We only progress as well as we recover. You can put the work into your training and still not make progress if you aren’t accounting for factors that aid recovery. It’s also important to know the right things to do for proper recovery that will help you make gains and reduce your risk of injury.
Things like foam rolling, stretching, and getting a massage are too heavily weighted when people talk about recovery. Don’t get me wrong, they are all good things to include, but foam rolling your quads for 15 minutes isn’t going to magically heal your knee that’s beat up because your leg day volume is too high.
1. Load Management
The conversation about recovery starts with what your workload looks like in the gym. Are you maxing out every other week? Are you doing way too many sets in a week? Are you doing a lot of other types of training alongside your main workouts?
You have to push the limits a bit to make progress, but you also need to know when to back off. Training should be cyclical, with an increase in intensity and volume over time, followed by a week with a big drop in volume. This, in other words, is a deload week. After that, start a little higher than your previous starting point and work your way back up again.
2. Take Rest Days
This goes along with load management, but I thought it was important enough to include it as its own point. We see too many people on the internet brag about how they haven’t taken a rest day in “X months”. That’s a sure fire way to get burnt out and injured.
Your rest days will help you refresh and hit your next training session with more intensity. Many people make great progress on 3 or 4 day splits.
This is probably the most widely recommended by people that actually know a thing or two about recovery, but that’s exactly why it needs to be on this list. Lack of sleep will hinder recovery and leave you feeling gassed. Also, when we are asleep is when our muscles recover the most. Get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night and let your body do it’s work.
One of the most important things is to make sure you are eating enough protein to support muscle growth and recovery. Also, your nutritional needs and stage of training will coincide. If you are looking to lose weight, then your calories will need to be lower along with your training volume. This will help preserve muscle without getting injured.
If you are looking to gain muscle mass, then your calories will need to be higher along with increasing your training volume. Remember what we mentioned above about cycling your volume though.
There is a lot more information that goes into nutrition for performance, but that is kind of out of our scope of practice. If you want more specific information about nutrition, then find a registered dietician or nutritionist.
Obviously things like stretching and massage are not useless. Depending on your sport, you need to have a certain amount of range of motion that you can tap into. But haphazardly stretching your hamstrings or back muscles are not going to prevent injuries and, in some cases, it can actually leave you more at risk for injury.
In the meantime, try incorporating these tips into your daily life and share this with your training buddies!