One of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of returning to the gym is recovery. A lot of people understand the exercise piece of the puzzle, but very few people have the recovery side of things down. As we all return to the gym, it is going to be paramount that we understand the optimal steps towards recovering effectively between training sessions.
First, and often the most underappreciated aspect of recovery (especially by the heavy-lifting community), is optimal cardiovascular function. The cardiovascular system is responsible for delivering key nutrients, hormones, enzymes, and metabolites to and from your muscles following exercise. If your heart and blood vessels aren’t performing optimally, then your recovery won’t be optimal either. So, how do we improve our cardiovascular function? Your best bet is to build a solid aerobic base before overdoing it in the gym (you should still be weight training while building your base, just not anything too crazy). It’s difficult to conclusively define what a “solid aerobic base” is as everyone is a little different, but it certainly isn’t anything crazy. In my experience with general population clients and athletes I have worked with in the past, achieving a “solid base” usually takes anywhere from 2-4 weeks of performing some type of aerobic exercise (running, biking, swimming, etc.) 3-5 times per week. Studies show that it takes approximately this amount of time to improve capillary density and heart/blood vessel function. The best part is, once you take the time to build this base, the adaptations stick around for a long time (even if you’re only doing cardio once or twice a week!). So, build your aerobic base now and ensure yourself effective recovery between your workouts as they start to become more intense.
The next cluster of things you can do to maximize your recovery fall into a category I call “the other 23 hours.” In general, people usually spend an hour or so exercising in the gym. What many neglect to realize, though, is the other 23 hours of the day are just as important to your fitness (you might even argue they are more important because, let’s face it, they make up 95% of your day). So, how should you spend this time? Well, first, you should be using approximately 8 hours a night for sleeping (actually sleeping, not just spending time in bed). Sleep is absolutely vital to your recovery. The next component is diet. Are you eating foods that promote recovery or foods that induce inflammation? Are you drinking enough water? Are you eating a colorful diet with a variety of vitamins and minerals? Stay on the lookout for some more in-depth strategies pertaining to these two things. Lastly, outside of the gym, how sedentary are you? Do you spend most of your time at a desk or are you frequently taking moving? One of the best things you can do in terms of recovery are light exercise such as walking, doing chores around the house, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, yard work, or really anything that gets you moving. Movement outside the gym will help facilitate blood flow and decrease your recovery time greatly, especially if you are sore. The last thing I want to mention is socializing. Being around other individuals that you enjoy spending time with has some interesting effects on your physiology. I won’t go into too much detail here (as I could probably write a book about this), but if you are interested in hearing more, let me know! The general idea is socializing can actually help you recover more quickly!
If you can begin to prioritize recovery in tandem with your exercise program, you will set yourself up for steady, maintainable progress. It may seem overwhelming, so start slow. Choose 1 or 2 of these things (I recommend building your aerobic base and sleep) and begin to fine tune them to optimize recovery and overall health.
Fitness Professional, Matt Rucinski
Interested in learning more? Contact Matt or one of our other great Personal Trainers to figure out how to get more physical activity and/or exercise into your lifestyle.