When I wanted to put some muscle onto my scrawny 150lb frame, my friend (a future Canadian National Strong Man competitor with a 500lb bench press and 1000lb squat) wrote me a training program. The training in the gym was important but not as important as my eating and my rest days.
What he explained to 19-year old me was that training is the stimulus that triggers the desired physiological adaptations but those adaptations happen only when you are resting. If you fail to adequately stress your body by avoiding intensity you fail to trigger the desired response. If you train all the time, you blunt the results by depriving your body of the time to adapt. So he had me back squatting 350lbs one day then resting and stuffing my face the next. And it worked! I got bigger and stronger packing on 30lbs in just 3-months!
It is my observation that many athletes are great at the training part of the equation but rob themselves of results because they’re piss poor on the recovery phase. The problem is that training is not the only stress our bodies are exposed to. There’s work stress, life stress, financial stress, etc.
Your sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight mechanism that responds to stressors, the parasympathetic nervous system is the rest and recovery mechanism that helps you recover after acute bouts of stress. But if your sympathetic nervous system is always engaged your rest and recovery never gets the chance to do it’s work.
The good news is that rest and recovery doesn’t have to resemble the life of a couch potato. A relaxing walk, a casual swim, some gentle yoga or an easy bike ride can all qualify as recovery activities so long as you stay out of that fight or flight zone. How will you know? Nasal breathing is a good test. If you can breathe easily in and out through your nose throughout the activity there is a good chance you are in recovery. This is one of the great aspects of the Original Strength program. As it is all supposed to be done with nasal breathing, it all counts as recovery, even while it builds your strength.
But guess what? Some CrossFit WODs can be used for recovery as well. The 12 minute Squat Clean-Push Jerk WOD may be a poor candidate but the 20 min AMRAP of Running-L-Pull Ups-Hip Extensions and the 3 round Row-Push Up-T2R WOD are both examples of WODs that I could complete while nasal breathing throughout allowing my body to recovery from the stress of Wednesday night’s tough barbell couplet.
Modulating intensity is one of the ways I’m able to fit 8 training sessions per week into my schedule without burn out or injury. Not that you should train 8 times per week but as a CrossFit competitor there are a lot of skills I need to practice and improve upon and the extra training sessions are useful that way so long as they do not result in over training, elevated cortisol and failure to recover.
A 10-minute daily dose of Original Strength and some walks in the woods or on the beach also help me turn off the sympathetic nervous system and get into recovery mode without sitting on my backside.
But the real secret is breathing. Not just while training, but every moment. Shallow mouth breathing in the upper chest signals panic to your body whereas deep diaphragm nasal breathing helps switch to your parasympathetic nervous system potentially making any moment an opportunity to rest and recover. In this way you can rest and recover in line outside the grocery store, while you walk out to do your errands, while you cook dinner, while sitting in traffic or even in the aftermath of an intense workout. Get back into your recovery breathing or as HeeHee calls it: water breath. 4 beats in. Hold 4 beats. 4 beats out. Hold 4 beats. Through the nose and into the belly. You will signal to your body that the danger has passed and it is time to return to recovery mode.
If you really want to be fit and healthy, go for fewer, higher quality workouts. Don’t do longer, more frequent workouts but hit the ones you attend as hard as you safely can. Then the rest of the time, be all about recovery. The more recovery opportunities you can find in your day, the better results you will get from your training. Just as it’s the pauses between the notes that create the music, it is the recovery between the training that create the athlete. For all you masters competitors and fitness enthusiasts out there it is time for a change of focus. The workout is the essential stimulus for the results you want to attain but it is in the recovery between workouts that you will achieve your goals. Better rest, better results!
1 min Scapula rocks
1 min pass throughs
1 min inch worm ( push up, pike push up)
1 min Leopard crawl
1 min frog jump
1 min full body rock
1 min on/1 min off skipping
DB shoulder press
7 min Amrap
20 push press
Hip cross overs