The Road to Recovery

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

In the quest to get bigger, faster, and stronger many athletes overlook the most important aspect of training, which is recovery. The faster you can recover from an intense workout the faster progress will be made. Recovery does not mean just getting as much rest as possible in between training sessions. There are many steps to be taken in the road to recovery and if you want to reach your training goals it would be wise to utilize as many as possible.

Perhaps the best way to aid recovery is to avoid over-training. I will not go into great detail here about over-training because that is another article in itself. I will however give some of the signs of over-training to look out for. The first is an elevated morning heart rate. Take your heart rate first thing in the morning before getting out of bed, if it is five beats above normal this could be a symptom of over-training. Some other signs to look out for are lack of appetite, reduced sex drive, lack of energy and motivation, and insomnia. With that in mind let’s get on with the recovery methods.

Many people have said that bodybuilding ruined strength training and I for one agree. Bodybuilding training as it is typically practiced does nothing to improve an athlete’s performance, nor is it a useful method of gaining strength. The typical bodybuilding routine has one training each body part once per week with an outrageous number of sets and intensity techniques. The problem with training once per week is that it doesn’t take anywhere near that long for a muscle to recover. This is one of the bodybuilding myths that was started some time in the late 70’s and early 80’s. A muscle can actually be recovered and ready to be trained again sometimes in as little as 24 hours.

In the old days, when men trained like men, body parts were trained two to three and sometimes even six days a week. Now I am not by any means advocating that you start training each muscle everyday of the week but if you are stuck in the old habit of training each body part once every seven days its time to up the frequency. No wonder you are so sore, how could you ever adapt to training when you only do it once a week. Would you only practice a sport once a week? I don’t think so. Your training should be no different.

Another myth propagated by the bodybuilding world, which also began in the early 80’s, is the idea that one must train to failure. Nothing could be further from the truth. This notion came about when High Intensity Training (HIT) was being espoused as gospel. Mike Mentzer was the leader of this movement, however was also insane. In his 1925 classic “Secrets of Strength”, Earle Liederman wrote that, “a strong man never overextends himself in training.” Olympic lifters and powerlifters have never trained to failure, yet always make significant progress. Dr. Terry Todd, a world powerlifting champion often says if you are training to failure you are training to fail. Training to failure does nothing more than over stress the central nervous system and increase the time it takes to recover from training. Although it seems hardcore and intense it is generally not a good idea. In fact, well respected strength coach Chad Waterbury has stated that taking as little as one set to failure in a particular workout can extend the recovery process by up to 48 hours. Always end sets with at least one rep left in the tank.

Another thing you can do in the gym to cut down on your recovery time is to make sure you don’t train much longer than 60 minutes. Studies have shown that testosterone release peaks at about 30 minutes into a training session and returns to baseline at the one hour mark. Going past this time frame usually leads to cortisol production being higher than testosterone production. And for those that don’t know, cortisol is the hormone that eats away muscle tissue, not a good scenario to say the least.

Now that we have covered what we can do during our workouts to improve recovery lets examine what can be done outside the gym.

Post workout nutrition: Immediately after training it is imperative to consume a mix of high glycemic carbs and rapidly digestible protein. Biotest Surge fits the bill perfectly here. For two hours after training, protein synthesis and glycogen storage takes place at twice the normal rate. Recovery begins the second you end your last set, so the sooner you can get your post workout drink down the better. An hour or so after drinking your Surge you should have a meal consisting of a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein; ex. – 100gms carbs, 50 gms protein. When training for nothing else but to get as big as a house you can pretty much get away with eating everything in sight for these two hours.

In between the Surge and your next meal you could take advantage of another recovery technique known as contrast baths. This involves sitting in ice cold water for 30-60 seconds followed by jumping into hot water for another minute or so and then repeating for a course of about ten minutes. This can also be done in the shower by simply adjusting the temperature. Just make sure to use extreme temperatures.

Following the contrast bath/shower an ice massage on the muscles just worked has a great affect on speeding recovery. There is a specially designed tool for this known as a Cryocup, or you could just freeze some water in a Styrofoam or paper cup and peal half of it off and commence with the pain.

Taking a nap immediately after training can be another recovery booster. Anabolic hormones are released during sleep so taking advantage of this during the post workout period or at any other time is always a good idea. Ideally when looking to improve performance, eight hours of sleep should be the minimum for any athlete and even sometimes up to ten.

Now what if you have completed all the steps above on a specific training day is that all you can do to aid in recovery? Do you just sit back and wait now? Absolutely not, recovery is an ongoing process that can be furthered by stretching on off days, receiving chiropractic and Active Release treatments, and doing recovery workouts. Recovery workouts are meant to be short, easy sessions with the goal of getting blood to the muscle and healing it as quickly as possible.

The day after an intense pressing workout, your triceps could be pretty sore, so instead of doing nothing about it you could do a 100 rep set of band pushdowns to pump the muscle full of blood and healing nutrients and dramatically reduce soreness and recovery time. Hamstrings and lower back are a weakness for most athletes and need to be trained quite intensely. In between intense workouts you could do band leg curls, high rep reverse hypers, single leg band kickbacks, lying hip extensions, or bodyweight squats; the possibilities are endless. Sled dragging is also very useful as a recovery workout because there is no eccentric component to it therefore no damage is done to the muscle. There are countless ways of dragging the sled to aid recovery. The point is to not do too much, you don’t want to cause damage or work very hard during these sessions, a single, fairly easy set of 100 reps or a few trips with the sled is usually enough to do the trick.

You now have quite a few tricks to use to recover faster than you ever thought possible. Put a few or all of them to use and I guarantee your training will improve dramatically.