In general, having more money in your bank account is better than having less. Same goes for your body’s recovery capacity. We need to learn how to fill your body’s bank account.
Train smart, mix up your physical activities, and recover well, then you make “deposits” into that bank account.
If you train too hard, too often, and don’t recover properly, then you’re making “withdrawals”.
If you want to have a “million-dollar body”, then work on replenishing that bank account with targeted recovery strategies.
Recovery! It’s like winning the lottery for your body!
Find the balance
How do you make sure that your workouts continue to challenge you enough, but not too much?
Simple: Match your effort to your recovery ability.
- If life is beating you up, don’t continue those beatings in the gym.
- If you’re relaxed, recovered, and ready to give ’er, then go for it!
Most people are somewhere in between. You need to balance “challenge” with “not killing yourself”.
Don’t make every workout a test of your character. Leave a little bit left in that bank account for next time.
But wait… how do you know what “too hard” or “too easy” or “just right” is?
Well, this takes some trial and error. You need to learn your body’s signals. You need to pay attention to how you feel during and after training.
During your workout: The RPE Scale
During your workout, you can use what’s called an RPE Scale — a Rating of Perceived Exertion.
This is your subjective sense of how hard you’re working. It’s subjective because the same workout may feel harder or easier depending on “the wear and tear on the body” which accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress.
On a day you have the stomach flu and a big report due, an easy workout may feel like a death march. But on a day when you’ve had a hearty, healthy breakfast and the sun is shining, you might crush even the scariest training session.
Observe clues like:
- heart rate
- energy level
- mental state
You can use a simple 1 to 10 exertion scale, with 1 being “no effort” and 10 being “hardest, most awful thing I can imagine; I might drop dead but first I’ll vomit up my lung.”
Most days, shoot for something in the 4 to 7 mid-range. Occasionally, when you’re feeling strong, bump it to 8 or 9. If you don’t feel so hot, stick with 2 to 3.
After your workout: Signs of good recovery
Here are some cues that will tell you that you’re recovering well:
- Feeling “energetic” — well-rested, energetic, vibrant, ready to rock
- Performing well in the gym — lifting more weight, workouts feel easier
- Sleeping well
- Relatively low and calm morning heart rate (an elevated heart rate is a sign of over-training)
- Strong immune system — you are invincible!
- Consistent good mood — calm, relaxed, stable and cheerful
- Lots of enthusiasm and energy — you are ready to kick the world in the ass
- Well-balanced appetite — moderately hungry every 4 hours or so
- No injuries or nagging aches and pains (mild, brief soreness after a workout is fine)
Notice the times when you’re feeling good.
See if you can figure out what optimizes your recovery, and think about how to reproduce that more efficiently and effectively.
Know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em
Recovery isn’t all-or-nothing. It’s a continuum.
And most of the time, moving is better than not moving.
When you don’t feel great, do something physical anyway.
If you hit the gym, take it nice and easy.
Often, once you’ve moved around for 10 minutes or so, you’ll find more energy and maybe even end up having a great workout.
If you need a break from the gym on cruddy days, look for some variety.
Take a new class or try a new sport. Get outside. Mix it up a little. Have fun.
Sometimes “workout blah” is just mental stagnation.
Steer dynamically and be creative and flexible. Just keep moving.
What to do today
Choose a targeted recovery strategy today.
1: Have some BCAAs after your workout.
2: Have a small serving of “real food” protein and carbs within 1–3 hours after training, when you’re hungry.
3: Choose another purposeful recovery strategy, such as a nap or 5 minutes of relaxation.
Try using the RPE Scale for your workouts.
Most days, shoot for something in the 4 to 7 mid-range.
Occasionally, when you’re feeling strong, bump it to 8 or 9.
If you don’t feel so hot, stick with 2 to 3.
- Learn what good recovery looks and feels like.
Check out our list of “good recovery” signs.
You might not be there yet, but it helps to know what you’re working towards.
- Fill up your “body bank account”. Replenish your recovery resources.
Are you feeling energetic, strong, happy and well-rested?