Recovery isn’t just foam rolling, alpha balls, messing around with resistance bands and romwod!
Recovery is as important or maybe even more than the training itself. How and what you do to recover from that training can define your success moving forward. If you’re putting enough appropriate emphasis on it, recovery is what lets you get back out there day after day. There’s a lot to digest here so let’s get right into it. The points below are not mutually exclusive. These are to be implemented as part of your daily regimen with some auto-regulation by you in the areas that need more focus:
Duh? Right. Well, if you knew this already why aren’t getting enough of it? Get more. It’s not just the number of hours slept but the quality of sleep. Start a ritual to get you ready for bed at least an hour before hitting the sack – turn off all electronics and don’t keep any near you. If your phone doubles as an alarm clock, put it in a different room. This will also help you get out of bed instead of snoozing for 20 minutes. Better yet, go without an alarm clock because if you’re getting the right amount of high quality sleep you will actually wake up on your own. Great snooze aids are foam rolling or reading an autobiography – no exciting romance novels or horror. When someone goes to bed depends on his or her schedule but keep that bedroom cool and pitch black. We all love pre-workouts but depending on when you work out and when you plan to go to bed, these can destroy your sleep. If you’re going to rock out on 4 cups of coffee in a scoop, do it before noon. General rule is no caffeine for at least 6 hours before bedtime. Besides electronics and caffeine another consideration is timing and size of your evening meal. I’ve kept a journal and discovered that larger meals, especially those with a larger portion of carbs, closer to bed time don’t promote a restful night. Try to give yourself a good 2, maybe even 3 hours after your last large meal.
Experiment and Sleep tight.
Another obvious one. Not so fast, my friend. This can be rather tricky. Most of us are familiar with the Paleo model but eating for performance can be different. The body needs to fuel to run like a well-oiled machine and to recover. That means you might need to throw in some extra “good” carbs to replenish the glycogen stores after you just went all out in that WOD (more on that in a bit). Personally, when eating strict Paleo I was hungry all the time. If you notice your performance suffering (not hitting the numbers or feel tired consistently) it’s either lack of sleep or not enough nutrition to support your training. Some of us might actually need to lose a few pounds, meaning eating less in total volume but dialing it in on the nutritional content. The old adage goes that to get stronger you need to bulk up but sometimes too much bulk can be a detriment; it may take longer for your body to recover if you are carrying more weight around. The workouts themselves are more taxing on the nervous system. Thus, another option might be to lean out. I feel better over all, have more energy, and move better in my workouts since I cut down from my bulking phase. You can think of it in relative terms, as well. How much you can lift in relation to your body weight is key, especially in terms of metrics (think Whiteboard). Yes, we all want to be jacked but after a certain point most strength adaptations are derived at the neurological level and not from increased hypertrophy.
Incorrect form will absolutely wreak havoc on your body. We normally don’t notice it during a workout due to adrenaline and endorphins, plus that pre-workout from before makes us feel invincible. The shearing and compressive forces due to poor movement make our bodies work overtime, not only during the WOD, but long thereafter. It might not be today, tomorrow, or next week, but you are wasting tremendous amount of energy trying to recuperate and the residual effects of poor technique are not kind.
Yes, we want to push our body to the absolute limit. This might sound like blasphemy but there is a time and place for that. Depending on your skill level, strength, endurance, age, etc. going to the max everyday or every workout isn’t necessarily a recipe for growth and development. Realistically speaking, the everyday workout is not the CrossFit games and you don’t have to treat it as such. Get better. Get stronger. But you can only do that if you have gas left in the tank. Making that tank bigger takes time. If you puncture it too soon, you will leak energy and drag until that rest day comes around. Pick your spots wisely because what seems like a 5 minute WOD can tax you more than a 30-minute AMRAP based on how you approach it. Again, plan for today, the next workout, next week.
Ask yourself and be honest with the answer, do you as a coach or if you’re an athlete; does your gym, program specifically for recovery? As part of your daily workout do you include or go through specific mobility protocols or is it something you tend to have to figure out on your own as an athlete? In many gyms, this happens to be an after thought; others do take the extra step and program for recovery. Another aspect of your environment is everything that happens outside of the gym before and after training. How conducive is your lifestyle, occupation, and even relationships to helping you and allowing your body to rest appropriately?
Foam rolling. Smashing. Ice baths. Active rest. Massages. Banded distractions, massage balls, and muscle floss. The list goes on and on! There are a variety of techniques, tools, and resources available to us. Do it! Attack the tricky and problem areas. If you have trouble diagnosing them, ask your coach or see a specialist.
Make recovery a part of your daily routine and lifestyle. If you’ve never thought about it or do it sporadically, ask yourself why. For example, I started waking up 20 minutes early to make sure I get mobility work in every day. Among other reasons, I gave up drinking alcohol, which has been a huge boost too. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on habit development but don’t try to take on the universe, start small and with one thing. Once you have that down add to the foundation and keep building.
Who likes doing chores? Washing dishes? Taking out the trash? If you’re approaching recovery as something you have to do it might not be as enjoyable. Think of it as a game. For example mobility you can do it with a super friend to smash your quads. Or a reward for yourself: if today I go 90%, tomorrow I get to go 110% in my workout.
The one thing we cannot absolutely live without yet nobody really pays attention to it. As you were reading this how many times did you actually stop and think about how you are breathing, the depth of your breath, is it through your mouth or your nose, using only the chest or including the belly? The great folks at WODPrep had an awesome video on the secret to Rich Froning’s success and it had to do with controlled breathing. Breathing can both energize and calm you, especially during crucial workouts or life events.
Recovery is not just about the physical. Training and the nuances of daily life can take a toll on us mentally. Great practices to offset these are mindfulness and meditation. This can take many forms, as well. You can meditate in a lotus position in a traditional approach or you can be in a state of flow in training, for example. Avoiding distractions and being present allows us to relish in the moment and not be bogged down by the tension, and stressors of our environment – see point 5. Being present and more positive can also improve overall attitude – see point 8.
There you have it, the 10 Rules of Recovery. If you’re missing one, add it to your personal arsenal, free of charge :) Homework is to incorporate one starting tomorrow. Recover on and PR tomorrow.
Pawel Wencel is CrossFit Level 1 certified and the Co-Creator Of Uncharted Performance, a website and podcast dedicated to pushing the boundaries of performance inside and outside the gym. For more of Uncharted Performance check out www.unchartedperformance.com, YouTube and iTunes. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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