Go heavy or go home. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. These are some of the many maxims associated with a lifestyle centred around fitness. However, even the most hardcore athletes must take time to rest and recover if they hope to perform at peak levels in the future.
You might be slightly averse to this statement, as many of us believe that a day of “rest” is nothing more than a wasted opportunity to train even harder (myself included on occasion). However, there is no reason that a rest day cannot provide you with additional benefits that can be translated to the gym. Let’s take a quick look at some sure-fire recommendations to employ during your recovery day so that you can bounce back even stronger.
Stretching and Trigger Points
After enduring days of gruelling punishment, your muscles will require a bit of TLC. This is why many experts recommend stretching during your rest day. This can be accomplished through the use of a foam roller, a yoga mat and a targeted routine (based off of your personal preferences). In fact, I have always recommended addressing muscles associated with the greatest amount of soreness. When this is combined with low-impact core flexibility routines, there is no doubt that you will return to the gym in better shape than if you had remained sedentary. Here are some other benefits:
- More blood flow to the extremities
- A greater degree of mobility
- Less chance of becoming injured
- Decreased recovery times
- A great way to reduce mental stress
Cold showers are not only intended to cure the occasional hangover. Believe it or not, a temporary immersion within cold water can offer massive benefits in terms of your recovery. Several studies have confirmed that this practice is associated with positive health effects such as:
- Increased circulation to the extremities
- A higher metabolic rate (offering fat-burning qualities)
- A stronger immune system
- Recovery times can be reduced
- Feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine are produced
We can now see why Nordic cultures have embraced ice swimming for hundreds of years! The “sweet spot” in terms of cold showers is normally between five and ten minutes.
Sweat it out. There is actually more to this mantra than you may have initially believed. Much like immersion within cold water, exposure to warm temperatures will shock our bodies and provide a host of advantages. For instance, a 20-minute session within a dry sauna can offer benefits including:
- Lower levels of perceived stress
- A boost in your metabolic rate
- Improvements in terms of your cardiovascular system
- A stronger immune system
Let’s also keep in mind that sweating will help your body to remove any toxins that have accumulated; a great natural way to detox during your downtime.
Meditation and Breathing Exercises
Enabling your central nervous system (CNS) to decompress will always lead to quicker healing times. Breathing is arguably one of the best ways to encourage your body to relax while at rest. Specific techniques such as meditation and “belly breathing” have been employed for centuries. Some of the advantages of these practices are quite obvious:
- Increased oxygen to the brain and extremities
- Improved heart function
- Increased lung capacity over time
- An excellent way to reduce stress
However, deep breathing has also been associated with a heightened state of mental clarity, a stronger core, and lower blood pressure levels.
The Importance of Sleep
If you are like me, sleep is relatively low on your list of priorities. It took me a long time to fully appreciate the restorative aspects of sleep. Whether referring to the brain, the heart, the peripheral circulatory system, or the expulsion of stress-related hormones such as cortisol, obtaining between seven and eight hours per night is essential. Indeed, a lack of sleep can cause serious issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes and a slower metabolism. When translated to exercise, those who do not obtain a proper amount of sleep will often suffer from lethargy, a lack of strength and in severe cases, the chances of injury are dramatically increased. Here are some sure-fire recommendations to keep in mind:
- Develop a regular bedtime schedule
- Turn off all electronic devices before going to sleep
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
- Sleep in a cool, dark and quiet environment
- Try not to eat immediately before heading off to bed
The good news is that there are several natural supplements which can help you obtain the adequate amount of sleep. Some excellent options include:
- CBD oil
- Ashwagandha root
- Valerian root
- L-theanine (an amino acid)
- Lavender extract
Above all, don’t forget that a day off from the gym can be extremely productive if you choose to follow the recommendations outlined above. You will be amazed at the results within a short period of time!
Marcus, personal trainer and co-founder of Trion