27 Nov All Things Recovery
The best way to get results from the gym is a direct result of how well we recover.
As odd as that sounds, when we are in the gym working out we are actually breaking down muscle, and the methods and strategies that we do after a workout is what builds muscle.
No, your biceps aren’t getting bigger as you do curls. Sorry to burst your bubble.
This article’s purpose is to share some of my favorite recovery methods.
First, let us look at some of the physiology.
Central Nervous System
The central nervous system is made up of two autonomic systems being the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is our fight or flight response. When this system is the predominant system in control, you will begin to sweat, heart rate and respiratory rate will increase, and your pupils will dilate.
The parasympathetic system is our rest and digest system. When this system is in control, the exact opposite occurs compared to the sympathetic system, with the focus going to digestion.
When we work out, we fatigue out sympathetic nervous system. Especially when we are moving big weights. This type of fatigue can be referred to as central fatigue.
We also have peripheral fatigue, which is referring to the physical stress, muscular breakdown, and depletion of glycogen stores within our muscles.
So, we have to learn how to effectively turn off our sympathetic nervous system and turn on our parasympathetic nervous system in order to recover.
“I sleep every night, shouldn’t that be enough?” – Voice of Public Opinion
Sure you may be getting 6-8 hours of sleep per night, but how efficiently are we sleeping for those 6-8 hours.
Consider this very too common scenario:
You finally decide to wake up after hitting the snooze button after 7 times. As a result, you have to rush out of bed where you are racing the clock to make it to work on time. You hurry up and get changed and what ever else you need to do to look presentable for the day. You run down stairs and get yourself something quick to eat, while maybe having to get the kids ready for school too. You get them onto the bus, or you drive them to school. Then, you are rushing to make it to work on time. Bobbing and weaving through traffic and grandma ahead of you is treating it as if it is a Sunday stroll.
You make it to work 5 minutes late, and immediately jump right into your work duties. Your boss is harping on you about being late while also giving you a laundry list of tasks to complete along with the other tasks you have to get done.
Work is over, and so you rush back home to get your kids off the bus, or you go and get them from school. You give your kids a snack and you go for your 5th cup of coffee of the day to get you ready for your workout. Somehow, you’ve mustard up enough energy to get you to the gym to get in a good workout.
You run back home, make dinner for the fam, and get the kids off to bed. When you go to bed, you get caught up on your Facebook and Instagram feeds for an hour before you somehow drift off to sleep. Then the cycle repeats the next day.
Just thinking that scenario out made me tired, let alone going through that on a daily basis.
Why go through the detail of this example?
This type of scenario is someone who is staying in a sympathetic state all day. There is no time at any point during the day that the parasympathetic nervous system is active. And I doubt that they reach a full parasympathetic state when they are sleeping at night.
The good news is that you can change the course of this day by implementing some strategies that only take a few minutes for those time crunched individuals. And it isn’t rocket science.
The fastest way to add some parasympathetic sprinkle into your day is by doing some deep breathing and/or meditation exercises. Just by closing the eyes and focusing on your breathing will help get you into a parasympathetic state.
I have been using a meditation app called Headspace on my phone for 5 months now, and has helped done wonders for me. Check it out, they give you a free trial for 7 days.
If you don’t want to use an app, closing your eyes and just focusing on your breathing will get the job done. At times your mind will wander, but just bring it back on your breath.
2. Active Recovery
Active recovery is something else that can be implemented that doesn’t have to take tons of time.
On off days, you can either do some very light lifting (approximately 30% of max) for a session lasting no longer than 60 mins. Or, we can get on a station bike or any other pieces of cardio equipment for 15 minutes at a comfortable pace.
3. Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a great way to help us get into a parasympathetic state.
We see it time and time again, many stressed out individuals have upper traps as hard as rocks. They hold all their stress in their shoulders, and many people don’t even realize how much tension they are actually holding up in their traps.
Foam rolling helps with reducing that tension and tone in muscles and helps put us at ease. Foam rolling is just a quick and cost effective way to do soft tissue work without having to go get a massage.
When foam rolling, there is going to be some discomfort. Especially when there are trigger points present in the musculature. Don’t over do it by trying to chisel out those trigger points. Too much discomfort will actually have negative effects and cause an increase in tone. I use a rule of thumb of pain being any less than a 4/10 then I’m okay with you working through it.
4. Water Immersion
In the sports world, cold water immersion goes better together than a warm beer and a cold hot dog at a baseball game in the middle of July.
I’m a big proponent of jumping into a cold tub for recovery. However, studies have shown that we want to limit cold water exposure. Especially when we are trying to make those GAINZ! Studies have shown that cold water immersion had negative effects when trying to build muscle, so I would use it sparingly for people who are trying to bulk.
If you are a marathon runner, then cold water immersion is something that may be beneficial for you. Research has shown that recovery improved after cold water immersion for endurance athletes following a 24 hour recovery period. Studies also show that cold water immersion prior to endurance races to help with precooling. Results showed that precooling (especially in hot conditions) helped to reduce rate of perceived exertion, increase heat storage capacity, and reducing thermal strain.
The guidelines for cold water immersion are pretty standard across the board. If you can, get fully submerged up to your shoulders. The more submerged, the less time you need to spend in the water.
The water temperature can be somewhere between 50-59ᵒ F for anywhere to 5-15 minutes at a time.
Spending 20+ minutes in a cold tub has shown no additional benefits, and also is just not smart. The risk far outweighs the reward.
Okay, wrap this up!
As a very busy society that pushes working at every single waking hour, I would suggest that you start small. Taking a minute here and there to focus on your breathing is a good place to start.
As you progressively increase your breathing time, then start adding in the other suggestions. Start by going on a short 5 minute walk. After successfully completing that for a couple weeks, add in some foam rolling also for 5 minutes.
Finally, jump into a cold tub from time to time. By this point, you should be feeling well more rested and not needing no where near the amount of coffee that you did in order to get through your day.
If you would like to work with me to help you get back into the gym while looking and feeling your best with strategies like these, consider working with me as an online distance client.