You have decided to crank up your workload in the gym. You're feeling great. You're motivated.
You create new goals, set new heights. You know there's nothing standing in your way from reaching them.
You decide to CrossFit five days a week, run on the side, hit a couple lifting session in Open Gym.
One week down --great.
Two weeks --good, but not great.
Three weeks --there was couple days this week I just wasn't feeling it.
Four weeks --what were my goals again?
You're going to have peaks and valleys in training. That's a good thing.
However, over a course of time, what we care about is that you're having consistent upward trajectory of performance and health.
Are you feeling tired in the gym?
Are you achy?
Maybe you can find the push inside the box, but outside, you want to nap. You don't want to go outside and play with the kids. You don't feel like cooking dinner. You want to just slam yourself on the couch.
Maybe the extra time that you've designated to working out and exercising is taking away the opportunity to do other things that might make you feel better or recover greater.
Special Note: Perhaps you read this article 5 years from the date it was published, March 26th, 2020. We are in the middle of The Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19). What is relevant about this now... we are forced to be out of the gym. Actually, we're basically forced to be at home. With no social activities to partake in. Most of us with little to no work. A weird time for sure. A scary time. Also, a time for us to reflect on how we are handling life outside of the box.
So for now, we talk about Recovery.
What we can we do with our limited time, our limited resources, and our limited equipment to optimally recover?
In an age of crazy gizmos, watches, pulsating body-drills, fully body water suits, etc., how do we sort all of this stuff out? How do we fit it all into our regiment? Do we need to?
As a currently performanceRx coach and athlete at CrossFit Petoskey, I love to workout. I love to workout for a little more than just the purpose of being fit and healthy. I care about performing at my highest level. Specifically in the "Sport of CrossFit." And I work 1:1 with many athletes who find themselves in the same boat. We want to win! So how do we keep that drive day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year?
Here are my personal Top 10 Elements of Recovery. They are ordered in my preference of most important to least important as they fit my current lifestyle. Could I be doing other things to increase my recovery and my GAIN(Z)? Sure, but they don't fit neatly into my schedule and way of life. Time is the resource that you are dealing with here.
Notice: stretching/mobility work isn't in the top 10. It very well may be in your routine. It is prominent within the time designated to my training session, (warm-up routine and cool-down) that I do not designate it separately from many of the other elements.
If I hammer 1-10 consistently well and still have time to care about other gadgets and apps, then when that time comes, I'll gladly add them.
Again, remember that the most precious resource that you have here is time. Choose the elements that make the most of it. If something could be providing more to aid your personally recovery than another, make sure it takes priority.
1. Program Design
The relationship between workload and recovery comes hand-in-hand. No reasonable amount of recovery (given the average person's lifestyle with a full-time job and kiddos to put to bed) can overcome a workout routine that loves to destroy you every day in the gym. Typically athletes don't "feel" this during the first couple of days. A one hour workout session can turn into two, especially for CrossFitters who want to pile "extra-work" that becomes another 20 Minute AMRAP of squat clean thruster backflips and tire flips. Some like to put a firm number on work:recovery in time. I've never been that "strict," however you MUST know that the more you do, the more you need to perform maintenance. Some will mistake "maintenance" for simply stretching, that is not the only form of maintenance. It is all of 2-10 on this list, and beyond, that you will need to do more of.
2. Eating Enough
To avoid the debate between the various popularized eating styles in the CrossFit circle, if you want to do-more-perform-better-win-lots, you have to eat MORE. If you want to do-more-perform-better-win-lots AND lose fat/look better... you still have to eat more. It seems to go hand-in-hand that the athlete who is the most motivated to jack up their workload is the most motivated to restrict themselves in the kitchen fueling on keto-chips and 1,200 calorie diets. Eating less calories than you expend is fine (IF your goal is to lose weight), but you better make sure that deficit is manageable and know that you will likely NOT be performing at the top of your game. You're going to have to fight through the days lacking in motivation, you're going to have days where you feel like sludge.
Are you eating enough protein? If you're working out more, you might need more.
Perhaps one of the most unpopular things to hear - in the sport of CrossFit, that the carbohydrate is the king of recovery. The race is constantly on, filled with high-intensity bouts, calling on carbohydrates for fuel source. If you don't have them, you'll know - if not in the middle of a metabolic conditioning piece, you'll know the following day when you just feel low on gas.
Lastly, having accountability on this subject is huge. Having a coach here, just like you would in many areas of life, is hugely beneficial. I have a nutrition coach and man is it helpful!
Tara's home gym set-up has some mixed recovery means.
3. Avoiding Alcohol
Yep! It's number three on my list! Simply said, you don't know until you try. And I don't mean take the week off from a couple casual evening beers and throw down on the weekend. I mean take a couple weeks, a month, even more away from alcohol and see what it does for you. And guess what, avoiding it takes zero time. :)
CFP Seminar on "Sleep for Optimal Performance"
...another one for beating a dead horse. You know you need to sleep more. You've heard all of the benefits mentally, physically, emotionally, at work, at the gym, in your mood, your relationships, your focus, injury rate, muscle growth, and more... If you're into tracking heart rate and HRV, or you're in tune with your body, feel your heart rate after only four hours of sleep. Does it feel at rest? Does it feel like your body is in recovery mode? (More on this later.)
5. Warming-Up Properly
I love this one. I can learn a lot about my upcoming workout session from my warm-up. Not to say that these two entities (warm-up and workout) are separate. They're one and the same. My rule, even if it is small and concise, I'm not allowed to skip my warm-up. If I don't feel like working out on a day I should workout, I do the warm-up anyway. Usually that leads to me feeling great and jumping into my training session. You won't just "get warm" to "get stronger later." You will become a better athlete. Check out my "Old Man PE Class Warm-Up" - something I do nearly every day. You won't only have a more effective workout session, but warming-up will greatly help with soreness after your workout, especially when using a blend of aerobic work and dynamic stretching.
Where things go a little differently than the norm. Are you connecting the dots? Are you tracking the following from day to day:
You can add to the list as you see fit, but if you're not tracking these elements of your day-to-day lives (inside and outside the gym) then how do you know if what you're doing is working or not?
I use a scale from 1-5 on all of these elements (5=exceptional; 1=terrible).
These are stats that an apple-watch CANNOT tell you. You're bound to have a 2 or a 3 here and there even when things are going swell, but if you're consistently hungry, unmotivated, performing poorly, and grumpy, you probably need to make some changes. The power of this is two-fold... you'll also become much more "in-tune" with your body in a time when people are becoming less "in-tune" because of their faith in watches, apps, step-counters etc.
This isn't really it's own "element" per se, but instead it accompanies a majority of the other nine elements listed. Similar to #6, are you tracking or guessing? Are you weighing your food? Are you weighing your body consistently? Are you looking at the clock before bed and when you get up? Maybe even writing these things down somewhere?
CFP Athletes at the 2020 Tip of the Mitt Throwdown
This is crucial for everyone, but pointed toward the high-performing athlete. Are you making sure that you're doing the things in life that make you feel full and happy? Athletes love the gym. They have to. They also have hobbies outside of the gym. They like fishing. They like playing the guitar. They like being with friends who don't go to the gym. Make sure you keep doing the things you love frequently. What this does for your focus, motivation and mood is immeasurable. I've learned this first hand.
9. Vitamin D
The benefits on sunshine and fresh air... REAL Vitamin-D. Beyond the numerous physiological effects, how about that mood? Get outside! Get outside often.
When talking about recovery, what we're really doing is managing a multitude of "stressors" in our lives. From hitting the gym, going to work, eating too little or too much, we're throwing something at the system. I believe one of the biggest mistakes an athlete can make is to throw down a banger workout then run out the door and throw themselves into a high-stress job. How does the body know when you're done working out? It doesn't! Unless you take the time to down-regulate. Breath-work has multiple disciplines and purposes, from priming your oxidative system for a workout to managing mood to defining energy system use within a workout. I'm still experimenting what methods work well for me, but for the effort of recovery, I make sure I re-establish nasal breathing post workout, until I'm able to "box" breath (that is: five counts inhale, five counts hold, five counts exhale, five counts hold) before I carry on with my day.
Am I able to pull this off every day? No. But I can feel the difference. When my body switches to recovery mode, it's going to do just that... recover.
Breath-work has a strong place within a workout as well. It can dictate energy source. Occasionally, attempt to nasal breathe during a conditioning session. You will be more effective at utilizing oxygen for energy, as well as ensuring your intensity level doesn't consistently reach a point that is too hard to recover from.
In concluding, remember the final element. While it's labeled breath-work, for the purposes of this list, it handles a much greater concept than only breathing. We live in a world that is more full of stress than ever before. Many of the things we consider as "healthy habits" are also stressors. Your Peloton is a stressor. Your low-calorie diet is a stressor. Your job is definitely a stressor. Your stupid phone is a stressor. If you want to start recovering from your high performance, try to do your best to designate time away from those stressors.