The first bank holiday weekend of the year approaches and for me that will mean some much needed rest and recovery time as the gyms I work at switch to a reduced timetable and cut a couple of my classes. One of the things I think people only tend to learn about exercise once it becomes a regular thing is that having a week off the usual routine occasionally to really allow the body to rest and re-energise is absolutely essential!
Why is that? Physical activity puts a certain amount of stress [FUN stress :)] on the body and the higher the intensity of the workout (think BodyCombat, BodyPump, ten mile run) the more demand is placed on muscles, tissues, hormones. After the workout is over it takes time, perhaps as much as 48 hours, for the body to rebuild muscles, restore fluids, and reset energy levels. If, like me, you enjoy working out frequently and regularly you may be going into a new session not quite fully recovered from the previous session. Although regular, consistent training is necessary to maintain and improve fitness, over time it can result in accumulated fatigue. You might notice a general sense of tiredness, finding it harder to get going in the morning, feeling like eating more, and if it gets too much noticing changes in mood. Giving yourself some extra time off occasionally is a good chance to reboot the system and a useful opportunity to reflect on how you’re progressing with your training or perhaps to try something different.
One of the best ways to keep yourself feeling strong and energised is keep a sufficient and consistent sleep schedule of around 8-9 hours per night. Not always easy, I know, but plan for this as much as possible. Then give yourself ‘rest’ days during the week where activity is kept at a low to moderate intensity. If you regularly do high or maximum intensity workouts then it’s also a good idea to plan in a ‘recovery week’ every few weeks where you can do the same session perhaps but for a shorter time or with lighter weights to reduce the stress to the body and so increase the benefit of your rest days. People who follow progressive training plans, building strength or for an event like a marathon will notice ‘low volume’ weeks built into the plan.
Recovery can be active or passive. Active recovery might be going for a walk, gentle swim, or a BodyBalance session, perhaps even baking, where the body is still moving but at an intensity level that you could keep going for a while and leaves you feeling fresh and uplifted. Passive recovery could be anything non-exercise and not overly stimulating. Sleep being the most passive. The idea is to relieve stress, physical and mental, so do something you really enjoy and helps you switch off. For me this might be reading a book, having a sauna, or meditation. It can be difficult to claim some time for this, particularly when family members or friends want to socialise, but I find even 15 minutes to half an hour can have a wonderfully restorative effect especially if you’re able to really switch off and get absorbed in whatever it is you’re doing. The really important thing, I think, is to learn to listen to your body, notice your energy levels and moods, be able to adapt your routine or add in some extra downtime when you need it and to ENJOY your workouts and feel good outside the gym as much as possible.