Yesterday we talked about the importance of exercise and specifically training instead of working out. If you missed yesterday’s post, training, is exercising with a plan. It’s a specific number of sets, reps, percentages, and rest periods designed to slowly improve your health and fitness.
Whenever people think of improving they think of training. Think of Rocky running at 4 am, or Neo in the Matrix training with Morpheus. To improve at anything it takes hard work! Our society is built on the hard work of our parents. The American Dream is synonymous with words like hustle and grind for good reason, you can’t get very far without good old fashion elbow grease.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it fails to recognize 50% of the equation.
Hard work alone doesn’t equal success, hard work + recovery = success. Our western culture emphasizes hard work over recovery and the result ends up being burnout and injuries. You don’t improve when you train. You actually wear the body down when you train. You tear muscle fibers, put a strain on ligaments, and crush the nervous system, especially if you do Crossfit. The only way you actually get better is when you recover from those stressors.
I personally used to train 2x a day on 4-6 hours of sleep and while I could do it, my performance gradually declined, and eventually, my body shut down on me. This is how I learned about the importance of recovery. This not only ended my career as an MMA fighter, but it also aged me at an increased rate. My beard became almost completely white in just 3 short years, and I noticed far more wrinkles than most men of my age. They say stress kills, and believe it or not training is stress. Training is not the problem though, insufficient recovery is.
You are probably wondering what I mean by recovery. Recovery by definition is a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. Recovery does not happen by accident, it is an active process that most people don’t even realize they should be doing. It’s not till injury or illness do we recognize the error of our ways and begin to prioritize recovery.
So today I am going to give you 3 strategies you can begin using today that will improve your recovery.
1. Prioritize Sleep
There are literally hundreds of books, studies, and articles that deeply explore the benefits of sleep, so I won’t be expanding on that, but believe me when I say that getting good sleep critical to your health, body composition, and quality of life. What I will cover though is how you can improve your sleep tonight.
In life, we always find ways to prioritize our jobs, our children, school, and watching our favorite shows, but how many of us prioritize your sleep. You probably set an alarm for work but I bet you have never set one for sleep. Imagine a life where you woke up naturally, without an alarm jacking up your cortisol and putting you in a state of fight or flight first thing in the morning! How is this possible you say?
First, you have to figure out what time you need to get up so that you can start your day productively with a walk or some training before work. For me that is 8am, so that means I need to be asleep by 12pm to get 8 hours of sleep. The problem is that I don’t sleep all the way through the night so I aim for 11pm. That means by 10pm I turn off the TV or shut off the computer, and begin my evening routine.
My routine signals my body that I’m winding down and begins the relaxation process. I usually will start with flossing and brushing my teeth, and then take a hot shower. After that, I say goodnight to my children and wife, set the AC to 68 degrees, shut off all sources of light, even the oven clock, and grab my kindle to read as I lay down. I use a kindle because reading in the dark helps me fall asleep quicker, and I use a blue light filter combined with a very low brightness setting so I don’t strain my eyes looking at the blue light.
The blue light of our electronic devices can actually increase our levels of cortisol, the hormone that wakes us up in the morning, so it’s very important to avoid all blue light at least 1 hour before going to sleep. Keeping the room dark, the house cold, and getting a routine is key to developing good sleep habits. Start doing things differently and you will see different results.
2. Meditate every day
People always say the same thing, I can’t clear my mind or my mind is too active to meditate, well that’s exactly why you should do it. In a world of 24-hour accessibility we rarely have a chance to actually listen to ourselves. Even as I sit here typing I am listening to some background music. How often do you just take time to listen to your own thoughts? How often do you actually take the time to relax and breathe deeply? Not very often I venture. Meditation is like anything other skill, it takes practice. The more you do it the better you get and the more results you see.
Our society is plagued by people that are on medication because they have high levels of anxiety brought on by overwhelming stress. Every time you turn on the news it’s something negative. Corona Deaths up, police kill a man, and second-wave of the virus is coming soon. This creates a vibration of fear in you and literally makes you sick. Think about how much time you spend listening to people other than yourself.
Meditation has been clinically shown to reduce stress response, improve anxiety, and improve emotional well being. It literally lengthens your life span and reduces inflammation, leading to faster recovery and improved health. All you have to do is close your eyes and breathe. That’s it!!!
You can also use an app called A Simple Habit that guides you through different meditations. Starting first thing in the morning is a great time to knock out 5-10 minutes of deep breathing and preparing your mind for the day. So stop tuning in to the news and start tuning in to yourself. Start with 5 mins a day for one week and then slowly increase your time. You can even split it up like your meals. 5 mins here, 10 mins there, and before you know it you got 20 mins in. The most important thing to do is to be proactive about it, because the more you do it the less you need it.🤯
3. Cooldown After Every Workout
Everyone is so good at warming up and training, but I barely see people cool down post-workout. It’s always something like I have to get the kids, or I have to get to work. Valid reasons to leave the gym for sure but not before a short cooldown. The way your body works is when you workout you enter into fight or flight. This speeds up your heart, makes you more alert, and is very helpful for moving fast and lifting heavy things. The problem arises when you STAY in fight or flight for too long. This can lead to the aforementioned stress overload that can result in anxiety and sleep problems, which then lead to health issues in the long run. We aren’t even touching on the performance benefits of flexible muscles and mobile joints. It can improve that too!
Cooling down puts our bodies back into a parasympathetic response where we can begin the rest and digest process. This improves recovery tremendously and allows your body to begin the rebuilding process as soon as possible.
I’m all for training when done the right way. Done the wrong way and it leads to injury, illness, and a decreased quality of life. I am the perfect example. I trained extremely hard for many years but neglected recovery tremendously and that mistake has lead to bouts of anxiety, depression, countless injuries like my torn labrum, and way too many grey hairs.
So if you take anything away from this article start getting to bed earlier, use 5 minutes to meditate, and another 5-10 minutes cooling down after training. I guarantee your future self will thank you for it.