So, your fitness routine is on locked and loaded. Working out is your playground, and you’re enjoying every minute of it. You’re on a roll and won’t quit until you reach your goal. However, despite keeping up with the expert recommended FITT (frequency, intensity, time, and type) and hottest fitness trends, you’ve hit a plateau… hard.
You’ve convinced yourself that working out with more ferocity will help you break through and see results, but it’s not working. Instead, all of that extra exercise is making you feel weaker, reducing your sleep quality, and you feel like you’re dragging yourself through the day. It may be time to accept that workout recovery is just what the doctor ordered.
Let’s look into the science of rest.
When you lift weights, your muscles tear. Don’t worry that’s all part and parcel of building strength, and your body heals itself by repairing these micro-injuries while adding a bit more tissue to protect from future damage or injury — this is what makes our muscles grow in size. Recovery and rest time are essential as they allow your body both time to heal and build. If you are denying your body a pause, your muscles will continue to break down, without rebuilding (no muscle growth). Rest also allows time for you to replenish energy in the form of glycogen and lost fluids.
Workout recovery is required for both physical and psychological reasons. Yes, of course, exercise has incredible benefits, but intense and excessive levels have shown to increase the stress hormone, cortisol. There are limits to how much stress your body can take — even positive stress. Doing too much, or doing it too quickly, can set you up for injury or burn out.
Rest days also help maintain a healthy mind through better life balance. In extreme cases, over exercise can become an unhealthy addiction. Neglecting rest and recovery days could lead to overtraining syndrome which is difficult to reverse. Common signs and symptoms of this include feeling overall unease, weakness, depression, decreased fitness performance, and increased risk of injury.
A restless night’s sleep will impact the next day’s workout, and consistently missing out on a quality sleep can result in small hormone shifts, especially those related to recovery, stress, and mood. It’s thought that lack of quality sleep can lead to increased cortisol and decreased human growth hormone, which is essential in muscle repair.
Fuel your workout
If you don’t feed your muscles, they won’t grow. The exact calorie level varies according to you and your individual needs, but a general rule of thumb is to eat more than you burn. Focus on meals that are nutritionally dense (contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients). Keep healthy snacks on hand at all times and if you need an extra helping hand, download our meal prep app so you’re well-prepared and never go hungry.
Your appetite can clue you into where you stand with your workout recovery as well. If the thought of food is making you say, “meh” or if you feel like going back for seconds or thirds after a meal, it may be a sign that you’re overtraining and should wind your pace down.
Treating yourself to a massage feels good, but may not be helpful immediately after a workout. It can improve circulation and decrease soreness, but this tends to be more of a perceived relief versus real muscle recovery. Some research states it may create more muscle damage if done too soon after exercise, while other research shows that there is some increased muscle activation and reduced soreness. The National Academy of Sports Medicine concludes that it’s unclear at this time, whether or not massages aid in recovery.
What has shown to help is cold immersion after exercise. Yup, that means soaking in an ice-cold bath after a long workout (brrr!). The cold dip gets your muscle temperature down, which can decrease inflammation and muscle soreness. Cold water immersion and contrast water therapy (switching from cold to hot) hold more significant benefits than hot water immersion, so opt for the pool instead of the hot tub or sauna for faster recovery.
How long should I rest?
For proper muscle repair and workout recovery, it’s important to take time between exercising each muscle. Give yourself about one to two days of rest between each muscle group. So say you do arms on Monday, then you can do legs or lower body on Tuesday, then train arms again on Wednesday or Thursday.
If you’re doing full body workouts, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), bootcamp, or spin classes with weights, limit yourself to doing them every other day. This doesn’t necessarily apply to a lighter activity such as a slow run or hike. A good rule of thumb is if it feels intense and you workout for more than 45 minutes, give the major muscle group involved, a time out.
Workout recovery: it’s all about balance
The amount of time you give your body to recover between workouts varies on the type of workouts and their respective intensity. The best way to know if you’re overtraining is to tune in. Practice mindful exercise and pay attention to the signs and signals your body is telling you. Typically, if you’re overtraining, you’ll feel it.
Monitor your workouts with a training log
Pay attention to how your body feels
Check in — are you still motivated?
Looking for quick, easy, and effective exercises to add between your rest days? Sign up for the 8fit app for HIIT-focused fun.