When it comes to working out, more isn’t always better — rest and recovery play huge roles when it comes to performance. However, it’s important to know that rest and recovery are not the same thing.
Rest is a form of recovery: It’s when you’re completely relaxed — say, on the couch in front of the television. “Recovery,” on the other hand, might include rest, but it also includes more active methods and provides much-needed repair work within your body. That’s why sleep is often considered recovery rather than rest, because when you sleep, your body releases growth hormones and works on muscle regeneration.
“Rest is necessary, but it’s not always synonymous with recovery,” says Aaron Leventhal, a certified personal trainer and owner of Fit Studios in Minneapolis. “What’s required is to put together a recovery plan that works best for you and your needs, so that it advances your fitness goals instead of causing you to take a break from aiming toward them.”
According to a study from the University of New Mexico, recovery can improve performance and also help you boost intensity without the detrimental effects of overtraining.
Proper recovery needs to be strategic and progressive. Here are some tips for maximizing recovery time that can help you stay refreshed and on track:
1. PLAN EXERCISE SESSIONS AND RECOVERY IN ADVANCE
Your muscles rebuild through adequate recovery, so it’s imperative to look at your workouts and recovery to make sure they’re getting that time, says James-Tyler Dodge, a certified strength and conditioning coach and performance coach at Professional Physical Therapy in New York.
“If you bench press three days in a row, for example, you’re not giving your chest, shoulders and triceps the amount of recovery needed between sessions,” he says. “This not only slows recovery, but will also slow down muscle growth. That’s why proper exercise programming is important.”
2. MIX UP YOUR SCHEDULE
Doing the exact same motions during every workout for years will cause a serious plateau, and recovery is actually the same way, Leventhal says. If you keep your schedule relatively the same — for example, three days on and two days off — then your recovery might be as optimized as you like.
Leventhal says that he shifts his schedule every couple weeks and finds that this gives him more gains in the gym and improves his recovery.
3. TRACK EVERYTHING
Maybe you’ve got that notebook or app that records your reps so you can see when you hit a PR. But are you tracking the effects of your recovery, too?
The way that Leventhal knows that his recovery is most effective is that he writes it down, alongside what he’s done in the gym. “I track everything, and when you do that, you start to see different rhythms in terms of how you feel and perform,” he says.
For instance, measure your resting heart rate first thing in the morning over a series of weeks, and notice if there are any changes after two recovery days. Also write down how you feel in general after recovery days — are you ready to hit the gym with fresh energy, or are you sluggish and reluctant? Tracking can help you tweak for better performance.
4. WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
Many athletes are adept at putting together their supplement mix in a way that gives them greater strength and endurance in the gym or on the field. But just as much focus should go into meals to avoid nutrient gaps, Dodge says. When those gaps exist, recovery can be less effective.
“Managing your diet is crucial for adequate recovery,” he says. “On days where full-body recovery is needed, making sure that you are supplying yourself with enough calories and nutrients is key for optimal recovery.”
On the flip side, he adds, make sure you’re not overindulging and eating more calories than necessary, which can be very easy to do if you’ve been crushing it during workouts. Dodge says this can spur potential weight gain, and also lower energy levels needed to get back to exercising.
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5. WORK ON YOUR TECHNIQUE
Although rest has its place, active recovery days can give you the time you need to refine your skills, Leventhal says. He recommends working on form and mechanics of your sport, rather than pushing for PRs.
For instance, a weightlifter might use very light loads while doing a snatch or a clean. A runner could run very slowly to be more aware of foot strike and body positioning.
“This is super difficult to do, mentally, if you’re engaged and driven in your sport,” he says. “It takes a great deal of strength to move at about 60% or less than your highest, best effort. But it will pay off in the long run because you’ll have much better form.”
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT WORKOUT