Who doesn’t love an evening at a jazz club in the village? Several years ago I visited Jules Bistro in the East Village to see a friend’s jazz combo swing the night away. At the end of the night, I decided to indulge my inner people watcher, and walk back to Penn. Hang a left at Broadway and I’d make it there eventually, right? I was in a people-watching trance until I reached the Federal Reserve and realized:
Right road. Wrong direction.
Quite often our efforts for health & hotness domination are squelched not by our mindset or dedication, but by the misguided belief that more is better. Let’s talk about this, shall we?
It happens to all of us. We set a goal and want to own it. Let’s kick it into high gear. Maybe that means starting Snatched. Maybe you’re adding semi-private training once or twice a week. Maybe you add spin class, or yoga, or a running club, crocheting, and speed dating. That’s on Monday. Repeat it on Tuesday with that Grindr booty call because it’s hump day!
The world of fitness, just like Broadway, is a two way street. Accept the possibility that while you maintain laser like focus on your mission, you may be in fact going in the wrong direction. Remember my mistake: It’s the second star on the right, not the left, and straight on ‘til morning.
How Do We Find the Right Direction?
Training hard is tough stuff, and the first thing we need to do is assess our lifestyle. Think about your most recent lifestyle habits. How are you sleeping, eating, moving? Now think about how that balances with your exercise habits. There’s more to building your inner badass than taking more class, lifting more weight, doing more, more, more. Often, we’re capable of far more when we allow ourselves time to do less. In this article we’ll address three strategies that improve recovery and regeneration after training, so that you can train smarter before you train harder. Let’s get to it.
Off to Never Never Land
If there’s one time-tested strategy to maximizing your progress, it’s sleep. You’d be surprised by how many things get better while you slumber. Sleep is crucial for both the neurological and metabolic recovery from exercise, and shouldn’t be underestimated. We best realize the brain and body transformations by following the golden rule of 7-9 hours per night.
Sleep is one of the most overlooked obstacles, and pretty easy to take for granted. Inadequate sleep? Psh, such a first world problem. Not quite; the faster you can get over your Twitter feed, preferably an hour before bed, snuggle up with your blankie and head off to never never land, the quicker you’ll see some of these brain and body benefits.
An interesting side effect of the neurological recovery is that it actually makes us better at the things that we want to do. Here you were thinking it would help you get stronger or leaner, and it’s making you better at work, too? BONUS POINTS!
Don’t Let Diet Be a Disaster.
The way that you fuel your body is even more important than how you burn that fuel. We’ve all heard the mantra, “You can’t out train your diet.” This typically refers to trying to hit an extra set of swings to make up for those Schmackary’s cookies you inhaled during lunch, but it can also go the other way. If you’re undereating for your goals or workload, you’re still not going to be able to reach your goals.
Our brain and body will tire more quickly, making it impossible to work as hard as desired. It’s like running a car on empty all the time, hoping that it holds on; eventually, you’re out of fuel, and then you’re going nowhere.
A caloric surplus is desirable for muscle gain, and a caloric deficit is desirable for weight loss and toning. While we generally accept this, we have to take into account that going too low for too long can actually have the opposite effect. That is, an extreme caloric deficit can scare our body into a panic that leads to undesirable metabolic adaptations.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends maximum weight loss of 2lbs per week, and based on Katch & Mcardle’s calculations on average caloric maintenance levels, the recommended calorie floors are 1800 calories for men and 1200 calories for women. These ‘floors’ are numbers that we should rarely eat below, and the closer you may get to them, the less sustainable, or healthy, a low calorie diet may be. Don’t try to beat your physiology. It never works.
So far we’ve discussed sleeping more and eating more, and those are two strategies that can be huge for the recovery process. They’re also relatively passive; once they’re in place, your body can best do its job of creating a more magical you. Now let’s discuss some more active strategies.
Now walk it out.
When it comes to exercise, there isn’t anything better than going for a walk. Seriously, why do you think we’re talking about it so much! Recently The Franchise Mark Fisher has discussed walking from an exercise perspective:
Will it drive fat loss? No. Does is it work as a stand-alone modality? Nope. Will you drive remarkable levels of strength or fitness? Or course not.
But it can provide a low intensity cardiovascular training effect. This can be useful for recovery, and helping your nervous system chill the fuck out. And while you’re not going to be burning many calories, you’ll burn a handful in a way that doesn’t stress your body. Furthermore, since it’s not high-impact, most folks can handle a decent volume.
A month later, the Beast, Kyle Langworthy, went in depth on the merits of walking for human optimization.
Research shows that routine walking is one of the more healthy things that we can do for ourselves. Even walking a mere 20-30 minutes per day can do some really great things for our hearts, muscles, bones, connective tissues, hormones—all the things. One of the more recent findings was that walking consistently might help us age better.
We’re not pulling your leg—walking is the shit! If you’re looking for minimal effective dose, walking is where it’s at. But that’s not what this article is about. This article is about finding balance for those who are gunning for that maximal effective dose. One trombone? No, I want all 76!
Mark and Kyle discussed the health enhancing benefits of walking, and I want to reframe those as recovery benefits. If you’re nailing your heavy deadlifts in the Dragon Lair, or you’re swinging like a bad-ass in Kick-ass, does your body really need the 2-5x body weight impact of going for a run? I don’t think so. Instead, you’ll find yourself much happier, physically and mentally, by practicing low-intensity recovery work. Walking is perfect for that.
Too often, our highs are too low and our lows are too high. Don’t pace your burpees for that bonus spin class you’re saving for yourself. Play FULLOUT, damnit! Then, take a 20-30 minute recovery walk the next day. Weave, wobble, and breathe. You’d be surprised to see that your fitness improves by letting this low-intensity work prepare you for your higher intensity work. It’s not a stretch; it works.
Speaking of Stretching… (Shameless Transition)
Hey, this is some good stuff! If you do research on stretching, it’s impossible to get one right answer, and that’s because there aren’t any. No matter how it’s framed, there isn’t ever one right answer for stretching. Take a step back from the research, check the big picture, and a trend emerges: folks who have a regular movement practice seem to enjoy stretching as part of their regular practice.
I’m not talking about the most bad-ass Bikram practice you can find; I prefer Port Authority for that. Instead, we’re focusing on recovery. We’re gentle and peaceful Unicorns, not fiery and ferocious Dragons! Think gentle stretching and breathing focus, not turning yourself into a pretzel.
A Brettzel may be acceptable though. We’ve been using the Brettzel 2.0 in our class warm-up, and it is money!
Sustainable fitness results are all about balance, and this can be achieved by balancing ‘high’ days and ‘low’ days. (TWEET THAT SHIT!) A concept popularized by Canadian sprint coach Charlie Francis, this is a great take away for making sure you’re nailing it.
Our best results come when we allow for 2-3 low-intensity days spaced throughout our week. These days serve to create a small calorie burning effect while maximizing our mental and physical recovery. Think less pain and soreness; that’s a good thing! They’re also stoking the metabolic fire for the next time you set it off. This may look like focusing on strength training with deadlifts or pull-ups for example, on Monday and Thursday. Maybe your Tuesday and Friday are focused on metabolic resistance training, or cardio with weights. That leaves Wednesday open for a walk in your local park, Saturday for a rejuvenating yoga class, and Sunday for snugglesex. Oh yea, snugglesex!
Finding and appreciating this balance can help you maximize recovery to see sustainable results to infinity and beyond!
If variety is the spice of life, it’s also the key to unlocking your body’s long-term potential. It’s not all about hate fucking a kettlebell. Using recovery strategies to your advantage may be the missing link in your training system. Find balance between 3-4 high-intensity training days and 3-4 low intensity training days in your week. Allowing yourself adequate time to stretch and breathe can help your body recover from this. Use walks to facilitate brain and body recovery, and compliment this with 7-9 nightly hours of quality sleep. Remember, you can’t out train your diet. Make sure you’re eating for your goals, and that it’s going to be sustainable in the long term; check yo’self before you wreck yo’ self.
Got questions or comments? Share your thoughts below!