Fitsmart: October 2012
The right way to rest and recover
Written by Brad Lawrence
By now, summer may seem like a distant memory. For many of us summer in Canada is a time to relax and, if you’ve lived in our climate for even just a few years, you know you need to take advantage of summer weather before it’s gone. For many, summer is usually full of patios, rivers, lakes, golf courses, and often a few drinks find their way into all those activities. Fitness and nutrition sometimes take a back seat during the summer, and I’m certainly no exception. It can be tough to keep on track unless you have something to train for. So, if you took a break over summer and have struggled to get back to your routine, or if you’ve been off for an extended period of time, don’t worry, you’re not alone. You’re actually . . . normal. So, let’s to delve into your body’s methods of rest and recovery, and the best approach to reignite your drive and get you back on track.
It’s important for you to realize that taking a break isn’t always a bad thing. Your body loves to be pushed through training programs. Every so often, a brief stretch of time off to recover can prove beneficial. Each one of us responds differently to time off, but generally the harder you were training going into your rest, the more beneficial this rest period will be.
Recovery can be classified two ways:
Short-term recovery, which you may also know as active recovery, refers to the hours immediately after training and into the next couple days. Generally, with short-term recovery, it’s up to us to do what’s necessary to help our bodies. This is the time to properly replenish energy stores and fluids, and drive protein back into your muscles. This is why your post-workout nutrition is so important. Your body then takes the opportunity to rebuild and repair soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The last part of your job regarding short-term recovery is plenty of sleep.
Long-term recovery deals with days, or even weeks off at certain times every year to give your body the rest it needs to move forward; basically, we’re preventing injuries and overtraining. This is why trainers and coaches are periodizing training programs. Periodical change and built-in rest periods not only prevent plateaus, but the rest can also help to prevent overtraining and injuries. This is also how many people justify a more laid-back training schedule through summer.
Any time we take a training hiatus it can go one of two ways:
Obviously, the goal is to avoid option No. 2.
- You make a smooth transition and get back to the routine; strong and well rested.
- You procrastinate and delay your return again and again.
Even when highly motivated, your first couple of workouts after a period of rest and recovery will probably be tough, physically and mentally. It doesn’t take a personal trainer to tell you you’re going to be significantly less fit than when you stopped your training, depending on how long you’ve been inactive. Your cardio is going to be worse, and your strength is going to be down. The first few workouts are when most people can get discouraged.
Knowing this going in, it’s important to have a plan to push through early hardships and get back to work. Here is my basic plan to get back in the routine.
Cardio to start
Whether you’re normally a driven runner or not, start your first day back with a cardio session. I’d recommend your first workout be a run. If you’re not a passionate runner, the first five or 10 minutes aren’t going to be fun. Push through this and give yourself at least 15 good minutes before you decide to pull the pin and turn around. The goal is to break through your body’s initial struggle. Pick one method of safely challenging yourself on your first run, as well. Choose something that will make you push and exert a decent effort, possibly a set of stairs, or even just a quicker pace to finish your run. If you can finish a good strong run on your first day, the rest of the initiation will be a piece of cake.
Half body training
You might find that you have to ease into weight training. Your muscles will bounce back and adapt quickly; the muscle memory is fresh, but you’ll want to give them a fair chance to catch up and avoid injury. If your workouts normally consist of just a few muscle groups per day, try expanding your training to a half body program.
Half body programs are just as simple as they seem. Basically, you want to start with a foundation phase of training. Train your lower body the first day and your upper body on your next weight session. Take a full 24 hours between weight sessions. If your body feels up to an extra workout, add cardio to your scheduled day off. Stick to movements you’re comfortable with and weights you’re confident controlling; do two sets per exercise, higher reps (10 to 15) and keep a comfortable tempo. Here’s a sample program:
Try this basic foundation-phase program to bust your fitness slump and get you back in mid-season form.
- Day 1 – initial run
- Day 2 – lower body
- Day 3 – off/cardio
- Day 4 – upper body
- Day 5 – off/cardio
- Day 6 – lower body
- Day 7 – off/cardio
- Day 8 – upper body
Brad Lawrence is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department and a certified personal trainer who specializes in training and nutrition for emergency responders. E-mail Brad at