If exercise is important (and it is), than recovery is just as, if not more important. Truth is we don't build muscles at the gym, we build them when we recover. And the higher intensity we workout at, the more we need to plan for recovery. Especially as we age.
In this article, I will explore basic recovery as well as share some things I do to help myself get the most out of my workouts and recovery time. Just to benchmark, I have a very heavy workout schedule with at least 5 days per week of physical activity averaging about 12 hours between weights, Muay Thai, and running, sometimes working out twice a day. You can get by with less and indeed if you are new to exercising, 3 days a week is more than adequate, aiming for 3-6 hours total workout time, which for those of you who love math, would work out to 3.6% of your total time per week at the high end. And take a day off from exercise every other day.
There are two types of recovery, passsive and active. They both do different things, and Ideally you should consider both in your recovery protocol.
Passive recovery is just plain resting, sleeping, eating and giving your muscles a chance to recover. Lay by the pool or the beach. Just chill. Essential here is a good sleep ritual to ensure you get a good 8 hours (plus or minus) and good nutrition with plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals. I love naps, and they can be super beneficial too.
Active recovery refers to actually doing low intensity movement, like walking, stretching, massage, foam rolling, swimming, etc. The idea here is you want slow muscle contractions to slightly elevate your heart rate and help your body deliver nutrients to your recovering muscles. Active recovery should NEVER be too strenuous. As well, stretching, massage and foam rolling help with keeping your muscles nice and limber and ready for the next session.
Top things I do to promote recovery:
I am a big nutrition nut, in fact I am a certified nutrition coach, and I know for a fact that good exercise and recovery starts in the kitchen. Your post workout meal, ideally eaten with 30 minutes to 2 hours of your workout should be your largest of the day, and include plenty of lean protein, and lots of colourful vegetables with some complex carbs added. Post workout your muscles are hungry, as you just depleted your energy stores, so your body will actively replace the lost glycogen (carbs). The protein will help rebuild and repair the damage cause to your muscles, and the vitamins and minerals will aid the whole process. More on that in the future.
Getting a good night sleep is paramount to good recovery. Most of your good hormones (such as IGF and HGH) are released at night when you are hugging your pillow, so almost all of your muscle rebuilding happens at this time. If you are not getting around 8 hours a night, your body won't recover. The best way to accomplish this is set yourself a regular bedtime, and make sure to relax and prepare to sleep about 30 minutes to one hour before. One great idea is NO electronic devices during this time, TV, mobile phone, tablet, etc. Also good is to avoid emails and anything that makes you think too much. It's time to relax and there is always tomorrow. I also think a hot shower or some camomile tea can help a lot. If you have a lot of trouble you may consider supplement such as ZMA or Melatonin.
Getting and using a foam roller for 10-15 minutes on your off days (from workouts) can really help. Foam rolling promotes myofascial release, where the layers of your muscles tend to get stiff and adhere to one another. It's like a self administered deep tissue massage. I try for about 3 sessions a week just to keep my muscles released. I focus on my tightest areas like hamstrings, upper back, glutes, and hips. I will produce an article with more details at future date. Keep an eye out for that.
Go for a walk
I'm big on this one. A short 20 minute walk on most nights will keep you feeling loose and ready to go the next day. Just a decent pace will do, no need to speed walk. just elevate your heart rate a bit and relax. It also helps promote sleep. At least for me.
Take a day off
If you are like me (ie super motivated) this is tougher than you think it is. I take one complete day off (usually about 36 hours) from any high intensity activity, but will still do some active recovery. From a nutritional standpoint, I would also tend to eat slightly less carbs on this day but lots of protein and vegetables. Or I take a free day and have some of my favourite dishes. Carbs, fat and macronutrient breakdowns be damned, Plenty of veggies though and still exercise portion control. After all, what's the point if you don't kickback, relax and enjoy every now and again. You need balance.
Always remember your body needs to recover, or you will overtrain, resulting in possible injuries. So enjoy your time out of the gym just as much as you do in it.