Exceed Your Goals By Maximizing Your Recovery from Exercise

When it comes to exercise and recovery, your body is similar to a bank account. Deposits are required in order to have money available for spending. The more you save, the more you will have available to spend. Exercise takes money out of the bank, different aspects of recovery puts money back in. Here is how to get the most out of your recovery without losing momentum.

The importance of recovery: Recovery is one of the most important parts of your workout routine. Working a muscle or joint too hard or too often leads to excessive fatigue, limits on achieving your goals, loss of progress, and even injury. Covering these 4 aspects will make the recovery phase of your routine more efficient.

1. Recovery days & your exercise schedule
Do you find yourself constantly dealing with nagging injuries (big or small)? If so, you may not have enough recovery time built into your workout. This could be your body telling you that it is being overused. Imagine working overtime without getting overtime pay. Eventually, your body will quit on you. Do not look at your recovery day as a day where you are missing out on “gains”. It is a day for your body to repair, regroup, and prepare itself to continue to workout hard.

Make sure you include recovery days when you set up your exercise schedule for the week. Recovery days can be for the entire body or just for certain body parts. Both options are necessary for you to continue to progress towards achieving your goals.

For most people, having 1-2 full-body recovery days each week will allow enough time for the necessary repairs and energy replenishing to take place throughout your body. If you are older or have an extensive health/injury history, 3 full body recovery days may be more beneficial to you.

Just because it is a recovery day, it does not mean you simply sit on the couch all day. You should do light physical activity such as casual walks, hikes, bike rides, etc.

The other type of recovery is for certain muscle groups. This is why you alternate which days you exercise certain muscles. For example, if you are used to dividing your body into two different days (“A” day & “B” day), there is one recovery day for each muscle group built into your workout without requiring you to take an entire day off.

For some people, it is better to increase the recovery time by having an “A, B, C” day setup. This way there are two recovery days built in for each muscle group. Here is an example of how an “A,B,C” setup could look:

Back Legs Chest
Biceps Core/Abs Shoulders
Cardio Cardio Triceps

2. Control DOMS
The soreness you experience for a few days after working out is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is a normal reaction to exercise.

When you exercise, nutrients are broken down to create the energy for your muscles to use. As the energy is used up there are exhaust-like byproducts (such as lactic acid). Throughout this process, the exercised area becomes inflamed, causing the pain sensors in your body to be triggered.

Many times when people feel DOMS occur they decide to take time off from working out. Instead of doing this, you should continue to exercise to encourage blood flow to and from the affected areas. Activity and exercise help flush out the byproducts and inflammation.

The big thing to be aware of is your lifting technique. If the soreness is so intense that you find yourself altering your technique, you may want to consider decreasing your intensity. You are most likely to get injured when your technique changes.

Another way to control the intensity and duration of DOMS is to do a warmup and cool down before and after exercising. Be sure to start with something light and easy that will bring blood to your muscles such as walking on a treadmill, using the elliptical, etc.. From there, gradually increase your intensity. Make sure that you incorporate some stretching throughout the process.

There are also different maintenance options that will help you. Using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or golf ball to roll slowly roll across the muscles you exercised for a few minutes helps to loosen up the muscle spasms and flush out inflammation. You can also try different massage techniques periodically.

3. Sleep
Very few people claim to sleep well or even long enough. The time spent sleeping and the quality are both crucial parts of the equation. Why is the general sleep recommendation 8 hours?

This makes it possible for the body to make it through about 5 sleep cycles. Each cycle takes about 90 minutes and is broken into 5 phases. Throughout the cycle, different hormones are secreted to make your sleep as productive as possible.

The first 2 phases are focused on getting to sleep; calming down your mind and body. These two are generally pretty short and light. The third and fourth phases are deeper and longer. Phases 3 and 4 allow for physical repairs to be made and the organization and storage of information.

The fifth phase is also known as the REM phase. During this phase more repairs are made, information is committed to memory, and you become energized for the following day. The more times you go through the sleep cycle in a night, the more productive the REM phase is.

If you are sleeping long enough but feel like the quality is lacking, you should look into changing your mattress or pillow. Not being comfortable when sleeping can lead you to tossing & turning throughout the night and feeling achy/sore in the morning.

The key to selecting the right pillow and mattress is to make sure your spine is supported into a straight position. Since different parts of the body weigh different amounts, make sure that your pillow and mattress gives and supports in the right areas. If different parts of your body are kinked throughout the night, you will not feel rested.

4. Supplements
Adding supplements to your diet that encourage healthy joints and lower inflammation gives your body the support it needs to recover, repair, and protect itself. It is most effective when added to balanced eating habits.

Amino acids– These are known as the building blocks of protein. Protein is then used to build muscle. Amino acids can be used as a source of energy and help to repair damaged muscle. Take them immediately before and after exercise to get the best response.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin– Similar to how amino acids are used to build and repair muscle, glucosamine and chondroitin are used to build and repair joints. Most of the studies that show good decreased pain and improved joint health recommend 1,500 mg of glucosamine and 1,200 mg of chondroitin. Not only can it help with general soreness, but it can also help decrease pain associated with degenerative joint disease and arthritis.

Turmeric/Curcumin– This is used to help control inflammation within the body. If a joint or muscle is too inflamed, it will be more sensitive and hurt more. Most studies support taking 1,200-1,500 mg per day.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids– This can be found in its own supplement or in a fish oil supplement along with other fatty acids. Omega-3 helps to decrease inflammation/swelling and decrease pain. Depending on the desired effect and your health status, studies support taking 300-3,000 mg per day.

When it comes to exceeding your exercise goals, hard work, consistency, and recovery are important parts of the equation.  Without proper recovery practices, you eventually will fall short on your ability to work hard and stay consistent with your exercise.  Be sure to correctly set up your workout schedule, control DOMS, get enough sleep, and get the nutrition you need to maximize your recovery.

About the Author: Dr. Stephen Workman

Dr. Stephen Workman is a chiropractic physician practicing in Cedar City, Utah. Dr. Workman specializes in sports injuries and performance. He has treated many professional athletes, dancers, and musicians over the years. In addition to his Doctorate in Chiropractic, he has a Master’s degree in Sports Medicine and two Bachelor’s degrees in Human Biology and Exercise Science. Dr. Workman enjoys all forms of exercise, sports, and outdoor activities. He is also a drummer and an avid foodie. Dr. Workman can be reached at DocSWorkman@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.