Recovery is a vital part of any physical training program. Understanding the physiological concept behind recovery is a big step to designing a program that will not only allow your body to return to a rested state, but also allow you to push yourself to higher training volumes and intensities without the risk of overtraining.
What is Overtraining?
The simplest way to know if you’re overtraining is fatigue. Fatigue is a warning sign that the body needs time to recover. If you try to push through it, you run the risk of overtraining.
In terms of training, fatigue refers to the inability to maintain the intensity of the exercise. It comes in two forms. Peripheral fatigue, which is an impairment in the active muscle, is generally caused by the depletion of glycogen during prolonged exercise. Central fatigue refers to the protective mechanism of the brain, which tells the body to slow or even stop its exercise performance.
In addition to poor exercise performance, some signs of overtraining that can impact the body’s ability to recover include muscle soreness and weakness, a decreased appetite, and a lack of sleep both in terms of quantity and quality.
How to Get into Recovery Mode
Recovery, according to the University of New Mexico study, is achieved when:
- blood pressure and heart rate return to normal
- cells are restored to their resting state
- energy stores — blood glucose and muscle glycogen — are replenished
- cellular energy enzymes return to normal levels.
Recovery is also needed to reestablish intramuscular blood flow.
However, the word “recovery” can mean different things and occur in different stages:
- Immediate recovery: An instantaneous occurrence, happening even while the training is still taking place.
- Short term recovery: The interval between sets during a training program. This period of time can be anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes, depending on the type of training that is being done and the overall fitness of the person doing it.
- Training recovery: The time between training sessions or competitions. A good rule of thumb when designing your training program or using a program designed by someone else is to understand that the greater the exertion on the muscles, the longer training recovery is needed. 2 or 3 days of recovery for each muscle group is recommended.
How to Recover Better
In addition to proper nutrition, the UNM paper suggests that some supplements may aid in lessening the symptoms of muscle trauma from exercise, including antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Massage therapy may also help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.
One important but often overlooked aspect of recovery is sleep. Sleep allows you to replenish your energy stores so that you’re better able to train the following day and less likely to overcompensate for your lack of energy by pushing your body too hard. Additionally, sleep provides your endocrine system and hormone profile the opportunity to do the work that they need to do to keep you balanced both during training as well as all other aspects of your life.
Is it Different for Men and Women?
Studies show that women are able to resist fatigue better than men and are, therefore, able to sustain low- to moderate-intensity muscle contractions for a longer period of time. Men are also more susceptible to muscle glycogen depletion as well as overheating — both of which may cause male marathon runners to slow their pace significantly more as the race progresses.
However, women’s gains in aerobic capacity often plateau because of a difference in the heart muscle of men and women. Men’s physiological response to training tends to show steady gains both in heart size and aerobic fitness.
While both genders require adequate recovery while training — both with rest as well as cross training — nutrition has a pronounced role in women’s recovery.