How to optimise recovery
Recovery used to be the one aspect of health and performance that got shoved in the bottom drawer. It got whatever time and attention was left over after training. So it’s great to see recovery getting more focus in the last few years.
But somewhere along the way we let the pendulum swing too far to the opposite direction.
The fancy 1% lifestyle modalities are now getting all the hype
People are spending hundreds, in some cases thousands of dollars a week on saunas, ice baths, massage guns, and as always, nutrition supplements. When really, the majority of the focus should be on good sleep, correct breathing and real food.
If you really want to optimise your health and performance, give recovery at least the same amount of focus as you give to your training. While making sure you give most of your recovery focus on the activities that really matter.
Your health and performance are a large bucket
The fuller the bucket, the more optimised your health and performance are. Every moment you spend on recovery adds more water to the bucket. In contrast, physical, physiological and environmental stresses leak water out of the bucket.
Whether this stress is “good” (training, moderate positive stress at work, having drinks with friends…), or “bad” (lack of sleep, illness, relationship struggles, excess work stress…) doesn’t matter.
All forms of stress leak water out of the bucket just the same. And once the level of water in the bucket drops too low, you’re likely to notice some issues with your health and performance.
If you aren’t tracking your health biometrics yet, now is a good time to start
Your resting heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) are two great indicators of your recovery. Unless you’re exceptionally in tune with your body, HR and HRV often show signs that something's not right before you’d notice it yourself.
Tracking HR and HRV allows you to prioritise recovery earlier. Instead of descending in the fatigue hole, which often means a prolonged climb out. Sure, this climb out of the hole might be just a few days or a week. But it could also be months. Depending on your state of fatigue.
Signs of imbalanced recovery
- Weakened immune system
- Feeling weak in training
- Experiencing excessive soreness after workouts
- Brain fog and fatigue
- Negative thinking
- Struggles with self-regulation. Excessive procrastination, poor eating decisions.
Everyone feels off every once in a while. That's a part of navigating the demands of life. Taking a few days easier with training, combined with a couple nights of good sleep, will usually sort it out.
Things change if this feeling keeps dragging on and you can’t shake it. If that’s the case, it’s important to re-evaluate your approach to recovery.
How to optimise recovery
Four unsexy activities stand head and shoulders above the rest of the recovery pack:
- Improve your sleep. Aim for at least 7 hours of solid quality sleep each night. Some people need more, very few can do with less.
- Fix your nutrition. Prioritise nutritious wholefoods. Or in more earthy terms, real food. Eat enough calories to support your energy needs.
- Eliminate or reduce the sources of psychological stress. If that’s not possible, find ways to increase your resilience to stress. And see if you need to improve how you manage emotions.
- Reduce the sources of physiological stress. Dial down your training intensity and volume.
Once you’ve fixed sleep, nutrition and stress, you can focus on the 1% recovery methods:
- Add parasympathetic activities
- Light movement, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga or any other activity that keeps your heart rate low.
- Get massages, have sex, use a sauna, or get into an ice bath.
- Be of service and connect with people that are important to you.
- Reduce sympathetic activities.
- Read less news and cut down on social media.
- Don’t hang out with people that drag you down.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine.
To optimise your health and performance, allocate recovery the same space and time as you do to your training.
Your health and performance are a large bucket. The fuller the bucket, the more optimised your health and performance are. Every moment you spend on recovery adds more water to the bucket. In contrast, physical, physiological and environmental stresses leak water out of the bucket.
Tracking your resting heart rate and heart rate variability helps you to prioritise recovery earlier. Instead of descending in the fatigue hole, which often means a prolonged climb out.
Before plunging into the trendy 1% recovery methods, sort out the big rocks: sleep, nutrition and physical/psychological stress.