HERE’S A COMMON EXPERIENCE: You make a resolution to get fit. So you get your butt off the couch and you hit the outdoor fitness class, pavement, home gym or wherever your makeshift training ground is in Quarantine 2021, the year of our lord. Then you finish your exercise class or run or workout. You pat yourself on the back, drink 24 ounces of water and go to bed. The next day, you wake up with a paralyzing ache throbbing throughout your entire body.
The last thing on your mind? Moving. The second to the last thing on your mind? Your fitness goals.
Or maybe you’re a seasoned athlete anxious to reach your goals and you know your way around a gym, trail or barre class already. You know your potential and you’re willing to put in 110 percent daily. Then you do – and then you get injured (maybe not for the first time, either).
If you fall into one of these two camps, you’re not alone.
Mark Gutierrez, owner and lead trainer at Elite Team Monterey, a mixed martial arts gym in Seaside, has first-hand knowledge of falling into the second camp. “I’ve definitely had months at a time where I worked myself to the ground. It got so bad, I actually had a bulging disc in my back.”
Meanwhile, Alec Abend, a cofounder and a coach at Hexbox Fitness, a hip CrossFit gym in Seaside, knows a lot of people who have derailed their fitness goals by going too hard too quickly.
There is a common thread that weaves these two negative health and fitness experiences together: recovery, or lack thereof. “Everyone should take recovery seriously,” Abend says.
Here’s the thing with “heavy” exercise, or what Abend and Gutierrez would define as 80 to 90 percent of a person’s physical effort: The process creates little tears in your muscle tissue, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing… if you give your body time to recover. Then those tears repair, and eventually grow your muscles.
Heavy exercise also consumes a lot of oxygen in the body, and when your body lacks oxygen, it produces energy without it. That is efficient for the short term when you need to lift twice your bodyweight or sprint up a hill, but then it causes soreness for the next couple days after.
“Recovery is all about managing stress. When you’re working out heavily, you’re building stress – in your muscles, you’re tearing down that tissue,” Gutierrez says.
Recovery is built on a foundation of sleep and proper nutrition. Abend recommends six to eight hours of sleep a night, preferably aiming for the eight-hour mark. Both trainers recommend nutrient-dense foods and avoiding overly processed foods.
Gutierrez emphasizes proper hydration for maximum muscle function and Abend adds that there isn’t a magic number for any one person’s calorie intake when it comes to food. “If you’re training for a marathon, your calorie intake is going to look different than if you weren’t training for a competition,” he says. “With recovery, you optimize your performance by what you put into your body.”
The other component of recovery is reoxygenation of the muscles by fitting in “active” recovery days. That’s just a fancy way of saying on days you’re not working out heavily, you should still try to move your body to manage soreness. Abend recommends an activity that uses 50 – to 60 – percent effort.
“The last thing you want to do is sit around all day on the couch,” he says.
Abend has worked with people of all levels of fitness and says active recovery looks different for everyone.
“If you’re a marathoner, active recovery might be a long run after a day of hill sprints. Or if you’re just getting into exercise, it’s walking the dog or taking the kids to the park,” he says. “I’m a huge fan of a 10 – to 15-minute walk,” says Gutierrez, who uses the hilly terrain near his house to get fit in his active recovery.
But most of all, rest and recovery has the ability to make a workout regime or long-term training programs sustainable: preserving longevity of ability and preventing injury. “
Do anything too many times and your body breaks down – running, yoga, heavy lifting,” Gutierrez says. “Recovery protects your body and allows you to keep it for longer. You know, we’re walking around all day in [our bodies], we have to do some things to maintain it.”