time and intensity at a planned rate allows to achieve the best results.
It is important to remember that there are two types of Recovery – short and long term and both are very important for optimal performance and long term fitness goals.
Short-term recovery – or what I call in my programmes “active recovery” – refers to engage in low-intensity exercise during both the cool-down phase immediately after a hard effort as well as during the days following the workout. A good Active Recovery routine allow the soft tissue – muscles, tendons, ligaments – to repair and also to get rid the chemicals that build up as a result of cell activity during exercise – lactic acid.
As well as that, it is important to replenish energy stores and fluids lost during exercise, by drinking lots of water, eating a high-protein meal and getting quality sleep.
Long-term recovery refers to recovery days/weeks which are built into an annual training programme. The greater the training intensity and effort, the longer the needed recovery. This is why is very helpful to monitor your workouts with a training log, paying attention to how your body feels and how motivated you are, as this will determine your recovery needs and how to modify the type of training accordingly.