Fitness experts say that less can be more when it comes to exercise. Exercise recovery, ranging from rest between high-intensity training intervals to recovery days and sometimes even weeks away from core activities, plays a big role in maximizing your workout benefits.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) goes as far to call exercise recovery “the most important component of an exercise program.”
“Recovery from exercise training is a vital component of the overall exercise program, and paramount for performance and continued improvement,” writes Lance C. Dallek, Ph.D., in an article for ACE. “If the rate of recovery is appropriate, higher training volumes and intensities are possible without the detrimental effects of overtraining.”
So, to reach the next level when working out, recovery must be calculated into your exercise plan. Dallek is not talking about “Netflix and Chill” or passive recovery when it comes to recovery but an active recovery between intervals or training days that includes a lower level of exercise.
There is no one-size-fits-all recovery plan as each person is unique and recovery time will depend, according to Dallek, on individual:
- Training status – untrained vs. trained
- Fatigue factor
- Individual ability to handle physical, emotional, and psychological stressors
Science Behind Needing Recovery Time
Some athletes might ask, “can’t I just tough through it and never take recovery time?” And the answer is “no!” because every human’s skeletal muscle performance requires a constant supply of energy. That main energy source is adenosine triphosphate or ATP which scientists call the “energy currency of the cell” or the “universal energy donor”.
Unfortunately, the human body does not have an endless supply in the muscles, and in fact, when we exercise, especially at a high intensity, ATP can be quickly depleted.
Regenerating ATP: Three Main Recovery Sources
Once ATP is depleted, the body needs to recover to regenerate it for the next workout with a focus on three energy systems -- the phosphagen system, glycolysis, and mitochondrial respiration.
“Optimal recovery entails restoring the capacity for each energy system to function once again at maximal levels,” writes Dallek.
Specific recovery conditions in the body include:
Decreased substrates: Phosphagen system or glycolysis can be depleted when exercising limiting the primary substrate (or fuel) for each energy pathway. High-level performances can be compromised if both the skeletal muscle concentration of phosphocreatine (CrP) and glycogen are not replenished before the next workout.
Metabolic by-product accumulation: Lactate and protons accumulate in the cells during high-intensity exercise. Both molecules can impair continued ATP resynthesis with lactate hindering the electrical stimulus for muscle contraction and protons leading to decreased muscle pH. This accumulation also causes cellular acidosis which impairs the recovery of stores. Generated ATP from the phosphagen system and glycolysis will not fully take place until recovery from cellular acidosis.
Skeletal muscle damage: That soreness and pain after an intense workout is trying to tell you something – your exercising causes damage to the skeletal muscle, including the sarcolemma, contractile proteins, and connective tissue. Until this damage is repaired with rest, peak muscle performance may not be achieved. Glycogen replenishment will be hampered if there is muscle damage.
Less is Not ALWAYS More
While we opened by saying that less is more, when it comes to recovery time, more exercise will get the body prepared for faster recovery. Specifically, the physiological and metabolic responses and adaptations to exercise training will help the body prepare for better recovery time.
Factors at play:
Increased VO2max: High-intensity exercise can increase your VO2max or maximal oxygen uptake, and an increased VO2max in turn can help you recover more quickly.
Increased Muscle Buffering Capacity: The more you exercise, the more you can increase your muscle buffering capacity which helps fight increased acidosis.
Increased Monocarboxylate Transporters (MCT): These MCT proteins found on the cell membranes help move lactate and proton molecules from the intracellular environment into the blood and thus promote muscle recovery.
Designing Your Exercise Recovery Plan
When designing your individual exercise recovery plan, keep the following recovery factors in mind:
Frequency: from time between intervals during a workout to time between intense workouts.
Intensity: What level of workout performed on recovery days.
Time: How long will your recovery action be.
Type: What kind of exercise will you do for recovery?
Always choose active recovery over passive recovery as being active after an intense workout we help with continued blood flow to muscles and help promote ATP regeneration.
Many athletes will use recovery days to cross train or do an activity, such as cycling or swimming, that is not part of their normal workout routine.
Stretching can also be incorporated into a recovery plan, immediately after an intense workout or on recovery days.
Contact Exer-Tech today to add commercial-grade fitness equipment in your gym for both recovery days and high-intensity workouts. We serve southeast Texas, including Austin, Houston, San Antonio, College Station, Beaumont.