Having touched on some training ideas in previous articles, I figured it was time to have a look at some things with regards to recovery.
So, what do we mean by recovery? Recovery in the context of training, is a return to baseline performance. What do we mean by baseline performance? Any arbitrary expression of your performance that is easily measurable, for example if you can bench 100kgs for 10 reps easily, you can use that as your baseline. So, if that is your baseline and one day you're warming up in the gym and you get to 100kgs on your way up to working sets, and 5 reps feels like you're moving the earth, it's indicative of insufficient recovery.
Photo by: Tom Hosking Weddings
Expecting to test your baseline every training session is unreasonable and overly time consuming, however just having it as a guideline is important. It's also worth mentioning that using peak performances, or what you've done on your best days as a guideline isn't a good idea either.
Before we get into what exactly you can do to ensure good recovery, it's very important to point out that we are talking specifically about training recovery, and not recovery from an injury. A great many innovations have come out in recent years with recovery in mind. However most them were developed regarding injury recovery. The line between injury and training recovery has become blurred, so I'm going to attempt to give it some clarity. That doesn't mean there are no crossover benefits, and I'll address some of the common misrepresentations as we go.
In descending importance, first up is sleep. There's a lot of debate and research around the topic, but it's almost universally agreed that you need at least 6 hours per night. Optimally you're looking to get about 8, anything more than that doesn’t give you any dramatic increase in benefit, and some argue that it can start to negatively affect you. Regardless, the undisputed king of the ring in terms of training recovery is sleeping enough.
Next up in second place is nutrition. I realise this is a very broad topic, so to refine it, I'm talking about adequate calorie and macro-nutrient intake relative to your training goals. If you’re trying to build muscle, you're going to need to make sure your protein intake is high enough to support that. You're also likely going to need a large number of calories for a surplus, as well as adequate carbohydrates to fuel activity.
I'm going to amalgamate supplements into this point as well, however by themselves they would be last on this list. Even if planned and executed completely optimally, supplements make at most 5% of a difference to total recovery. So please save your money, and don't immediately turn to the latest shiny packaging if you feel like you aren't fully recovering for training, it's most likely due to sleep or nutritional issues.
Lastly, managing life stress. Stress comes from many different sources and is unavoidable for a lot of people. Life stress covers everything from family, work, money, the dog ate your Nike Romaleos… everything. But, realistically, you can only manage the stuff within your control, so don't worry about the stuff you can't. One practical take away to help with this aspect, is to try and set some time each day, normally an hour, where you just relax, sprawl out on the sofa watch T.V, read a book, play with the dog since he is still cute despite how much you loved those shoes. An easy time to build this in is right before bed.
What I'm getting at is that you need designated unwind time. You may not get an hour, but anything is better than nothing. The reasoning behind this is that training stimulus is also a stressor. The act of training is exposing yourself to a stress in a specific way so that your body reacts to it and adapts and you get bigger, better and stronger. So being able to control any extra stressor that you don't need or want can play a big part in making sure that as much of your recovery as possible is dedicated to training recovery.
Now let's address the leopard in the room, my list didn't include foam rolling, cold therapy, saunas, KCR, flossing, acupuncture, gua sha, cupping and a tonne of other similar things. That's because, none of these things have any meaningful effect on training recovery. I realise a lot of people may not have heard of some of the things I just listed, so I've hyperlinked out to some places to get your started. As always read as much as possible and ask plenty of questions about everything.
Injury recovery is something totally different, healing an injury and the processes involved with that are different to just recovering from training stress. Let's address the immediate responses most people have.
"Well it works for me". It most likely doesn't, as you're going all in on the placebo effect or just how it subjectively makes you 'feel'. For a practical example, if you attempted to squat 10 sets of 10 reps at 60% of your 1RM every day, when you give up or injured yourself would that be due to a lack of foam rolling? Or would it be because of the ridiculousness of that amount of volume? Obviously, the biggest issue is the absurd amount of training volume. You can't justify that a lack of foam rolling or any other similar modality as the reason you couldn't do 10x10 forever. Every system has limits. I don't think I've heard anyone ask things along the line of “How much do I need to foam roll to bench 180kgs?”
"I do X, Y, Z just because it makes me feel good". This is totally valid, as I've mentioned before how you feel can impact things. So, if you spend a large amount of time on a certain modality just to 'feel' better, I'd suggest looking at your training volumes as well as your sleep and food. No amount of time in the sauna is going to overcome getting 4 hours sleep per night.
"X person does it and they're jacked/good at their sport". This example is used across almost everything, from training to clothing. The real question you should answer is, is this person as good as they are because of this, or in spite of it? Does Blaine Sumner have a 505kg squat because he wears a headband and chalks his face like the ultimate warrior? Or is he just a beast who has trained intelligently for years who just happens to also wear a headband and face chalk? Yes, that isn't a recovery modality, but is routine not a large part of sport psychology? The point remains most top level athletes get there with a large amount of consistent hard work, not just this one weird trick that they do.
To summarise, the big basic stuff that has always worked, continues to work. Training recovery and injury recovery are two different things and I believe the distinction is very important for addressing what is relevant to our current training goals. Don't put too much stock in things that, at best, make minimal benefits, focus on being great at the big difference makers. As always if you have any comments please leave them below or contact me @atsapproved.