The Best Way to Recover from Exercise Training
Just read a brief review in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research about recovery from exercise training. The author brought up some important points I thought would be useful to share.
When talking about exercise training recovery, it is important to distinguish exactly which “type” of recovery you are referring to. The scientific literature defines three.
Immediate recovery is the type that occurs between muscle actions. For instance, when running, one leg, at any given time during the stride, is in recovery; whilst the other is performing work. In a fraction of a second, they will switch, and the one that was recovering will be performing the work and the other will be recovering. The runner’s capacity for immediate recovery will determine the stride length and frequency.
Short-term recovery refers to the recovery taking place between sets or intervals, and the final type, training recovery is the recovery taking place between workout sessions. In all three cases, one’s ability to recover determines the frequency and effectiveness of the repetition, set, or session. For this post, I am focusing on training recovery.
Important points to consider for proper recovery
To improve athletic performance, one needs to both train properly AND recover adequately. The amount of time spent training, specifically the time spend during an actual session amounts to only a fraction of the time spent in actual recovery. Of course, with that, all gains resulting from exercise training manifest during training recovery, NOT during the actual training session.
For all we know about prescribing exercise, very little is known about the recovery process. We know less (from a science based standpoint) about the portion of the training/recovery cycle where we spend the most time.
Techniques commonly used to improve the recovery process include:
- massage therapy,
- analgesics (ibuprofen, acetaminophen),
- cryotherapy (cold water immersion), and
- "active" recovery (repeating some of all of the exercises with considerably less intensity).
Anecdotally, many claim that using one or more of these techniques accelerated their recovery from a hard exercise session. From an evidence-based perspective, the jury is still out whether these techniques have any significant effect on recovery beyond “passive recovery” , (a.k.a. time where no training occurs). The sticking point is in the definition of recovery. How does one determine if that are “recovered”? An absence of muscle stiffness or soreness? Simply feeling good? Both of these are nice BUT what really matters is can the person lift as much, run as fast, throw as hard, or go as long as they did prior to their last training session? A person who is no longer sore or stiff can still underperform.
Some of these recovery techniques can even be counter-productive. For instance, taking analgesics post exercise may lessen muscle soreness but also suppress protein synthesis, something which is necessary for building and repairing muscle.
What is pretty well established, as far as optimal exercise training recovery is concerned, aside from time in passive recovery, the following are necessary:
- proper hydration,
- electrolyte (sodium, potassium, etc.) replacement, and
- glycogen replenishment
The recommendation for optimal hydration following a workout is to drink about three cups of water for each pound of bodyweight lost during a workout. This means of course, one must weigh in before and after the session. For someone who regularly trains longer than 60 minutes per session and/or trains more than once per day, this is probably worth doing. Proper hydration is also important for replacing electrolytes lost during the session. As for replenishing glycogen stores, this post provides some more info on that. I’ll address each of these in more detail in a future post.
- Popular treatments for accelerating exercise training recovery do not appear to be anymore effective than passive recovery.
- How one “feels” is not the best gauge of recovery. The person’s athletic performance level is, as that is the purpose of training.
- Adequate hydration is necessary for optimal recovery as well as restoration of electrolytes.
Thanks for your time!
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Published by mattktraining
I am currently the Owner of my soloprenuerial company Matt K Training. Through my fitness and nutrition programs I help adults develop skills and practices that help them eat, move, and recover well. Over the past 20 years, in various roles such as a Personal trainer, Exercise Physiologist, Clinical Researcher, and Health Coach I have helped hundreds of adults reach their health and physical performance goals. When not working, I enjoy active pursuits such as playing right field for the Charlton Giants (in a 38+ competitive baseball league), playing tennis, hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing. I also enjoy indoor activities such as playing strategy board games, reading and discussing science fiction literature, dabbling with my guitar, finding creative ways to eat oatmeal, and being a good dad.