Recovery. It’s not sexy, we know... Rest days? Foam rolling? Deloading? Stretching? Boring...
Most people would rather just crush themselves in the gym day after day, because that’s how you see results, right?
What if we told you adequate recovery is actually one of the most important factors in optimal fitness and physical health?
What if sucky recovery is why...
- You aren’t making gains in the gym
- You’re not losing those last few pounds—maybe even gaining some
- You’re exhausted all the time
- You seem to be constantly battling soreness, stiffness, and recurring injuries
The truth is, no matter how hardcore your fitness routine is, how often you exercise, or how on-point your diet is, if your recovery sucks, your health and performance will suffer.
In this article, we’ll address five common signs that you need to step back and take your recovery more seriously, as well as quick fixes that will help you recover faster today.
What is Recovery, Anyway?
Most people’s definition of “recovery” is probably something like this:
Recovery is when I’m not sore anymore. It’s when I can exercise again and feel pretty good doing it.
So boom–you roll out of bed, shake out the legs and they don’t feel too bad. Your shoulders don’t feel tight or restricted. Your eyes aren’t overly droopy. So off to the gym you go.
You’re recovered, right?
Not exactly. Those are just arbitrary statements about how your body feels.
Recovery, in the scientific sense, is actually defined as your ability to meet or exceed performance in a given activity.
That’s right, being recovered doesn’t just mean you’re able to exercise again at a half-a$$ effort. It means you can meet or exceed your previous performance.
That, friends, is the true definition of “gains.”
So now that you understand what recovery actually is, let’s discuss how to know if your recovery is affecting your performance.
5 Signs Your Recovery is Sub-Par
1. Your Performance Is Plateauing or Declining
Based on the definition of recovery above, this is a pretty obvious sign. If your athletic performance has stopped improving despite proper training and nutrition, it might be time to take a look at your recovery routine.
When your recovery sucks, you end up completely wasting your training time. You’re basically training for the sake of training, with no change in performance or improvement.
You’re just a rat on a wheel, moving around a lot but not getting anywhere.
In the same way that black hole training results in stagnated performance, under-recovery also ensures that you never get faster, better, or stronger—despite putting in hours of work.
That’s the definition of insanity, right?
When you’re constantly working out in a state of under-recovery, your body isn’t primed to perform, and your results will level off, or maybe even get worse.
2. You're Gaining Weight Despite Good Efforts
When you overtrain or don’t recover properly between workouts, your body tends to go into what’s called “fight or flight” mode. This state is marked by over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system, during which the adrenal glands are triggered to churn out stress hormones like cortisol.
“Fight or flight” is certainly a beneficial physiological state if you need to, say, run away from danger. It’s inherently a good thing.
But what’s not good, especially for your waistline, is having constantly elevated cortisol day after day from stress (like over-exercising and under-recovering).
Chronically elevated cortisol contributes to weight gain in a number of ways, such as:
- Increasing appetite, especially for sugary, carb-rich foods
- Interfering with other hormones that help you put on muscle and burn fat
- Shifting the body’s metabolism to storing fat by down-regulating thyroid activity
When you adequately rest and recover, however, you reduce the amount of stress on your body, lower your cortisol levels, and shift your nervous system to a parasympathetic “rest and digest” state.
And in this parasympathetic state, you can truly reap the benefits of your training. During times of recovery, your body signals a number of repair mechanisms to take place, as well as telling your thyroid and metabolism to up-regulate.
In that way, recovery actually allows you to build muscle and burn fat more easily, as counter-intuitive as that may seem!
3. You're Excessively Tired or Fatigued
As you likely know if you’ve ever done a soul-crushing workout, fatigue and tiredness often follow hard training. Many people love that feeling of “accomplishment” when they work their butts off in the gym, and after they’ve felt the burn, they proceed to pass out on the couch in the middle of a Netflix show, jeans still on, drool sliding down their face.
OK, that's a bit dramatic. But you get the point. Post-training fatigue is normal… to some extent.
What’s not normal, however, is when fatigue starts to creep into your daily life.
When it becomes impossible to get out of bed. When you start reaching for that third or fourth cup of coffee to get through the work day. When you feel like a three-year-old that needs an afternoon nap. When you get home from a normal day at work, but feel completely exhausted. When you’re unmotivated to exercise because you’re so tired. And in very extreme cases, when you’re unable to fall asleep at night (aptly referred to as being “tired but wired”).
This extreme fatigue can be caused by poor athletic recovery, and is usually a result of cortisol (mentioned above) being too elevated for too long.
After a while, your receptors become less sensitive to cortisol and your body’s energy creation system (called your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA Axis) stops functioning properly. This leaves you feeling exhausted and burnt out.
Not exactly the recipe for peak human performance.
4. Low Heart Rate Variability
This might be surprising, but a healthy heartbeat is actually a bit irregular, meaning each beat doesn’t necessarily happen at the same interval.
For example, instead of beating like this:
lub-dub … lub-dub … lub-dub … lub-dub …
A healthy heart will actually beat like this:
lub-dub ….... lub-dub .. lub-dub .... lub-dub …
The measurement of the amount of variability in each heartbeat intervals is called Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
Measuring your HRV is one of the best ways to know if your body is stressed, and generally speaking, the higher your HRV (measured from 0-100 using HRV devices), the more recovered and ready to train you are.
For example, when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, it releases acetylcholine to induce a low heart rate and a state of relaxation. Your HRV will be highest at this point, so a high HRV indicates a low state of stress.
On the contrary, if you’re overtrained, not well-rested, or sleep-deprived, the healthy beat-to-beat variation in your heart rhythm begins to diminish, thereby indicating a low HRV.
Even if you don’t have an HRV tracking device, you can still experience this phenomenon by finding your pulse on your neck or your wrist. You should feel that the longest intervals take place when you exhale (parasympathetic), and the shortest intervals when you inhale (sympathetic).
In other words:
- A high HRV (~90+ on a device) means the intervals between heartbeats are highly variable, which indicates that you’re well rested and in a recovered state.
- A low HRV (<60 on a device), or an HRV that jumps around from day to day, means the variability in your heartbeat intervals is low, which could indicate you’re overtrained and not recovered.
Tracking HRV is a great way to give you solid insight into how your body is actually recovering, despite how you might feel.
5. You're Constantly Sore, Stiff, or Injured
Yes, we know your high school basketball coach often used the ultra-motivating phrase “no pain, no gain.” While that might be true for a spry 15-year-old, the last thing most of us want to deal with as we age is excess soreness, stiffness, or recurring injuries.
Let’s discuss muscle soreness, specifically.
DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a bit of a mystery to scientists, but is thought to be related to an inflammatory response that increases the sensitivity of nerve endings in connective tissue in muscles. Typically DOMS will rear its ugly head 1-2 days after a workout, causing soreness, pain, stiffness, and in some cases increased risk of injury.
Despite what Coach Jackson told you in basketball practice, however, there’s no evidence that muscle soreness reflects increased muscle damage or hypertrophy (aka better “gains”). In fact, research has shown that both high- and low-soreness training programs deliver similar gains in muscle mass.
In other words, soreness is not a requirement for increasing performance or muscle gains.
While a little soreness never hurt anyone, being constantly sore, stiff, or injured is not only annoying and painful, it could also mean that your body needs a break from hard exercise.
Instead of pushing through the pain, what you might actually need is more active or passive recovery to focus on foam rolling, stretching, or light movement to break up the inflammatory buildup in your muscles.
Summary & An Easy Recovery Solution
In summary, if you’re experiencing any of the following, you might want to rethink the importance of your recovery routine:
- Plateaus in performance
- Resistance to weight loss
- Low HRV
- Frequent soreness, stiffness, or injuries
The solution? Call us Captain Obvious, but… Reduce your training volume. Incorporate more active or passive recovery days. Sleep in. Maybe just take a few weeks off, if you’re really feeling icky. (You can also check out this post and this post for more in-depth recovery tips).
If “taking it easy” is less than appealing, there’s another solution that will allow you to maintain your training schedule while still helping your body recover.
It’s called Kion Flex.
Kion Flex is an all-natural supplement that helps you bounce back faster from exercise by targeting the root causes of poor recovery, such as inflammation, cartilage degradation, and pain-signaling molecules.
It includes a blend of high-quality ingredients that are clinically-proven to reduce mild, temporary joint discomfort, soreness, and swelling from overuse, including:
- Turmacin®, a unique, water-soluble extract from turmeric that's been shown to support a healthy inflammatory response from exercise
- AyuFlex®, an extract of the Ayurvedic superfruit Haritaki, proven to promote joint health and mobility
- Serrazimes®, Serrapeptase, and ProHydrolase®, proteolytic enzymes that help break down soreness-causing proteins
Check out Kion Flex today, and kiss your sucky recovery days goodbye.