Why Recovery After Exercise Is So Important
Everyone knows that exercise is good for your health and wellbeing – however, very few of us actually stop to think about why it is so good for us and how it makes us fit. Hard exercise strains and challenges your body, pushing it to its limits – the body in turn responds by building muscles and becoming stronger and better equipped to deal with the strain of the exercise inflicted upon it. Anyone who has exercised regularly will also be aware of the psychological benefits, exercise genuinely does make you feel good. The term runner’s high is not just a myth – strenuous exercise such as running or heavy training stimulates endorphin production which can produce a euphoric feeling.
Why are recovery days necessary?
A heavy exercise session, whether it be at the gym or out for a run, damages the muscles fibres and causes small tears. It is only after the work out, during rest periods that the body repairs and strengthens itself. Therefore, rest days are essential to allow the body to recover and to improve performance. Most professional athletes have quality recovery time factored into their schedule, to help with both their physical and psychological wellbeing.
How many recovery days do we need?
This varies from person to person – however, the basic idea is to rest whichever muscle group was strenuously exerted the day before. Many athletes split muscle groups when training by concentrating on the legs one day, and the arms the next as an example. Runners however, may train on consecutive days before taking a full rest day with no training. The amount of recovery time needed depends on how intensely you train and your relative level of fitness.
What happens if you don’t rest?
Overtraining without rest can cause a number of possible harmful side effects, including:
- Sleep deprivation – Too much training can seriously hinder sports performance, putting the body in a constant state of restlessness and high alert.
- Severe fatigue – Being over tired as a result of too much training leads to poor performance and an increased chance of injury. Taking sufficient rest time actually helps to prevent injury.
- Irritability and difficulty concentrating– the stress from overtraining can cause sleep deprivation and fatigue resulting in irritability and a lack of concentration.
- Low mood/depression – fatigue, a poor sleep and rest cycle can over time result in a low mood.
- Poor performance – the body does not have enough time to repair itself or rest – neither physically or mentally.
- Amenorrhea – Female athletes who train regularly are at a risk of developing athletic amenorrhoea.
- Poor general health – the stress and fatigue can leave you prone catching colds and other infections.
- Burnouts – too much training with no break can lead to psychological damage. Taking a rest day helps recharge the batteries not only physically but also mentally as well – taking a well-deserved rest will actually help improve training quality, helping you train harder and more consistently.
How to Spend Your Recovery Days
A recovery day does not mean the whole day needs to be spent sitting at home doing nothing – there are many ways to help your body repair.
Get a good night’s sleep
The physical and psychological benefits of sufficient sleep are extensive – sleep deprivation is linked to a number of negative side effects including decreased stamina and aerobic endurance, as well as increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). A regular sleep routine can enhance performance, helping muscles to recover from the exertions of the day’s training as well as stabilizing mood and reducing the risk of injuries.
Nutrition and Hydration
During exercise, your muscles use their glycogen stores for fuel – this can result in the partial depletion of glycogen and the breakdown of certain proteins within the muscles. Following exercise, the body will immediately begin to repair the muscles and rebuild the glycogen store. Eating the right nutrients can assist in this process which should include both protein and carbohydrates. A well-qualified nutritionist can help devise an appropriate dietary plan.
Similarly, keeping hydrated is equally important – during a workout the body loses large amounts of fluids. Water is essential for many of our bodily functions and while most athletes are well aware that remaining hydrated is important during performance, many overlook the fact that staying hydrated is an important part of recovery.
Low Intensity Exercise
Depending on your level of fitness, low intensity exercises such as yoga, Pilates, swimming or walking can all stimulate relaxation whilst helping with flexibility and alleviating muscle tension.
Following injury or any other type of muscular discomfort, physiotherapy plays an essential role in speeding up the recovery process.
Massage therapy is highly popular among athletes, it offers a wide range of benefits including improved relaxation and circulation. It also promotes a higher range of movement and helps to alleviate muscle tension – this can be very useful in the recovery process.
Stretching helps increase and maintain muscle flexibility, it also improves the blood flow to the muscles being stretched, this can help to speed up the recovery process by improving the range of motion of a specific muscle.
Icing and Heating
Ice packs can be beneficial in the recovery from injuries, helping to ease inflammation and swelling. Heating techniques such as hot baths, saunas, steam rooms, heat packs, etc. are good for muscle aches and stiffness as well as improving general relaxation.
Using foam rollers is an ideal way to release tension in the body as well as helping to remove knots throughout the body.
If you would like any further help or advice on recovery techniques, don’t hesitate to get in touch with ProPhysiotherapy – we offer a wide range of services including physiotherapy, diet and nutrition advice, massage therapy, Pilates, personal training and much more.