Train less to train more.
If we want to get fitter and stronger, we need to train hard enough to temporarily and even slightly exceed our body’s current capacity. Only with intense training does the body grow stronger.
But training alone isn’t the magic bullet. The rest between training periods is what actually improves our fitness. Only while we rest can our body adapt to compensate for the stress we’ve put on it and ultimately, recover from the stress.
Recovery is what enables the progress of overall fitness and strength. Training and rest-recovery periods are complementary. You need both, not one or the other.
If you are someone who likes to hit it hard in the gym and can’t stand the thought of taking a day off or missing a workout, let’s put it this way: The better your recovery, the more frequently and more intensely you can train.
Got your attention yet?
I will admit that in my early years of training, I didn’t take recovery as seriously as I should have. I thought “I’m young, I’ll bounce back fast”, and I spent years training hard- likely over-training the majority of the time- and spending little to no time on proper recovery or focusing on what I was putting into my body. I spent a good chunk of time run-down, fighting off small injuries or sickness, and not seeing the results I wanted to see in the gym. I then had a coach explain training and recovery to me in a way that I had never looked at before, and it changed my approach to training.
This coach urged me to think of training like making withdrawals from a bank account. The more intense the training, the bigger the withdrawal I was making. Rest and recovery is a deposit into that same bank account. If you are putting in a good -and regularly scheduled-salary of purposeful rest and recovery protocols, your bank account will stay healthy and full. Put in too little recovery and constantly make withdrawals, and our body’s “bank account” goes into debt (overreaching)… or worse, total bankruptcy (overtraining).
What's the difference between overtraining and overreaching? The symptoms are very similar, and differ mostly by degree.
Overtraining is the most serious version of this “body debt,” and it happens often to athletes who have drastically reduced calories while training heavily and frequently. Overtraining can involve:
serious loss of strength and fitness
significant and chronic joint and muscle pain
serious changes in mood, such as major depression or other psychiatric issues
significant sleep disruption
major immunity problems — frequent and serious illnesses (e.g. bacterial/viral infections, etc.)
hormonal suppression (e.g. low thyroid, low sex hormones, amenorrhea or irregular menstrual cycles in women, etc.)
Overreaching — the milder version of overtraining — is a far more common problem for recreational exercisers. Overreaching can involve:
persistently “blah” workouts; not really feeling into training
feeling sore and achy all the time
feeling mildly irritable, moody, or anxious
minor, nagging injuries
not feeling 100% — catching minor bugs, feeling run-down
Basically, in both cases, you feel like crap, with overtraining bringing along the most intense symptoms. So what can you do to promote better recovery?
Step 1: Pay attention
Awareness is the first step in targeting the problem. Consider tracking how you feel on a daily basis along with your workouts. If you are already tracking your workouts in a journal or app, additionally track how you are feeling that day both before and after your workout. This could give you some good feedback on which workouts seem to take more out of your “bank account”.
Step 2: Do the basics, consistently
The second step is to immediately reinforce your existing good habits. This includes:
getting enough quality sleep (between 7-9 hours on average)
getting enough quality nutrients (eating enough quality calories, eating low processed nutrient dense foods at regular intervals)
actively chasing rest and recovery protocols (Prioritize at least 30 minutes of parasympathetic activity each day)
Usually, following this “fundamentals first” prescription for a few days – and then committing to maintaining it – will improve your symptoms.
Our nutrition coaches are highly trained in helping you identify which habits you may need to incorporate into your life, and can walk you through how to do so in a manner that is not overwhelming. If you would like to work with a nutrition coach, click here.
Before we look for supplements to fix all of our problems, remember that supplements are supplemental — an addition to the fundamentals. If you insist on killing yourself in the gym despite your body’s cries to stop, a supplement probably won’t prevent further damage. So help the supplements do their job by getting the rest, recovery, and nutrition basics down first. Supplements won’t fix stubbornness.
Summary and recommendations:
Make recovery a priority in order to sustain long-term health and performance.
Get enough (and high quality) sleep. Establish and follow a bedtime routine.
Balance and vary your fitness program.
Take it easier in the gym for a few days.
Get enough calories and replenishing nutrients. If you’re training hard, feed the machine. Don’t drastically restrict your food intake.
Tune into your body’s signals. Track these in your workout journal if you can. Notice trends.
Reduce your overall stress load as much as you can.
Participate in low intensity exercise between higher intensity bouts to promote recovery (e.g., yoga, walking, swimming, stretching, mobility work, etc.)
Aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night
Supplement appropriately. If you’ve followed these guidelines consistently for several weeks and still feel tired, sore, and weaker than you’d like, consider the short-term use of a supplement to aid your recovery.
Get help if you need it. If you get no results from supplementation: See your healthcare provider. Chronic fatigue, pain, and weakness can signal a more serious health problem.
And as always, our coaches are here to help. If you feel like you are stuck in your training or diet, our nutrition coaches can help guide you to your goals. Click here to learn more about our 1-on-1 Coaching programs.