We frequently hear discussion around how important dedicating time to recovery is, with some fitness professionals claiming it’s just as important as hours spent in the gym. This may sound a little confusing, as you could have spent days, weeks or months gearing up to get going with a fitness routine or personal training session – and now you’ve started, you’re being told to chill out more

Why the mixed messages?

Essentially, when we exercise we damage our muscle fibres and after this, you’ll need adequate rest to let them repair and re-grow. Then the amazing bit happens, as your muscles begin to repair, they come back stronger and can increase in size. After this process has taken place, you will start to see improvements in strength, and the same training intensity won’t feel as hard as it did before. 

Allowing your body time to carry out this process, will ultimately allow you to reach your strength and fitness goals. However, if you’re feeling impatient and want to make sure you’re gaining strides towards your goals, perhaps you have a holiday coming up and want to be feeling your best in a short amount of time, then you’re probably trying to figure out how you can see results as quickly as possible.

Although we do not promote binge exercising or yo-yo training plans, we appreciate that there are times when you may want to hone in on fitness gains and give more thought to the ways you can support this, outside of the gym.

With this in mind check out our tips on how you can nail recovery time, no matter how grand or small your fitness goals are:

1. Plan your rest time in a structured way, just like you would your workout sessions. 

This way you can tailor your rest to the type of training you have performed such as HIIT or running, the intensity and which area of the body will need a rest the most. For example, if you train for two hours, hitting all body parts hard, you may want to give yourself 2 days off after this. But if you have planned a 45mins session, with some cardio and upper body exercises, you could be rested and ready to do a lower body session the next day. Only you will know your current level of fitness and how sore your muscles get after a workout, so it’s best to put together the volume of rest verses exercise with this in mind.

2. Look out for the difference between muscle soreness and pain

Knowing the difference between pain and soreness is essential to maintaining a fitness routine long term. Muscle soreness feels like a dull ache that typically occurs within 24-72 hours after exercise, also called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Unlike pain, when you warm up your muscles with gentle movement, soreness can be relieved.

Pain, on the other hand, is a different beast. It feels sharper than soreness and frequently occurs during, or immediately after, your workout. If you continue to move and stretch while you’re in pain, chances are the pain will intensify and the injury will become worse. Look out for these differences, and if you suspect you’re experiencing pain due to injury, speak to a PT who will make recommendations on whether you need to tailor or stop exercising.

3. Sleep!

Yes, we hear this all the time, but our PTs still see so many people not prioritising sleep. There are no shortcuts to fitness results, but getting enough sleep is pretty close to one! While sleeping, your body performs important tasks to prepare you for the next day, including balancing your hormones and incorporating protein into your muscles to strengthen them. If your schedule is a bit all over the place or you’re self-employed and following a regular sleep schedule is difficult, don’t feel bad about taking a nap when you can. Any extra shut-eye you can get will help you clock up the rest that you need. 

4. Look out for the difference between muscle soreness and pain

Massages, ice baths, foam rolling, yoga, walking, all of these are forms of active recovery. If you’re the type of person who likes to keep moving, then this could be ideal for you. Active recovery, although gentle, can also make a small contribution to muscle strengthening and calorie burn, if that’s what you’re after. Some experts even say active recovery is more effective than not moving at all. Anything that gets your blood flowing, without overworking your muscles, counts towards this – what a good excuse to book a relaxing massage eh?

Bottom line

As with almost everything involved with fitness training, there’s no one size fits all template for rest days and training plans. Working closely with a personal trainer will mean all the hard work of planning is done for you. However, if you’re trying to figure things out for yourself, start by looking at your fitness level, intensity, frequency, and duration of activity and look for signs that the body needs a break. If you’re currently inactive, it’s always best to start with low volume training and high-volume rest and adjust these ratios incrementally. Even if your plan seems too easy at first, this will give you the best chances of maintaining a happy and healthy body in the long term.