We all know that muscles are broken down through activity, especially strength training. They respond to this stimulus by rebuilding bigger and stronger than before, a process called adaptation. To do this, adequate rest and recovery periods are needed, as well as periodization.
Periodization is the concept of varying the intensity, duration, and/or volume of your workouts from week to week and month to month. Doing the same thing day after day, week after week can, at best stall your results, and at worst break down your body over time, leading to impaired immune system function and injury.
You can’t go hard and heavy all the time. There must be workouts and periods of time where you back off so that your muscles can have the appropriate amount of time to adapt and go through a process called supercompensation. This is when the desired adaptive response occurs and the body builds back stronger, bigger, faster, and fitter than before. It cannot occur when there is no recovery period.
Taking a “deload” week every few weeks or when needed keeps the body from getting to a point where it can’t rebuild. There are a variety of ways to deload, but it boils down to back off of the intensity (lighter weights), overall volume (fewer sets and reps), and frequency (2-3 workouts instead of 4-6, for example).
Recovery and rest days don’t have to mean zero activity, however. Sometimes it can help the process and really feel good to do a little movement, known as active recovery. This includes light, low or no impact activities to increase blood flow to sore, tight muscles to aid in the recovery process. Duration should be at least 10-30 minutes in length. This gentle movement also helps manage stress levels by lowering cortisol.
Active Recovery Strategies:
- Foam Rolling
- Gentle Yoga
- Leisure Walking at 3.0 mph or slower, especially outdoors
- Easy Swimming
- Tai Chi
If you don't already, schedule some active recovery days in your current training routine. You will help ward off overtraining, injury, extreme soreness and tightness, as well as increase circulation. It's good for the mind as well, relaxing the nervous system and easing stress. Your body will thank you!