Oh, we hear these words so often in the fitness world… music to my ears! I’ve written a similar blog post in the past, but it was more specifically about my own recovery time within training… so this time I’m discussing the methods of rest and recovery for the general population. This refers mostly to those who train regularly or take part in sports throughout the week, but it might also concern those of you who work in manual jobs and are on your feet all day!
There are macro and micro strategies that can help us to recover between sessions; the macro-strategies being fairly obvious, but how often, or how well, do we actually do them? The micro-strategies have shown to be effective to some extent, although lots of research is still being done to see just how effective they can be – essentially to decide how often we should do them, as some methods can be fairly expensive or time consuming, and therefore not always practical for everyone. I’ll touch briefly on these micro-strategies, but we’ll focus mainly on the 3 macro-strategies.
Firstly; sleep, nutrition and rest are the three main categories when talking about macro-strategies of recovery. It is suggested that we should aim for 8 hours of sleep per night, but it has to be quality sleep. If you’re constantly waking up throughout the night, you may actually need a little longer. Most jobs, daily tasks and sports require high levels of concentration, so a lack of sleep can greatly alter the function of the brain to carry out these tasks.
Additionally a varied diet can aid recovery; protein builds muscle and can be used as an energy source; carbohydrates refuel your energy sources for both everyday movements and functionality as well as during exercise sessions; fats (particularly essential fats such as omega-3 and omega-6) help the body to maintain joint function for example, since the body can’t produce these essential fats by itself; a variety of vitamins and minerals provide us with many benefits such as better transportation of oxygen to the muscles, or the efficiency of the brain to send signals to muscles during movements; not forgetting that good hydration is key throughout the day to recover electrolytes lost in sweat and regulate metabolism.
Rest days between gym sessions, leisure time after work or at the weekends are considered to be recovery techniques too. It might be passive recovery – quite literally just “chilling” when you get home. Watching the tv, reading a book or taking time to cook something nice, anything that maintains a fairly steady heart rate and perhaps doesn’t require too much brain power. Alternatively, you could take part in active recovery – gentle classes such as yoga or pilates, walking, swimming, or even just a stretch before bed. It is important that during your week, you try to have a mix of both active and passive recovery but ensure that sometimes you do actually just rest completely! Don’t feel guilty for having a day off from the gym when you need to… it’s completely normal and allowed (even your PT has rest days!). Your body has a way of telling us what we need often before we realise it.
Micro strategies include things such as foam rolling before or after sessions to help relieve muscle tension and knots (fairly easy to do, and cheap to buy, but awkward to stretch certain muscle because of the positions you have to stretch in). Sports massage can help to again, relieve tension from tight muscles and to help with blood flow around the body (a little pricier and perhaps not efficient when done too regularly). Electro-magnetic stimulation, or EMS for short, encourages muscle contraction so may be useful for someone recovering from injury and needing to rebuild muscle imbalances (again, more expensive, although could be quicker than other techniques and is a great low-intensity option for athletes on a training plan). Ice baths and compression socks or tights have also been considered in the past to help sportspeople to recover or rehabilitate after injuries. Although some research shows that these techniques can work, they still have much research to be done to see how often we should use them, and whether they are more beneficial for some people more than others.
It’s fair to say that the micro-strategies are a good alternative if you want to mix up your rest and recovery every now and then (who doesn’t love a massage?!), but one thing is for sure that the 3 macro-strategies above are the easiest ways we can control our own rest time. These are things that we all do naturally, day by day, so it might be worth just considering the amount of each that you do. Essentially, you’re in control of how much sleep you get each night, the type of foods that go into your body, and the rest days that you take each week. Rest and recovery is about listening to your body and knowing the best course of action for you, and for only you. Take time to plan them into your week, as you would plan your workouts, your daily jobs and your meals – they’ll soon turn into habits and you’ll feel a whole lot better once you’re in control.