Who doesn’t want to get just a little bit stronger, or more physically capable everyday? Hitting new PRs, pushing past old limits, conquering new feats of strength… It sounds pretty awesome! So how do we do it?
The “YouTube Superstars” and the “Gods of the ‘Gram” would have us believe it all comes from pushing harder, faster and longer… starfished in a pool of sweat on the floor of the gym, ready to come back and do it all again the next day. It’s true that lots of us get excited to post our new Personal Records on social media, myself included. As I look back at my Instagram from the last year, I’m reminded of how much stronger I got in 2018:
In early 2018 I trained for and competed in the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge and had my best scores ever with an over double bodyweight deadlift of 220 pounds, 14 pull ups, and 148 snatches in 5 minutes. Then in late spring I completed a 7 day Yoga Tune Up® Teacher training where we did several hours of intense practice each day. In the summer of 2018 I wanted to improve my “Simple and Sinister” skills, and did quite a bit of training doing single arm swings with a 32kg bell, and get ups with a 24kg bell. I was able conclude several months of Simple and Sinister training by doing 100 single arm swings in 5 minutes with the 28kg bell, followed by a 1 minute rest, and then 5 get ups on each side with a 20kg bell in 10 minutes. In fall 2018 I re-certified my level 1 and level 2 kettlebell skills for StrongFirst, and in winter of 2018 I competed in a powerlifting meet and set a new PR in my back squat.
I know without a doubt I am stronger now than I was a year ago! And I should mention that during 2018 I had no training related injuries, and the only downtime I had to take from training was when I planned to do so. Of course the most important part of making consistent progress is following a periodized training program, and knowing that you can only really peak a couple of times a year. But another huge component to getting overall gains in your physical performance is what you do in between your training sessions. Here is a secret – The magic is in the recovery!
Following a training session, your body actually breaks down muscle tissue in order to rebuild even stronger muscles. But if we want this to happen optimally, we need to set ourselves up for success in the repairing of our tissues post training.
The biggest factors we have working either for or against us are proper nutrition, and getting quality sleep. Even if your food is totally on point and you are getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, there are several other things to take into consideration for optimal recovery. So, here’s all the stuff you wouldn’t have seen much of on my Instagram:
Self massage (ok, you would have seen some of that because I’m obsessed with my Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls), mobility practice, breathing exercises, meditation practice, epsom salt baths, professional massage/active release therapy, chiropractic adjustments… you get the idea.
Mid last year when I was working on the Simple and Sinister training, I completed a 6 week training phase, and was feeling pretty challenged by it. I had planned to do two phases of this training, but I decided to take a break for a couple of weeks before starting the second phase. During this break, I worked primarily on mobility and self massage, and did a little analysis of how much time I was really giving myself to recover, compared to how much time I was spending training. I don’t mean just giving myself days where I didn’t train – I mean how much time was I actually doing things designed to help me repair in between training sessions.
For example, my Simple and Sinister training program was usually 3 training sessions a week, about 40 minutes or so in length, not including the time I would spend doing self massage and a RAMP (warm up) before the training session. My goal in returning to the second phase of the S & S program was to see if I could make my time spent on recovery at least equal to the time spent in training. If I take 3 sessions x 40 minutes each, that’s 120 minutes a week spent training, so how can I get 120 minutes of dedicated recovery time in the week? Doing self massage and a RAMP of mobility work for about 15 minutes prior to each training session gives me 45 minutes. Most days of the week I do a breathing and/or relaxation meditation practice, so let’s say that’s another 15 minutes x 5 days a week for a total of 75 minutes. Take the 45 minutes of rolling/RAMPing plus the 75 minutes of breath and mediation work, and I’m already at 120 minutes! Not bad!
Of course when we start training for longer durations, with more intensity, or more frequently during the week, we need to make sure we are including even more recovery strategies. When I’m prepping for a powerlifting meet or a Tactical Strength Challenge, I will make sure to include additional time with the Therapy Balls in between sessions, epsom salt baths, and an occasional professional massage or chiropractic adjustment. And when I factor in that as a coach and gym owner, I have a very active job, I find that equal training to recovery time is really the bare minimum and I actually need more recovery hours to feel my best.
Unfortunately it doesn’t always happen that simply in reality. Calculating my recovery minutes made me aware of just how often I get “too busy” for my meditation practice… and how easy it is to skip over the self massage… or not really be mentally present when doing my RAMP because I’m doing too much multitasking. In order for any of these things to be truly beneficial, they need to be done mindfully so that you can really tune into the messages your body and brain are sending.
The truth is, we only get the benefit from the training that we can recover from. So really, our job is only halfway done when we leave the gym. Like anything worth doing, it may be a little challenging at first, but I strongly encourage taking a look at your training hours each week, and seeing if you can budget at least equal time for recovery. Try it for a few months, and just see if you don’t feel stronger, more resilient, more capable, and just better all around! And hey, I’ll be the first to give you a double tap next time you post a new PR on Instagram!
Strength & love,