The Importance of Recovery
Recovery is an important component to any health and fitness lifestyle. Not only does your body need time to repair, but time 'off' can allow you to mentally re-focus on your goals and build motivation to continually succeed.
In the past, I have written about the details of Periodization. This is a training philosophy that has been used for years to train athletes. The fortunate part about periodzation is that the principles can be applied, with great success, to average 'weekend warriors' and fitness enthusiasts alike.
The idea behind periodization is that your training cycles or phases are broken up into 'chunks' of training - usually in 3-6 week blocks - to cause continual adaptation to the body. The idea behind this is that the body will continue to grow and change to challenges its faced with up until a certain point, where it will eventually "plateau" and no longer adapt to the physical demands that are placed upon it. Lately, periodization has been couple with buzz words like "muscle confusion".
One of the key concepts and practices associated with periodization, however, is recovery. Recovery is crucial to add into any exercise program so that an individual does not continue to push themselves to adapt. Continual adaptation to the body can lead to a reverse effect that can cause either short-term or long-term maladaptations.
Whether you are a professional or amateur athlete, or just a fitness enthusiast at heart, everyone can benefit from some time off. Now, let me be clear in saying that time 'off' does not necessarily mean sitting on your rump and doing nothing. Recovery periods can include physical activity, but generally, you are encouraged to decrease intensity for days of rest.
I believe that every individual should include at least 1 day/week of recovery, as well as at least 1 full week of recovery every 3-6 weeks of training. Often times you will feel the need for some time off anyways if you are pushing yourself hard, as your body will be needing time off to rejuvenate and repair.
Often times, I see individuals who have been training hard, feel the need to skip recovery days, or weeks, as they feel it will cause them to take a 'step back' and lose some of their momentum. This is simply not the case, as the body not only needs time to recover, but also does majority of its 'growing' during down time. I can understand the feeling of momentum and that 'go, go, go' attitude, day in and day out, but please listen to me when I tell you that recovery is vital to your long-term success!
Recovery time is not all that bad, however, as it allows you to take a step back and re-evaluate your situation. Below, I have detailed a list of positive things to remember during recovery time.
I personally find when I am in a training phase, I have to mentally focus and be prepared to push myself as hard as I can for every given day. By pushing ourselves to our limits, we truly feel and see remarkable changes.
The problem with this is that by being mentally focused on a specific goal for a set period of time can not only become physically exhausting, by mentally exhausting as well. I find I can push myself harder knowing that I have a day off at the end of each week, or knowing that I have a recovery week coming up that will allow me to take a step back.
Not only that, but once I reach my recovery day or week, I can spend some time to mentally re-focus on my upcoming training block. That down time allows my brain to rest and not worry about getting up every morning to hit the weights or cardio training hard. I can just focus on staying mildly active and enjoy the journey my body is taking to recover so that I can come back stronger than before!
This, I find, is where many people seem to be confused. Thinking that taking 1 day off, or 1 whole week off, can turn you into a little weakling overnight is just utterly wrong. Often times, when a recovery week is used in between training phases of a properly-structured workout program, some individuals feel that their muscles are just wasting away. This is simply untrue and you should remove this from your brain immediately.
First of all, the recovery time is used for just that, so that your body can physically recover. During recovery, your body is repairing tissue that you tore apart while working out so that you can come back stronger than before.
I see many people, while doing a program like P90X say, "After I took that week off between Phase 1 and Phase 2, I came back feeling weak!" You must remember that a program like P90X is specifically designed to continually challenge you in new ways so that you create a total-body transformation in a short period of time. Because of this, you are supposed to feel weak again after a week off, because the training modalities have changed to shock your body in new ways again (see "muscle confusion" or "periodization" above).
A few blog ago, I wrote about a research study I read that indicated how helpful stretching is. I will fully admit that I sometimes neglect to stretch as much as I should after intense workouts. Either I am just too exhausted to put the time in, or I am running short on time, I tend to neglect my stretching when I need it most.
Having said that, I really enjoy recovery days/weeks because I can take my mind off of working my biceps/chest/shoulders/legs/etc. and focus on other things like balance, coordination, and my flexibility. Not only is stretching good for recovery, but it has been shown to increase strength as well!
I mentioned this above, but I would like to discuss this a bit further here. I see many individuals at the gyms these days that go to the gym and do the same things day after day after day and never change their routines. If you are comfortable with your current level of fitness, and don't feel bored to death by doing the same things every time, then this will work for you.
On the other hand, if you wish to continually adapt and change, periodization is for you. Now, to separate periodization blocks, you will want to insert a recovery week in between phases to allow the body to fully adapt from one phase before progressing onto another.
Having said all of that, the recovery week itself allows a tiny bit of "muscle confusion" as your body is automatically going to be challenged in new ways.
Recovery time does not have to be all doom and gloom. For many fitness nuts out there, taking time off feels like they are taking a step back or losing momentum when this is simply not the case. Just remember to enjoy your days off as much as you enjoy your hard working days, as they are all a part of the bigger picture. All of these days combined makes for a healthier, better feeling, injury-resistant, and happier you!
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