Your body is a very complex but wonderful thing. It has the ability to adapt and evolve to the stresses you place on it. But sometimes we don’t give the body enough time to adapt or we don’t push it enough to evolve.
This is very true when it comes to exercise. You have to understand what you have put your body through and how it will react.
For example, it is pre-season for some sports and now is the time to take the body into the ‘red zone’. You may want to build maximum strength, an aerobic threshold or shed some pounds. To do this you may have to push the body to places it hasn’t gone before. This still doesn’t mean you should be fainting in the gym or unable to walk for a week (unable to walk for a day or two is acceptable though).
Once you have put the work in, reached your red zone in a challenging but safe manner it’s time for the body to do its work.
This doesn’t mean you sit around and wait for your muscles and body to repair and grow. There are steps which can aid adaptation but also things to avoid.
What you should do
Rest smart: Slouching on a sofa watching reality TV every evening may not be the best way for your body to rest. The main thing you can do to help the body is sleep. Rather than wasting time watching repeats of Friends try and use that hour to your advantage and sleep.
Active Rest: Once you’ve had one hard session of pre-season just don’t sit about and sleep until the next one. Help your body recover by going to a yoga class (not all yoga classes are equal so pick a light one that will help recovery), light swim, cycle or your own stretching routine. This will help increase blood flow to the damaged muscle bringing with it all the nutrients it needs to repair as well as improve the range of motion.
Warm bath: Besides soothing the pain of sore muscles, getting into a hot tub or bath relaxes your tissue, reduces muscle spasms, and improves your range of motion. Add Epsom salts to help decrease muscle soreness.
Eat right: Make sure you fuel the body with the right amount of macro and micro-nutrients. This will depend on a number of factors including the type of training, body type, rest between works and how quick you recover. This is an area I would advise getting professional help from a sport nutritionist. Otherwise just eat smart and see how you feel and look with your current eating habits. Your eating habits will change with your training type and intensity and your training adaptations.
Massage and self-massage: One way to help flush all the toxins out and aid the recovery process is self-massage and getting a sports massage. Including self-massages in the form of foam rolling, massage stick or ball as part of a routine can help aid recovery and prepare you for your next training session.
Things to avoid
Ice baths: Ice baths are great if you want to speed up recovery for performance but when you are looking for the body to adapt ices baths are not the best option. You want the body to repair itself with some slight aid but nothing that could potential speed it up too fast and miss out on the adaptation. My advice would be to save your ice baths for your competition phase. That way your body won’t be used to it and you may recover quicker than normal when ready for game day.
Medication: Medication, especially anti-inflammatories can cut short the full adaptations from exercise. When we exercise we produce inflammation. This inflammation triggers the releases of our natural anti-inflammatories which help us with the adaptation of exercise.
Artificially suppressing the initial inflammation through tablets for example, could prevent that healing process, neutralising some of the real benefits of exercise.
Overtraining: In order for our body to adapt to the training stimulus we do need to take it into a state of fatigue but have the correct amount of recovery in order to receive the benefits. One of the ways we stop this process is by consistently having the body in a state of fatigue by over training. However, getting that extra session in or not giving yourself a de-load week can actually be doing you more damage than good.
Under-training: The other side of the coin is not training hard or smart enough. Sometimes you have to take the body to a level of fatigue that causes a stimulus for recovery and adaptation. This may be set out as a block of three to four weeks of intense training followed by a de-load week rather than consistently building your training up slowly over a number of months and years.
The key here is that we want to stimulate the body through exercise enough that it goes into a stage of fatigue and give it enough time for adaptation to take place before we are able to receive the benefits and push the body hard again.