The Who/What/When/Why of Recovery


Today we want to tackle a very important topic that is often overlooked: Recovery. For professional athletes, it’s well understood that adequate recovery from a training session is just as important (maybe more important) than the training session itself. Have you ever realized that working out doesn’t make you stronger/fitter? When you work out, you’re actually, technically, getting weaker.

For example, consider a 5×10 (“5 sets of 10 reps”) deadlift workout. Your first set of 10 feels much easier than your last set… because all the work you did in sets 1, 2, 3, and 4 used up your glycogen stores, broke down your muscle fibers, and tired you out! If you finished the 5×10 workout and John said, “just kidding, give me another 5 sets of 10,” there would be groans/moans all around. And those extra 5 sets of 10 would be hard and probably look terrible. Immediately after a workout, you are weaker than you were before.

So if working out makes us weaker, how do we get stronger and fitter? (Hint: The title of the article is a give-away…) You don’t get fitter when you work out, you get fitter when you RECOVER from your workout.

In a recent podcast, Ben Bergeron of CF New England discussed recovery. He pointed to 4 key factors that affect recovery:

1) Nutrition

  • Arguably the most important factor is what you eat. A well rounded diet will ensure adequate nutrients and combat inflammation. Protein helps repair muscle; carbs replenish glycogen stores. WHAT you eat, HOW MUCH you eat, and WHEN you eat will all affect your recovery.
  • In his “World Class Fitness in 100 Words,” Greg Glassman handed us a simple recipe for good nutrition: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”
  • If you believe your nutrition habits are hampering your recovery, we are happy to help! Email us to set up a consultation.

2) Sleep

  • For elite CrossFit athletes, Bergeron recommends 9 hours (!!!) of sleep a night. While that many zzz’s may be unattainable for the average CrossFitter, it’s important to recognize that sleeping only 5-6 hours a night will seriously hurt your ability to recover. You’ll be more sore, less coordinated, and more prone to injury.
  • If you experience a string of nights of bad sleep, consider taking some rest days, and put your new-found time into fixing whatever is stealing your sleep!

3) Take care of your muscles

  • At ICA, we work our muscles HARD, and we need to care for them EVERY DAY… not just when you feel something tight or troublesome. Incorporate stretching, yoga, and self-myofascial release (lacrosse balls, foam rollers, etc.) into your normal routine.
  • If you have the time and money, consider professional body work (massage, ART, chiropractic). Periodic appointments with a professional can go a long way towards maintaining your muscles and preventing injury.

4) Find ways to de-stress and relax your mind

  • The last (and most elusive?) piece of recovery is the mental game. Yes, to truly recover, we need to unwind our minds as well as our bodies. If you exist in a constant state of stress, it will affect your hormones, which will in turn affect performance and recovery.
  • This topic falls into the “easier said than done” category, but we can all find small/short opportunities to unwind. A walk in nature, deep breathing, reading, fishing, yoga, or a salt bath. Consider meditation or a flotation tank. If all else fails, a cup of hot tea, relaxing music, or a post-dinner walk around the neighborhood can go a long way.

Hopefully at this point we’ve met two of our goals: 1) convinced you beyond a reasonable doubt that recovery is important, and 2) shed some light on the main factors that affect recovery.  The last topic we need to cover is where the rubber meets the road… How do you know if you’re adequately recovered, or if you need more time before your next WOD? Bergeron recommends you simply listen to your body. Pay attention to cues such as your eagerness to train, hunger, irritability, soreness, even your resting heart rate. Remember that the magic of CrossFit lies in its INTENSITY! If you catch yourself thinking, “I’ll go in, but take it easy…” you may want to skip the WOD that day. Take a rest day, or do a lower impact activity like walking, hiking, easy cycling, or a light sled drag.

If you ignore your body’s cues for too long, you’re at an increased chance of injury… which brings us back to an article we posted 5 years ago, “The Who/What/When/Why of Deload Week.” If you haven’t read it, or if it’s been a while, take a moment to link back and read it. The article talks about the importance of listening to your body and taking occasional rest/deload weeks, especially if you consistently work out 4+ times per week. You may be over-training and need a de-load week if:

  • A barbell, kettlebell, or wall ball that you frequently lift feels heavier than normal.
  • You have trouble hitting high intensity in a WOD because your mind and/or body are holding you back.
  • You have trouble sleeping or notice a change in your appetite (e.g., craving sugar!)
  • You are constantly sore and tight.

If you experience any of these things, don’t ignore them! Consider taking a solid 4-6 days to de-load. Instead of coming to the gym, go for walks, stretch, get body work, eat well, sleep, and relax. Come back refreshed, and you’ll be amazed how well you perform and how great you feel.


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