Use this Powerful Recovery Routine to Be Your Best

It’s very easy to feel like we have to keep grinding away if we want to improve and get ahead. Whether that’s in your workouts, your career or your personal life, it’s the modern way to keep pushing and pushing. And, of course, we need to work hard to achieve our goals—that’s not in question at all. The stresses of striving to be our best can be healthy and productive, but ongoing stress without sufficient recuperation and recovery is not.

It is imperative for our health and performance that we give ourselves a chance to calm down and recover well from the strain we go through every day. It’s ironic that we can put forth the effort to workout consistently, but then give barely any attention to our “days off” and recuperation. It’s also self-defeating, because proper rest and recuperation is where we make gains and progress. Without it, you’re just digging a hole for yourself that you’ll never get out of. Regularly scheduled down time is absolutely a necessity to avoid physical and mental burnout.

The stress and recovery cycle

We are built to adapt to stress. Our bones and muscles are strengthened by resistance training, our hearts and lungs are strengthened by cardiovascular work, and our brains improve with learning and practice.

Stress and challenge are necessary—without sufficient stress, we won’t grow. But too much stress leads to breakdown.

The mental and physical parts of this go hand-in-hand. The physical soreness and fatigue combines with the mental strain and grind, which causes you to dread your workouts and lack motivation. This can turn into a negative cycle.

Nervous system responses

This has a lot to do with how our nervous system works. Our autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for the ongoing background functions of our bodies, works without our conscious involvement, and is divided into two opposite and complementary parts: sympathetic and parasympathetic.

Sympathetic nervous system

You’ve likely heard of the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system, where in times of stress our bodies release adrenaline and other hormones to give us a boost of energy for dealing with perceived threats.

Parasympathetic nervous system

The sympathetic ramps you up; the parasympathetic dials you down. This “rest and digest” response decreases your heart rate and blood pressure, and dampens your systems to help with proper rest and recovery.

You can see the balance here. Our workouts and other stresses turn on our sympathetic response, which gives us alertness, strength and the capability to keep pushing through when needed. This is balanced by the parasympathetic, which calms everything down to help you recover so that you can handle stresses again.

You need both, to survive and thrive. An imbalance toward one side or the other is not healthy and prevents you from doing your best. And for most of us who strive to do our best, we tend to do too much work at too high an intensity. Let’s talk about how to even that out.

Rest and recovery day strategies

Here are our best strategies and tactics to help you recover on your off days from strenuous work.

Light cardio training

There’s a good reason many great athletes incorporate easy training into their regimens. It simply works. This involves doing light and easy movement such as walking or bicycling at a pace that you feel you could sustain for hours, below your aerobic threshold, which in general is less than 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

It’s just enough movement to feel like you are doing something, but not enough to get out of breath or feel fatigued at all. This improves blood flow, stimulates the nervous system in a non-stressful way and overall feels good.

Fifteen to 30 minutes will do you well, and can easily be squeezed into your lunch break, or before or after work.

Meditation and breath work

Meditation can happen in whatever form you feel most comfortable doing. The most important components of mediation are proper breathing and a focus on what you are doing in the moment. Finding a way to not think of the past or future, and being present, is essential to recovery. This can happen in any activity you do, as you don’t need anything other than your presence of mind and a few cues to make this happen.

One of the best ways to start is to focus on controlling your breath. This could be as simple as practicing a steady, even breath where you breathe in for three seconds, hold three seconds, and the breathe out for three seconds. Repeat this pattern for as long as you’d like. Don’t try to stop from thinking about anything, because that will make it worse! Simply acknowledge whatever is going on in your head, continue focusing on your breath and keep going. Eventually your mind will stay clear.

The key, and I cannot stress this enough, is to not strain. You can’t force yourself to relax. Keep at it every day. However, if in a session you find yourself working too hard to let go and focus on your breath, it’s best to stop and try again the next day.

Start at five minutes and work your way up to 20 minutes (or longer if it feels good).

Stretching

Another tried-and-true recovery method is stretching. It feels good to gently stretch stiff and achy muscles, and there is plenty of evidence that stretching stimulates the recovery response for our nervous system, increases blood flow and lowers cardiovascular markers.

Recovery routine

With this in mind, I’d like to share an effective sequence that combines gentle stretching with mindful, controlled breathing. This is a quick and easy way to help you focus a bit more on recovering well from your training and hectic lifestyle.

In this video, Alicia will demonstrate six movements that will gently work through your major body areas to feel more relaxed and limber after just a few minutes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0VUW-aGYN0

Dynamic A-frame

Kneel to Cobra

Kneeling Lunge to Hamstring Stretch with band/strap

Elbows on Chair, Upper Thoracic to Bent Arm Chest Stretch

Focus on your recovery as much as your workouts

Proper rest and recovery are just as important as doing your workouts, and they deserve as much of your energy and effort. Frankly, without proper recovery, you will never progress well.

Nourish yourself with good food, get to bed at a decent hour, breathe and stretch and turn down your hectic brain for a few minutes every day. Train hard but don’t beat yourself down so much that you just end up spinning your wheels.

Do your best to take care of yourself and it will make all the difference!

Photo and video credit: Courtesy of GMB Fitness