Rest and Recovery – Are they chalk and cheese?

Muscles are torn on the tracks, fed in the kitchen and built in bed!

That’s how vital rest is for fitness!

Ironical? Hear this out…

Rest and recovery is also an important aspect of any exercise program because it allows the body time to repair and strengthen itself in between workouts.

In order to understand how to recover properly, the definition must be recognized and the difference between rest and recovery established. 

Rest can be defined as a combination of sleep and time spent not training, whereas recovery can be defined as actions and techniques implemented to maximize your body’s repair.

Do you really need rest days?

That depends on your current fitness level. If you are new to exercise, you should have about two days of rest within the week; if you are a more experienced athlete and are more aware of your body, you can get by with just one day of rest per week.

The objective of a rest day is to boost mental and physical recharging. “Recovery” is the overarching process. It occurs while you rest and provide the body adequate time to replace and rebuild what’s been lost — tissue, fluids, your dignity, all of it.

Without effective rest days, you risk canceling out all that hard work you’ve been putting in.

Heavy exercise designed to elicit maximum gains in strength and power damages muscle to an extent. Day after day with little time between heavy training sessions, muscle may not have time to fully recover. You’ll actually see a decrease in strength, power, and endurance.

What’s the Difference Between Rest and Active Recovery?

How many rest days the human body requires varies from person to person. The answer hinges on numerous factors, such as sleep, age, and fitness level.

Our experts recommend getting more than seven hours of shut-eye per night.

Then there are “active recovery” days. On these days, “You remain active, but use less intensity than you would during a regular workout. If you’re a runner training for a 10K, an active recovery day might involve cross-training, a bike ride, or running at a less intense, conversational pace. You’re not looking to directly enhance strength, power, or athleticism. Instead, active recovery will indirectly promote all of those things by getting blood flowing to muscles to enhance and accelerate the recovery process.”

Benefits of Dynamic Stretching and Foam Rolling

Two keys that help you on both rest days and active recovery days are dynamic (moving) stretches and foam rolling.

Dynamic or active stretches: These are typically done pre-workout. They may include butt kicks, walking lunges, shoulder circles, arm swings, and shin taps. All movements should be completed with low intensity.

Foam rolling: Also called self-myofascial release, foam rolling is a form of self-massage. It helps release tension in muscle and connective tissue, among other benefits.

Both activities can increase blood flow, range of motion, and improve athletic performance. Foam rolling has also been shown to reduce muscle soreness. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training concluded that use of a foam roller produced a medium to large benefit in reducing the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Listen to Your Body to Determine Your Recovery Needs

Working out causes microscopic tears in muscle tissue. As your body repairs the damage, it remodels your muscles into larger, stronger versions of themselves. This allows them to better handle the strains of working out next time. This process also entails a certain amount of inflammation, which can take up to three days to resolve.

In addition to the physical effects, intense workouts can also tax the nervous system.

“On a recovery day, the sympathetic nervous system — the ‘fight-or-flight’ response — is decreased and the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system is stimulated. This allows the body to rest and relax, cortisol levels to decrease, muscles to rest and rebuild stronger, and carbohydrate stores to be replenished.”

You should take off at least one or two rest days per week. In fact, accredited sports aficionados recommend beginners give themselves a rest day in between workouts. If you’re completely gassed from training hard, take that as a cue to take a full day off.

For many exercisers, keeping it dialed back — especially on active recovery days — can be a quite a challenge.

When your body’s begging for rest or recovery with stretching or gentler cross-training methods like the foam roller, respectfully provide it with what it needs to heal, rebuild and recharge.

Nutrition and Recovery

Regardless of the type of exercise you do and how hard you do it, muscle recovery time is strongly influenced by how and when you fuel those muscles. “Racing Weight” author Matt Fitzgerald notes that recovery is influenced by four factors, all of them related to nutrition: fluid and electrolyte status, muscle glycogen, reducing muscle stress and rebuilding muscle protein. Taking in fluids and carbohydrates both during and immediately after a workout, says Fitzgerald, is vital to a speedy recovery. You should eat a high-protein meal as soon after exercising as possible in order to ensure a rapid rebuilding of muscle tissue.

Effects of Sleep

As exercise physiologist Pete Pfitzinger notes, most people who work out regularly report sleeping more and experiencing a better quality of sleep overall. He also states that one sign of overtraining is an inability to fall or remain asleep, owing to over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system. So if you’re lying in bed at 3 a.m. wide awake with a racing heart, consider easing off the throttle during your workouts.

Recovery from Running

Running provides a good model for determining how much time it takes muscles to recover from a workout, because running involves the same basic muscles in every session, with the variables being intensity, duration, surface and topography. Runs on hilly terrain require an extended recovery because of the phenomenon of delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, resulting from the eccentric muscle contractions inherent in the braking component of downhill running. A study in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” suggests that muscle soreness after prolonged downhill running peaks at 48 hours, after which recovery takes over. Trained runners can work out on flat ground daily and still accrue gains, so topography makes a tremendous difference.

How do you define a rest day versus an active recovery day? How does the latter differ from a cross-training day?

Your body needs rest to recover and get stronger from hard workouts. Rest and active recovery (including gentle cross-training) are both tools we can use to achieve our fitness goals.

A rest day doesn’t involve exercise at all. Think of these days like a good night of sleep. Plan to completely relax: sleep in, enjoy family time, or do light errands or housework. Avoid strenuous tasks like gardening, painting the house, or day-long shopping.

An active recovery day, on the other hand, is more like a short nap: You’re including activity—running or cross-training—at an easy to moderate intensity to get blood flowing to your muscles to help them recover. Do low- or no-impact activities like cycling, swimming, yoga, or strength training to complement the demands of your high-impact running workouts. Runners who run more than three days per week can use easy runs as active recovery, too.

Optimal recovery includes both complete rest and active recovery.

If however, you’re running for fitness, you have more flexibility. For example, if you run three times per week, five to eight kms at a time, for the health of it, you could make one run a high intensity interval workout, one a short, easy effort, and one a long, easy effort. Because you’re not building intensity and volume each week to work toward a race, you can fill in the gaps with cross-training at different effort levels. The key is to include two or three harder workouts each week with plenty of easy and moderate activity to balance it out.

Summing up:

>>Stretch every day, before and after a work out- it’s the first step to recovery.

>>Foam-roll every day – morning and before you retire for the day- few minutes makes a world of difference…

>>Manage those 7-8 hour of shut-eye every day…the world will still go around!

>> Protein rich food soon after an electrolyte-guzzling work out will help you back on your feet the next day.

>>Just have the heart to take that one vital day off all endurance building balderdash!

>>And do something different– one day of the week-active but pleasantly different.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes …. Including You!

You can work hard- but if you don’t work smart you’ll work for the rest of your life- applies to running too!

Author: Rajaram Venkatesan

Connect with Rajaram on Facebook
A Runner in a race called “Life”
Member of Bessie Dreamers

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