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The Importance of Rest & Recovery

Posted by Douglas W. Stoddard MD, M Sp Med, Dip Sport Med, ES on 21 February 2017
The Importance of Rest & Recovery

You rarely hear the term 'more is better' these days, unless you work in crop production, or your boss asks you 'how much of a raise would you like'?

This is especially true when it comes to fitness & exercise - overworking your body can end up doing more harm than good, meaning that extra work is lost to diminishing returns & an unresponsive body.

Rest & recovery are vital when it comes to gains at the gym, or boosts in performance. But, there is a difference between the two on a fundamental level.

Rest is a type of recovery; it's when your body is in total relaxation and ease, like when you've melted into the couch in front of your TV. Recovery relies on active methods, delivering necessary maintenance to the body after a workout - this can include rest, too. For example, sleep can be categorized as a form of recovery, rather than rest; when you're sleeping, the body exudes growth hormones, and facilitates muscle regeneration.

"Rest is necessary, but it's not always synonymous with recovery," says Aaron Leventhal, a certified personal trainer, and owner of Fit Studios in Minneapolis.

"What's required is to put together a recovery plan that works best for you and your needs, so that it advances your fitness goals instead of causing you to take a break from aiming toward them."

Recovering properly is key to improved athletic performance - it must be strategic, and progressive. Check out these five ways to get the most out of your recovery time, keeping you refreshed for the next day's session.

Plan Your Workouts in Advance

Your muscles don't get bigger just through pumping iron - they need ample time to recover & rebuild.

"If you bench press three days in a row, for example, you're not giving your chest, shoulders and triceps the amount of recovery needed between sessions," explains James-Tyler Dodge, a certified strength and conditioning coach at Professional Physical Therapy in New York.

"This not only slows recovery, but will also slow down muscle growth. That's why proper exercise programming is important."

Remember that it's best for your entire body to regenerate after exercise - including mental, physical, and psychological components. Not only do the specific muscles need recuperation time, but so does the rest of the body. Avoiding complete rest can build up stress, leading to an over-trained state.

Some fitness experts feel that rest is important to the body's nervous system too; they say the body first lifts weight with the nervous system, then the mind, and lastly your muscles. So don't ignore mental fatigue, even if your body feels ready to work.

Mix It Up

Trainers will often recommend to vary your fitness routines or weight circuits every so often, otherwise you'll crash into a plateau repeatedly.

The same can be said for recovery.

Try mixing up your fitness & recovery schedules every few weeks - you may notice more significant gains in performance, as well as recovery. 

Track...All the Things!

A lot of gym junkies these days track their performance or workout circuit, from how many reps per set, to the weight of the...weights being lifted.

You should create an area in your notebook or app to track your recovery, too.

Now hold on, it's not stupid - keeping a record of your recovery, alongside what you're doing in the gym, can provide valuable insights as to whether you're getting ample downtime.

"I track everything, and when you do that, you start to see different rhythms in terms of how you feel and perform," says Leventhal.

For example, you can document your resting heart rate for a few weeks, comparing your notes to see if there are any changes after some recovery days. You can also track how you feel post-recovery - are you amped to work out? Or are you unmotivated and sloth-like? Recognizing these patterns in your exercise & recovery allows you to tweak your workouts and time off for optimal performance.

Diligent Dieting

We assume you aren't eating and exercising at the same time (and if you are, we don't know if we should be mad or impressed), making meal time an important form of recovery. Consuming the right foods is a type of recovery, as you're filling in the nutrient gaps that were lost to exercise.

If those nutrient gaps aren't satisfied, it affects recovery, which subsequently deteriorates performance.

"Managing your diet is crucial for adequate recovery," says Dodge. "On days where full-body recovery is needed, making sure that you are supplying yourself with enough calories and nutrients is key for optimal recovery."

Having said that, make sure you aren't overindulging and in taking too many calories than needed. This is easier than you think, especially after a particularly tough gym session. Those extra calories, unsurprisingly, can lead to weight gain, and insufficient energy to fuel your workouts.

To help with nutrition, MyFitnessPal is the world's largest nutrition & calorie database.

Procedure > Performance

Like we mentioned earlier, total body rest is important.

But, active recovery has its place too, particularly for high-performance athletes. This recovery time can be used to refine skills or techniques, having your focus on form rather than muscular fortitude. If there's one element that can truly give you the edge in your sport, it's refining your form and mechanics to perfection.

For example, a runner doesn't have to run - they can work on their form, being mindful of their foot strike, gait, body positioning, breathing, or what have you.

When it finally comes time to hit the gym, you won't only be energized, but efficient & economical, too.


Need help devising a new workout schedule that factors in rest & recovery? SEMI's personal trainers are knowledgeable in the best exercise practices, and can customize a training program based on your goals.

Whether you're looking for something completely new, or just want to refine and improve your tried-and-true regimen, SEMI's professionals are here to help! Contact us at 1-855-572-9177, or visit one of our locations!

Author: Douglas W. Stoddard MD, M Sp Med, Dip Sport Med, ES
About: Dr. Douglas Stoddard is a sports medicine physician and is the Medical Director of the Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute (SEMI). After receiving his medical degree from the University of Toronto, he trained in Australia at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, obtaining his Master Degree in Sports Medicine. He is also a diplomat of the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine and has his focussed practice designation in Sport Medicine from the Ontario Medical Association. Dr. Stoddard is a consultant to the Canadian Military and has consulted with well over 30,000 unique patients in his career. Dr. Stoddard is constantly searching for new and promising therapies to help SEMI patients, and is responsible for developing the RegenerVate Medical Injection Therapy Program. He is married and the proud father of two boys, is an avid triathlete and occasional guitar player.
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