If you go scroll down the Instagram page of any top level athlete, whether he or she is a CrossFitter, basketball player, or football star, you will undoubtedly see a lot of posts with a view into their workout plan. For a CrossFitter, that will probably be a new personal record on the snatch or clean and jerk. Maybe it will be some incredible number of muscle ups or hand stand push ups. What it almost certainly won’t be is a video detailing how they recover. Unless that athlete is sponsored by a recovery company. Then you’ll definitely see all about how amazing that product is. However, recovery is a huge part of reaching your goals, and it is even more important when you’re doing multiple max effort lifts in a week.
Max effort lifts do not normally make you quite as sore as typical weeks, so you may be tempted to think that you can slack on your recovery. The reason for the lack of soreness is because you get DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness – read about it here) from the micro-tears in your muscles caused by resistance training. The more volume you do, the more damage is caused on your muscles. The more damage, the more growth due to adaptation. However, with that adaptation typically comes discomfort. During max effort weeks you don’t have that sort of volume. In the box on Monday we did back squat max, and the average number of reps done there was 12. In contrast, we normally are doing 3-4 x 6-10 reps at a working weight. Which means our athletes are typically, including warm up, doing somewhere between 20 and 40 reps at a heavy weight in a session.
No doubt, recovery is less enticing when you don’t hurt when you walk. But that isn’t the case. Recovery is even more important during max out weeks. The main reason for this is that the nervous system fatigues as you train, and the harder the effort the more it fatigues. As your nervous system gets tired, your coordination and ability to exert force goes down drastically. Both of these are extremely important when it comes to hitting a new personal record. Your technique has to be as perfect as possible, and you need to have energy to produce power. Both of these will go away if you haven’t recovered sufficiently. You can read about the nervous system and its affect on your training in detail here.
So, how do you make sure you’re recovered for each day of training? There are a number of activities you can do which help with recovery, and I’ll detail three easy ones you can take below:
1. Sleep Enough: I know you’ve probably heard this before, but sleep is the number one influence on how well you recover. If you’re only getting 5-6 hours per night, I can guarantee you are selling yourself short on athletic performance, as well as your ability to excel at your job. Even your relationships will suffer when you don’t sleep enough. During sleep, your body releases growth hormone and rebuilds muscle fibers. It also acts as a reset for your nervous system, allowing it to recover and go hard again the next day. Get 7-8 hours, at least, per night. 9 would be amazing, but really, that is sometimes tough to fit in. If you have trouble falling asleep, try turning of the TV and phone an hour before bed, and spend some time reading a book, stretching, or meditating to help yourself chill out.
2. Get Your Nutrition in Order: If you are worried about performance of any type, you need to be eating the right foods. Also, *gasp* you need carbs! Not only do your muscles prefer glycogen as the fuel which drives them, but your brain prefers to run on glycogen, as well. If you are going ketogenic or very strict paleo (no potatoes, for example) you are going to hurt while training and you’re going to feel lethargic. Now, if you’re goal is to lose a ton of weight or reduce body fat quickly, these plans can work. However, for the purpose of recovery and performance, eat your carbs. Just make them healthy. This doesn’t mean go have donuts and cake. Pop-Tarts are still unhealthy, and candy still won’t help you perform better in the box.
3. Steady State Cardio is Your Friend: But, bro, it’s gonna steal my gainz! Look, cardio does not make your muscles simply stop growing. I know that power lifting wisdom tells us that any cardio at all is going to take away the ability to lift heavy weights and gain muscle. This is not true. Easy, steady state cardio for 30-60 minutes actually improves recovery. But there is a key: it cannot be hard. You should not get done with your 30 minute bike ride and be winded. This form of recovery should look like a walk in the park, perhaps literally. You’ll feel better mentally, increase blood flow to your muscle groups, and help you recover for your next workout. In my opinion, running is not a great option because it is high impact, but even a very easy jog can help you recover better.
Implement these three steps and you’ll notice how much better you feel during training each day.