Reader Question: Do I Need A Recovery Day?

I often get questions from people about taking time off: how do you know when you need rest and how much recovery time is necessary? I got one such question from a reader (but more importantly, a very good friend of mine), and although I gave her a quick answer at the time, I thought this really deserved a little bit more attention! Her question was this:

Question on recovery time- how much of it is needed and when should I push through? Legs feel heavy, but don’t know if I am being a baby and should push through. For example:

Mon- off 
Tues- 90 min hot yoga 
Wed- 90 min hot yoga, 60 min elliptical
Thurs- 5 mile run
Fri- 90 min hot yoga 
Sat-…. to be determined. 

Thoughts fit friend?  – Missy 

My first response to Missy was of course if she would consider trading in some of that elliptical time for some weight room time. Unfortunately, that was a no-go, but I’ll keep trying to convince her 😉

No matter what your training regimen though, I think the key phrase here comes at the end of her question. “Legs feel heavy…”

When you’ve been training intensively for 4 days in a row, it’s no wonder your legs feel heavy! Let’s break it down into time spent training — never mind the type of exercise. In the past four days, she had worked out for anywhere from 45 minutes to 150 minutes every single day. Only one day was as low as 45 minutes, but that was at least 45 minutes of continuous impact from running (This is just an estimate, I have no idea how fast she runs 5 miles). All of the other days included at least 90 minutes of training, one of those followed by 60 minutes of elliptical time.

Now, overall, I do not think she had done too much that week, so I’m not concerned that she has overdone it. I would just recommend that the following day be a “rest” day, where rest can mean one of two things:

1. Complete rest. Just going about your normal daily activities, not worrying about physical activity, and nurturing your muscles with healthy food to fuel your recovery.

rest day funnyAhh yes… total rest. Win! 

2. Active recovery: Light exercise (walking), foam rolling, mobility drills, etc.

But I would not recommend any heavy exercise on this 5th day. There are many people out there who do train 5 (or 6, or even 7) days in a row, and if you’re feeling great and have not been doing heavy lifting, intensive plyos, or high mileage for those first 4 days, than adding in a light exercise day on the 5th day is more than acceptable. If one or two of these days had been upper body intensive, it could be a different story all together as well. However, Missy had done 4 days of leg-intensive activity and was well aware that her legs were feeling “heavy”, which to me is code for “my legs were screaming for a day off”.

Training weeks should be broken up so that you can maximize your performance in each session. If you were to have two heavy-lifting lower body days, and complete them back to back, there is no way your body would be recovered enough for the second session. This can increase your chance of injury as well as decrease the efficacy of your training sessions.

I know that there are people out there who feel otherwise, but I do not recommend intensive training for one area of your body for more than 3 days in a row. Even for runners, 3 days followed by an off (or very light cross training day) is generally my recommendation. And for heavy lifters, the breakdown of work vs. rest needs to be followed even more carefully.

In her question, Missy did not include any heavy lifting days, but I know that many of my readers combine both power yoga and lifting into their weekly workout calendars. Here is an example of my typical training week, so that you can see the rest time that I build in for myself:

Sunday: Light conditioning work, or Yoga in the summer. Usually a light, low speed stadium workout.

Monday: Lower body lift day (Squat focus)

Tuesday: Upper body lift day (Bench press for compound lift)

Wednesday: Conditioning day. Intense stadium workout

Thursday: Off

Friday: Lower body lift day. (Deadlift focus)

Saturday: Off

Many weeks I’ll switch out Sunday’s light conditioning for a second upper body (bench/row) day, or I’ll take Sunday completely off and use Thursday for my second upper body day. On weeks like this when I’m only going to have 3 lifting days, I’ll add in some pull ups/push ups to my lower body days to turn them into more of a full body session.  But you’ll see that I’m never doing more than three days of lower-body-intensive work at a time. While Sunday is a lighter day, it still stresses my lower body muscles enough that giving my legs/glutes some rest time on Tuesday is very important, especially if I want to perform well in my conditioning day on Wednesday.

That’s it for meow. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about why adequate recovery time is so important!

How many days do you train per week? Do you take your rest days in succession or split them up throughout the week? Do you ever push through a session even though you feel like you need a rest day? 

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You Can Do Too Much

The 1,500 Rep WOD...go hard or go home!

No pain no gain

no pain, no gain.

All of the above are some brutally cliche, often overused phrases when it comes to fitness, training, and competition.

A common theory is that if you’re not pushing yourself to your absolute limit; if you’re not pushing yourself to the point that it hurts and you just can’t do any more, than you’re not being effective. In reality though, while pushing to your limits is sometimes necessary to breaking through a plateau, it’s not necessary all the time. In fact, it can be detrimental if you push that hard all the time.

Although this is a concept that I know well, I relearned it recently. If you’ll recall, a couple of weeks ago I had to take a full 10 days off from the gym, because I had just been doing too much for too long, without giving my body the proper recovery. For the past few months I had been lethargic, constantly sore, and had plateaued in almost all of my lifts. I took some time off though, made a new plan, and since then I’ve been making more progress than I had in months!

A few months ago, I was struggling to deadlift 135 consistently for reps.

Just last week, I deadlifted 155 x3 (a new PR!), and felt amazing.

And you know what? I have increased my DL by 20 pounds by doing less. That’s right, doing less. Not by pushing myself so hard so that I can hardly walk, not by lifting every day, and certainly not by doing more cardio. Since I took that time off, I’ve only been training 4 days per week. 3 lifting days, 1 conditioning day (usually stadiums), and I’m making a conscious effort to really rest on my rest days. I mean really rest. None of this “oh, I’m just going to do a light workout” nonsense, because I know myself, and I don’t tone it down very well.

And I feel SO MUCH STRONGER.

Note to self: You were doing too much.

(5-6 days of training per week, with 4 of those lift days? Yep, too much)

I see this all the time with the athletes that I work with too. They get injured, and of course want to do everything they can to get back out there on the court or field as quickly as possible. They want to push themselves to get as strong as possible so that they can play the sport that they love. For many of them, this means completing a rehab program that will improve their strength, stability, mobility, or functional ability, depending on their injury and sport. However, for many of these athletes, it’s difficult for them to find an off switch and to realize that even though strength is necessary, so is recovery and healing time.  It’s often a big part of my job to prevent an athlete from doing too much.

I have seen athletes who have over-trained so much after an injury that they’ve actually ended up with another injury, because they were simply doing too much. I think many people, athletes especially, underestimate the importance that recovery has in terms of both health and strength.

Whether you’re an injured athlete or a regular old gym fanatic, the premise is the same. Recovery time is not just encouraged, it’s essential to actually building strength and making improvements.  Most people would never think that by doing less (far less) than I had been doing, I would be able to increase my lifts significantly in a short amount of time.  But when you actually take the time to think about the science behind weight lifting and strength gains, it actually makes perfect sense.

I know this post was a little bit of a ramble, but my point is this: You can do too much. More is not always better, and too much can not only stall your progress, but can even be detrimental. Of course, not everyone out there needs to do less, and some people really need to do more! But that’s the beauty of the fitness world. No two people are the same, so follow the plan that’s right for you. Don’t let a trainer tell you that you have to work out 6 days per week or you won’t have 6-pack abs. Don’t let a trainer tell you that you have to push through pain and injuries, because it’s the only way to get better.

Maybe you actually just need to do less in order to do more!

Happy Friday everyone! 

Top 2 Clues Your Muscles Need A Time Out

You know how sometimes little kids throw temper tantrums when they either don’t get their way or when they just want someone to pay attention to them?
We’ve all seen it happen: the melt down in the grocery store because little Johnny wants Lucky Charms Cereal and Mom just ain’t having it.
 Limbs flailing, tears flowing, screams of shear agony ringing far beyond aisle 6.
Meltdown Mode: ON. 
Well, I’ve got news for you. It’s not just kiddos that throw those ugly temper tantrums; muscles do it too. And it’s just  almost as horrifying when it’s your own muscles doing it as it is when it’s your child.
Don’t believe me? Take last week, for instance. My muscles were just plain angry. They’d been warning me of the impending temper tantrum for a while, but I just kept on going. Sure, I take days off each week, and schedule deload weeks into my training, but I haven’t had any actual off time in quite a while now. I noticed myself being generally fatigued both in and out of the gym, and really haven’t been seeing any improvements in my lower body work in the last month or so.  And even on rest days, I’ve been riding my bike to/from work, which adds up to about 10 miles of cycling per day. Is that true rest? I think not.
Clue #1 that your muscles need a time out: excessive soreness
Last week, those muscles of mine had had enough. Despite doing a normal leg day the previous Thursday, I was exceptionally sore until Monday.  And my lift on Wednesday, although relatively light for a squat day, left me sore until this past weekend.
Not normal.
Unless you’re a beginner or just starting out on a new program with new lifts, all of your workouts should not make you extremely sore. I’m talking full body, hurts-to-do-daily-tasks kind of sore.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how tired and angry my muscles were until after Wednesday’s workout; I know in hindsight it would have probably been better just to skip that one. But when I went to bed Wednesday night already dreading my bike ride in in the morning, I knew something was up. When I woke up on Thursday and that feeling hadn’t gone away, I knew we were in full-fledged-tantrum mode.
And that brings us to:
Clue #2 that your muscles need a time out:   The thought of lifting (or whatever your routine) makes you want to vomit. 
Seriously.
I woke up on Thursday and would have rather rolled around on a bed of hot coals than step into the weight room. Or do any type of physical activity for that matter. Anyone who knows me knows that this is just straight up weird. I love the gym, remember? But when the muscles get in tantrum mode, all bets are off.
When I realized the thought of the gym that day made me feel like the world was ending, I knew something more than just a “day off” was needed: I needed a time out. No, correction, my muscles needed a time out.
 It’s now Monday. I have not worked out since last Wednesday, and didn’t even ride my bike to work Thursday or Friday. Thursday, I did end up walking about 4 miles by accident, and I did walk a ton this weekend in NYC, but exercise besides that has been nonexistent.
And you know what? It’s been glorious. I think I’m even going to take today off too– bike only today– and head back to the gym tomorrow.
After my muscle time out, I’m actually feeling more than ready to get back in there and have some quality lifts, this week with much happier muscles than last.  Just like with little screaming Johnny, sometimes your muscles just need a break to relax and recharge after a meltdown. A few days off can be the key to pushing past your plateau; heck, I might even give myself until Wednesday to make it a full week.
My point here is this: don’t be afraid of multiple days away from the gym! Listen to your body, figure out what it needs, and nurture it like crazy. Healthy muscles = happy muscles, and happy muscles don’t throw tantrums. 
 
Have you ever hit a wall where you know you need time off? How do you know when you need time off from training? How many days do you take off per week? 
 
Oh, and someone please tell me a good child-tantrum-in-public story. 

The Importance of an Off Day

While having the motivation to get up off your couch and get to the gym is important, almost equally as important is knowing when your body needs a day off. No, I’m not talking about skipping a lift because you forgot your ponytail holder, or because you can’t tear yourself away from that episode of Real Housewives (Yes, I know, it IS hard to stop watching Taylor having a breakdown!), I’m talking about real, physical road blocks that may make lifting more hurtful than helpful.

Take yesterday morning, for example. I have been battling some type of mild virus for the past couple of days. Nothing that has really knocked me on my ass, but just enough to give me a sore throat and make my entire body feel fatigued. Add on to that the fact that I have not been sleeping well the past few nights, and you can imagine how motivated I felt at 6:30 am.

Clue #1 Why I shouldn’t have lifted: Riding the T to the gym/work, I felt a little feverish and dizzy. Although at the time I figured maybe that was just the fumes from the guy sitting to my left, and the T driver who apparently was just learning how to use the breaks.

Clue #2 Why I shouldn’t have lifted: While changing for my workout, I still felt a little feverish, dizzy, and just overall crappy. Did I listen to my body? NO, of course not. I hopped on the bike for a 20 minute warm-up ride, and at that point felt even worse, as well as dehydrated and weak. Yep, there it is: Clue #3. But I still didn’t listen to my body, because Damn it, I was going to lift. The day before had been an off day, I certainly couldn’t take 2 (gasp!) days off in a row.

So even while my body was screaming at me to go hang out, drink some water, and relax, into the weight room I went. Want to know what I did?

  • Squats. At 50 lb less than usual, because I just did not have the energy to put up any more.
  • Lightish RDLs – those were ok, because they’re my favorite.
  • 2 sad, sad sets of SL Split Squats
  • Superset x3 of Kettlebell Split Squats and Glute/Ham raises
  • Some extremely pathetic core work.

All of this was done at about this pace:

PATHETIC.

The lift itself is not pathetic, because it’s honestly all I could muster at the time. But what IS  pathetic is that I just didn’t listen to my body. At. All. The whole time, my back was aching, my hips were aching, and I kept telling myself “I really shouldn’t be doing this today”, but just kept pushing nonetheless.  Eventually I did come to my senses and spent the last 15 minutes just foam rolling the crap out of my hips and IT bands.

Ahh, relief.

Now, the smart thing would have been to actually take these 2 days off in a row, get a little more sleep, and help my body to kick this nagging virus. Instead, I may have set myself back a couple more days before I’ll actually feel good enough to get a good lift in. Normallly, I’m pretty good at listening to myself and realizing when a rest day is essential, but yesterday, not so much, and now I’m paying for it. Now I’m nursing extra sore hips and even more general fatigue.

So, moral of the story is,take a lesson from me, and listen to your body! Sometimes a day off is the best thing for your body and your health.