How to get better results from your fitness training by incorporating adequate recovery

Like many of you, I have over-exercised by running too many miles and instructing unhealthy numbers of exercise classes each week; none of which resolved my body image/ weight issues and largely contributed to my mental and physical ill health.

Yes I know, it is commonly prescribed to exercise more and to eat a lot less, but does it work? Does it make you feel good, is it sustainable long term, will it change your body shape permanently? Well – no, generally it does not.

There is a limit to what your body can cope with in the long run. If you keep doing several intense classes at the gym or running many miles each week you will eventually experience symptoms of overtraining see the list below.

At the beginning, when you use the approach of eat less exercise more, you may make some progress, but over time it turns into regression when the body has had enough of the stress posed on it by lengthy periods of high heart rate levels, starvation and blood sugar ups and downs.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, - FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici,
– FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I didn’t know any better I trained harder and harder but the weight crept back on which did not make sense to me at the time, it now does.

At first my legs became tired and refused to take me up small flights of stairs, later I experienced chronic aches and pains that kept moving around the body. I felt stressed by the idea of not exercising or taking a mind/ body class instead of the exhausting circuit, pump and spin classes.

Even on holiday I would make sure that I had some form of exercise every day because I believed I would lose fitness and get fat over night. Again this is not necessary or effective when it comes to training. Since I have discovered mindfulness and recovery as being an essential part to a whole fitness approach I have been on holidays without any form of formal exercising and you might be surprised to hear that I have not gained weight.

It makes me sad to see people like you slaving away in group-fitness for years, always feeling that you just need to try harder and then you will get the results you are longing for. Stop right there!

That’s a terrible misconception; most of you are probably doing far too much or doing the wrong thing, causing your bodies extreme stress that prevents the change you are so desperately seeking. Less is more.

When it comes to fitness, I love the below quote from Albert Einstein:

 

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

 

Don’t leave your body hanging when it is asking for a break

The best thing to do to avoid overtraining and getting an injury from repetitive movement patterns is to change things around regularly, don’t do the same classes week in week out for months or even years. I know we all like a bit of regularity in a fast changing world where many things are not dependable but don’t let that subconscious emotion affect your health by repetitive overtraining.

Why not set yourself a challenge to try a new class or activity weekly, every other week or monthly. If you make it one of your personal rules, it will be easy and help you progress on all levels.

I know some of you are having a long Easter break coming up. Use the break to recover and try new things to expand the range of experiences you offer your body and mind. You may find yourself surprised by how well you get on with not exercising in a formal way. I am by no means advocating converting to being a couch potato – you should move around every day but there really is no need for constant huffing and puffing to stay fit. A period of stillness can be beneficial for both body and mind.

Image courtesy of marin-FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marin-FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A break is actually great; when you come back your body will be surprised by your usual type of training, you will probably get a little sore from the first couple of session. This would be a great time to start a more health and results producing approach to training. If you are sore from your last workout, you know that you will need to rest until you feel that you would be able to give 100% in your next session.

Your muscles and connective tissue need time to repair the micro trauma you have caused by your last workout. Not giving your body the time it needs to re-build and strengthen the tissue causes weakening and eventually you will get a small injury that if not taken care of becomes a chronic problem that could force you to stay away from the gym.

I have seen this several times with runners that did not listen to their bodies when they had shin splints, plantar fasciitis or stress fractures. Those symptoms are not initial signs of overtraining; they are the last call to action by the body crying for a break.

You should know that muscles heal relatively quickly with rest and the nutrients they need to rebuild because they have plenty of blood running through.

Tendons and connective tissue however have no proper blood supply, the healing process stars from the surrounding soft tissues. When there is little surrounding soft tissue as in the case of ligaments of the knee or foot the regeneration is slow. A study has shown that the structure was not back to normal even a year after a ligament surgery. They also found that it was paramount to have rehabilitation during the recovery process to avoid the tissue to rebuild as random scar tissue. You have the power to avoid injuries by taking care of your body with rest and applying good form/ technique when executing your workouts.

 

How you become stronger

Did you know that you don’t make progress when you work out – you make progress when you recover from the workout? The body responds to a challenging workout/ stimulus with adaptation during recovery to be able to handle the challenge more easily next time. So if you don’t recover, your body will never be able to handle heavier weights or more extensive workouts. If you want to get the most out of your exercise routine you need to come up with a strategy to ensure your exercise stimulus has the desired effect.

Working out too frequently will prevent the body from replacing lost energy stores, re-building new muscle tissue and recovering from the stress. Eventually you will start to experience symptoms of overtraining. Exercising too infrequently won’t apply enough stimuli to create lasting change. Finding the balance where you feel strong in every workout because you are ready for it after adequate recovery is ideal and will let you enjoy regular results.

 

Now check the list and see how urgent a change of schedule is for your body.

Be honest with yourself, you don’t want to look back thinking “If I had just…”.

 

Symptoms of overtraining:

  • you’re gaining fat despite increased exercise volume
  • you stop seeing results from your regular routine
  • your legs are “heavy”, walking up the stairs is a chore
  • your workouts leave you exhausted instead of energised
  • you are unable to sleep or you can’t seem to get enough sleep
  • you feel sluggish all day, you lost the spring in your step
  • your workouts leave you regularly sore for days at a time
  • your experience chronic discomfort or pain in joints, muscles and tendons
  • you seem to catch small injuries more frequently
  • your injuries do not heal, but seem to accumulate
  • you don’t feel your bubbly self; you have the blues, a short fuse or your are irritable, moodiness is affecting your social life
  • you feel restless, lose focus easily and lack of concentration is affecting other areas of your life
  • you fall ill a lot more often, for example with upper-respiratory infections or it takes forever to get over a cold
  • you are unable to eat enough food to sustain a healthy fully functioning body with the demands you pose on it
  • you don’t feel like going to the gym but you feel you have to, to avoid getting fat
  • (in women) your menstrual cycle is disturbed

 

Did you recognise any symptoms that your body has expressed to give you a hint?

 

Active or passive recovery

Recovery is largely about tissue regeneration and nutrient delivery, which happens best with good circulation and adequate food intake.

Active recovery is when you go for a swim instead of running your usual 10miler or you take part in a yoga class. Basically, you would be doing something that does not require huffing and puffing.

You can also use “working in” methods such as Zone exercise where you work with your breath and consciousness, experiencing and listening to the response of the body to each and every movement. You experience how the body generates energy while moving slowly, this form of movement leaves you refreshed and clam.

I have quite a few Body Pump participants that have found my Body Flow Tai Chi class helpful in soothing tired and sore muscles. The mechanism that is doing this magic work here is the deep breathing allowing increased intake of oxygen which is then distributed with the nutrient rich blood through gentle increase circulation that does not trigger stress hormones to be poured out.

The constant slow movements pump the body and support the removal of waste material accumulated in the muscle cells through heavy exercise.

You could just go for a walk with a friend and greatly benefit from the active recovery it will provide. Other options are magnesium bath, stretching, foam rolling or getting a massage to loosen up your tired knotty muscles.

Passive recovery would be lying on the sofa doing absolutely nothing, at the most walking around a bit. The down side is that the lack of circulation may be inhibiting delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissue. There is nothing wrong with total rest if you have over done it and really feel like not moving at all. You will bounce back quickly if you carefully listen to what your body needs to feel its best.

I really like Headspace for passive rest and training my mind.

I can tell what you are thinking – you think your mind is too busy for meditation and you can’t be still and empty your mind. You really need to check this guided meditation out, it is nothing like what you think meditation is like, it is easy to succeed with the help of Andy who guides you through every 10min meditation. If you had told me just over a year ago that I would get into meditation I would have laughed, well I really love it and have benefited greatly from taking the time to train my mind. Don’t miss out on this awesome way of increasing your performance.

 

 

Ensure you:

  • get to bed by 10pm and sleep full nights that leave you refreshed
  • you replenish your glycogen stores with carbohydrates after a heavy workout (and no – I don’t mean lumps of sugar)
  • train your mind with meditation to match your physical strength
  • include a wide variety of activities/ classes in your workout schedule
  • cherish and enjoy non exercise days
  • eat foods that support performance and health
  • are always well hydrated
  • work on mobility and flexibility to stay supple and increase performance
  • take mind body sessions such as tai chi, yoga or my Zone class
  • schedule in a de-load week where you take things easier than normal every 5th week

 

In my personal journey, when I was finally ready to accept that what I was doing did not work, I started employing the principles I now teach and things changed dramatically. Through listening to my body and working on my unhelpful thought patterns, I have grown into a strong, healthy and happy person with a sunny disposition.

You can achieve that too, there is no trick to it -it just takes time to make the transition.

You don’t want to take the journey alone? Not a problem – ask me how I can help you to train smarter and live a more balanced life that leaves time for the fun things.
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