Do You Even Leviosa? How to tell the Hermione in you to take a break.

Posted by Emily Beinecke on

Here is something we all have in common – we have all had a day or a full week where we simply are not feeling up to snuff. On these days, the thought of doing a single set of dead lifts sounds like the biggest chore since your mom made you sweep the whole house. This feeling can unfold in a number of ways, and may be predetermined by illness, stress, dehydration, or simply an arduous week of lifting high volumes of weight at the gym. Even if you feel like you could be hitting higher weights than last week, you need to ask your body if that is something that you actually should be doing. Another question to ask yourself as a litmus test is, do you feel any hesitation in lifting weights today? Barring any complications from illness, which may require that you simply rest your bones, movement is great for the body. But you need to be discerning in deciding if loading movement patterns with lots of weight is going to be the most beneficial to you today in the scope of your week and workout program. You may actually maximize the gains from your program by taking a day off from your workouts and either resting entirely or treating yourself to a recovery circuit!

So, let's address the reasons why recovery and recovery workouts can be great, and where they can be best inserted to supplement a training program. First, I want to discuss common scenarios, and subsequent options that you may have to weigh…

1. You are feeling tight in the usual places, or even some new places, and you feel like you are at risk of either causing injury or prolonging old injuries.

2. You are recovering from a cold, or feel the onset of a cold, or simply feel exhausted beyond the usual measure.

The first thing you need to do – stop pretending like this is the normal you! Admit that you are not feeling great, and quit holding out hope that you will hit a PR today. Tightness or illness may be an indicator that your body is approaching fatigue or overtraining. So, the second logical thing to do is take inventory. When you begin foam rolling, or even before you get to the gym, there are a series of questions you should be asking yourself. What has your energy been like all day or week? When was the last time you took a day off? How much water have you been drinking during your day? How much in the way of whole foods have you put into your system? And, does your body feel differently this week than it did the week before? When you go through this checklist, there may be one question that sets off a red flag for you. Depending on what that is, you may benefit from talking to your coach about strategies to mitigate the issue in the future by taking more preventive measures. But since you are already at the gym, perhaps moving around (or simply breathing!) isn’t such a bad idea, so long as you have the energy to do it, and maybe a water bottle too.

In the scope of training, you can think of a recovery workout as an additional – and necessary – de-load day. You may notice in a work capacity program how the number of sets of dead lifts increases as the weeks go on, but how the very last week of your program drops back down to three sets. This is because your body cannot continue to handle a perpetual upward trajectory of more and more work every week. In theory, you should be able to keep doing more work in the gym and continue to see gains with progressive overload. However, in reality, there exists a curvilinear relationship whereby your body will eventually pass that sweet spot of training volume and head toward the zone of fatigue and overtraining. For this reason, your body requires a back off day to allow for recovery, prevent a plateau in future training programs, and to maximize gains in the future. Any extenuating circumstance that compromises your ability to perform your lifts – illness, exhaustion, or dehydration – should be addressed as though the body is reaching that fatigue or overtraining phase. If that isn’t enough to convince you to sit on down and take a breather, consider the fact that your body is made of multiple complex systems. Not only is the musculoskeletal system subject to stress during workouts, so is your nervous system! If you are constantly training hard 4-5x a week, chances are you will develop some type of imbalance between your sympathetic (fight or flight response) and parasympathetic (relaxed state) nervous system. That type of chronic stress, or high threshold state, will prevent you from making any progress in the first place, and likely will prolong or cause illness. When this happens, you know it is time to focus on diaphragmatic breathing to help restore that balance. To get those optimal gains, your body needs recovery as much as it needs training stimuli.
 
So, the next step is to make a game plan for that day specifically. Be honest up front about how much you think you will be able to do. A recovery workout can be as simple as foam rolling and/or stretching. It can be as truncated as you want it to be as well. Simply going through your movement prep exercises before you get to power development is a great place to start. All of the rocking, rolling and nodding that we do up front is meant to help your body unwind from a day that was likely spent at a computer or sitting down for extended periods of time. Your workout program is meant to undo any of those postural deviations you may find yourself sitting in throughout your day. So, your body will largely benefit from simply foam rolling and doing your warm ups if nothing else.

Finally, if you have decided to progress past your warm-ups, you can simply work on training your movement patterns unloaded. Let’s say your program calls for dead lifts that day. Instead of lifting a barbell off the floor, you could instead do drills that promote a good hip hinge pattern. If you are addressing squats, work on ankle and hip mobility with bands or squat prying positions. All of the active recovery exercises that appear in your program between sets of major movement patterns like squats, dead lifts or bench press, are there to serve your neural development and help promote a healthy movement pattern that will become even more automatic and trainable over time.
 
So, to sum up, ENJOY the time that you take to recover. Think of how many more gains you will get yourself in the long run with a recovery workout in place of heavy lifting on those days where you feel foggy or at risk of injury. Personally, I have never regretted a recovery day – I have only regretted pushing myself past the threshold of productivity. The days that I take to train a hip hinge pattern with a cook band are great days! It feels like meditation for my body. I can focus on form and breathing all the while without a worry that I might cause my body fatigue or potential injury. I hope you can do the same!
Recover

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