3 Recovery Tips to Get More out of Your Training

What you do outside of training controls the results you get (or don't). Make sure you pay special attention to these three things.

One of the biggest mistakes that trainees make is not paying attention to recovery.

Recovering from your workouts is an important part of a sustainable fitness plan.

When you work out, you send a signal to your body (grow muscle, make you stronger, etc.). How your body actually responds depends on if you eat the right things and recover.

(Thank Greg Nuckols at Stronger By Science for that wonderful analogy)

When you think of recovery, it's not just about taking days off from the gym or time between sets. Recovery is a multifactorial problem.

Things that affect your recovery include:

  • Sleeping Habits
  • Age
  • Training status
  • Nutrition
  • Stress levels
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Illness
  • Injury

The good news is that a majority of those things are somewhat under your control. Get more results in the gym by paying attention to what you do outside of it.

The Most Important Part of Recovery By Far

The most important part of recovery is sleep.

For those who like to take naps, this is welcome news. Attaining adequate sleep helps you lose fat, grow muscle and regulate your hormones. You should work to develop your own sleep routine alongside your fitness routine.

Keep a few key things in mind when you start experimenting:

  • Recommendations for sleep vary by age. If you're an adult 26-64, try to aim for 7-9 hours a night.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark. If you sleep with a spouse, the person that likes the room a little cooler wins.
  • Avoid television and technology 1-2 hours before bed. Lighting from these devices can disrupt your sleep patterns.
  • Try to stay consistent with your bedtime routine. Fall asleep and wake around the same time.

Eat a Nutritious, Balanced Diet

Nutrition plays a very large role in how you recover. Try to eat a balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods. This helps ensure you’re getting everything your body needs to function well.

  • Protein serves as the building block of muscle and a host of other cells. If it’s not in your diet, then you’re using protein from your body’s stores.
  • Aim for 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day.
  • Healthy fats are important for proper hormone function. 20-35% of your daily calories should be made up of fats.
  • Carbohydrates are your bodies preferred fuel source for exercise. Eat enough of them to replenish your bodies energy stores. You can still run off a diet of protein and fats but, most people won’t be able to work as hard.
  • You should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables each day. I've been known to eat a lot of apples.
  • Don't forget that water is a nutrient your body needs to regulate itself. This includes the wintertime.

The most important thing is to stay consistent. Eating well occasionally isn't going to get you what you're looking for.

If you need some inspiration, try reading How to Plan Your Meals for the Week.

Try to Manage Positive and Negative Stress Levels

Exercise is a stress to your body. If you’re already under a lot of stress, you won’t be able to push yourself as hard in the gym.

You might have already noticed this on your own. An exercise that normally feels easy to you might move slower than normal. With the same weight, you come closer to failure with fewer reps.

Pay attention to how you’re feeling throughout the day.

Sometimes, you need to be more kind to yourself and take 5-7 minutes to pause. Other times you might be stressing over a seemingly big decision.

My favorite recent trick to gain perspective comes from Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

When I feel overwhelmed and need perspective on a problem I use the 10/10/10 test.

To make a hard decision I ask myself how I will feel at three points in time:

  • 10 minutes after I make a choice
  • 10 months down the road
  • 10 years, will this still matter?

Attaining distance from situations helps refocus.

If you need 5 minutes, this technique is less effective. It's more for bigger decisions. Try to take a few minutes every day to focus on your breathing or unplug.

For an extended overview of Decisive and how to overcome the four challenges of decision making, check this out.

Ways To Track Your Recovery

I'll caution you not to get wrapped up in this. If your training is improving, you're likely doing fine.

If you want to take things a step further, there are ways to track your recovery on an ongoing basis.

The easiest way for you to keep track of your recovery is to track your resting heart rate upon waking. If this rises over weeks of training, you're likely reaching an overtrained state.

You could use this information to help you decide how much training you can tolerate right now.

Other things that help paint a picture of your recovery status:

  • Fatigue levels
  • Soreness levels
  • Mood changes
  • Resting heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Sleep Quality and Length
  • Injury or illness
  • Menstrual cycle (disruption from normal patterns)
  • Your willingness to train
  • Appetite

Other Recovery Modalities That May Help

In no particular order;

  • Periodic deloads (reducing the amount of exercise you do for a week or less)
  • Foam rolling
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Massage
  • Cryotherapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Low intensity cardio (20-40 minutes, 2-3 days per week)

If you could use some help incorporating strategies into your training, I can help! Let’s create a plan to build strength, get sustainable results (and look like you know what you’re doing).

We’ll start with the basics of strength training and you’ll walk out with (a starter amount of) confidence.

Get started today

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Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.