There are two types of athletes. Those who seem to have figured it out – they put in hard work and get stronger every year. And then there are those who work hard but stay where they are, with no progress. Very often it is the post workout recovery or intensity that is the problem.
In fact, many try to catch up with the rest by adding even more effort. Big mistake.
It is the post workout recovery period when our bodies grow and adapt to a higher workload. Without proper rest we risk accumulating too much fatigue and spoil all the magic we worked for in the first place.
Think cheetah. It is the fastest animal on the planet, but it still suffers from fatigue. It’s so tired from sprinting that after lunch sleeps all day in the sun. Talk about recovery.
Post workout recovery – healing micro-traumas
I hope this is not breaking news…
Post workout recovery is not only a 5-minute stretch and a glass of protein shake. Nor is it laying in bed for the rest of the day. It’s actually all that time between key workouts when the body rests and grows stronger. It’s our job to speed it up and make the most of it.
And yes, easy and slow-paced workouts are part of recovery process and shouldn’t be taken to extremes.
How it all works is that by lifting heavy weights or running fast we create micro-traumas in our muscles. This happens due to the excessive lengthening of the muscle. It creates inflammation and that leads to muscle soreness. Pretty easy so far.
By the time we hit the shower our body starts to recover the damage we did. Until the next hard session it will re-build micro-traumas, grow additional muscle (yay), refuel and restock on vitamins and minerals needed to operate at full potential.
Also, all of this keeps us healthy and happy. And who doesn’t like that?
Depending on how crazy we went, post workout recovery can be fast or slow. Larger micro-traumas like those after running a marathon can take up to 5 days to fully heal.
The untold secret – supercompensation effect
This is where it gets exciting.
Body doesn’t just recover to the same level it was before the workout. It is smart and expects more stress from us (and it should if we want to improve).
During post workout recovery our body grows stronger to be able to tolerate more stress next time. This adaptation is supercompensation.
Workouts don’t make you fit. It’s the supercompensation that follows that does the magic.
This effect is the same in every sport. In running you feel average speed gradually increases over time. When you work out in the gym, muscles get stronger and able to lift more. And so on.
For this to happen the recovery has to be complete, though. Full recovery is when you feel energetic, are in good mood and the same effort feels easier than before.
This is where periodization training gets important. It will allow athletes to recover properly and build on the adaptation.
Every plan should be built with supercompensation effect in mind, considering current fitness level, fatigue, upcoming races and other factors. For maximum effect gradual improvement has to happen every week or two and not only just before the race.
If the key workout happens while the body hasn’t recovered it just adds fatigue and decreases performance. Avoid these situations. It can be a symptom of fatigue or even illness.
In fact, if you accumulate fatigue you risk plateau and can forget about supercompensation. If that happens, you’re doing it wrong.
Accumulated and chronic fatigue – better avoid it
Stress is good in moderation. It stimulates hormone production that leads to adaptation. Too much stress, though, causes muscles to accumulate fatigue and reduces muscle endurance.
Also, cortisol released during intensive workouts decreases the level of white blood cells and reduces body’s defense. As a result, it’s much easier to catch an infection. Even one bad-timed hard session can lead to illness.
Fatigue starts accumulating if we don’t allow the body to recover fully. As we add more stress (including at work or elsewhere), our energy levels and performance suffer. If the next stressful workout happens before supercompensation, we only add to the fatigue and sacrifice gains.
Apart from that, lack of proper post workout recovery can lead to over-training or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Both are not pretty and very often are misinterpreted. The drop in performance sometimes is wrongly associated with not enough training. So extra effort is added making it worse.
Usually it results in one or several of the following:
- Plateau/drop in performance
- Loss of energy or enthusiasm
- Low motivation (not only during workouts)
- Slow recovery from intervals/sets
- Anxiety or bad attitude in general
Chronic fatigue symptoms are generally the same, but less vivid. People with chronic fatigue syndrome feel tired, have less energy and motivation over much longer period of time.
Doesn’t sound fun, right?
How to ensure proper post workout recovery
It pays off to train hard, but it’s even more important to do it with right intensity and proper post workout recovery.
An athlete can push himself to the limit every day and still be no faster than someone who works out only 3 times per week and appears to put less effort in.
The most important thing to do to avoid over-training, plateau and illness is to have a balanced training plan. It has to take into account current stress levels, contain high and low intensity work and leave enough time for post workout recovery.
Make sure to schedule a week where duration is reduced by around 30% every 3-4 weeks. Keep the intensity, though.
The plan may not be complex, but if it focuses on post workout recovery and workouts are scheduled at the right time, you’ll see a massive progress. In fact,
Many professional athletes get to the top not because of the Terminator-style training schedule, but in spite of that.
They structure their training around post workout recovery to be well-rested before their next session.
Also, don’t be afraid to reduce the intensity of a workout or take a day off if you feel lack of energy. Nobody follows their training plan 100%. Even pro’s tend to shuffle workouts around.
I hope this helps you get the most of your workouts. Tell me about your recovery here or say hi on Facebook.