Train Hard, Recover Harder | Breaking Muscle
Based upon my e-mail inbox and Instagram DMs, healing from training is a hot subject. I get asked all type of concerns about healing strategies.
- “Can you assess my supplement stacks?”
- “Should I do active recovery workouts?”
- “When do I foam roll?”
- “How would you change my nutrition on rest days?”
- “What stretching routine should I do post-workout?”
- “Will ice baths or cold showers help my gains?”
- “What about cupping, compression garments, and percussion massagers!”
I’m pleased individuals are offering their healing some attention. Unfortunately, I believe they are focusing their attention on the incorrect parts of the healing puzzle. In this series of posts, I will assist you optimize your healing and results by concentrating on what matters.
- Why tension is a double-edged sword and how to handle it.
- Why healing begins with terrific programs
- The 2 most effective healing tools and how to enhance them
- 6 other healing techniques that work
This pattern for increased attention to healing is exceptional.
In part, it isn’t unexpected offered I’m fond of advising individuals they don’t grow and more powerful lifting weights, however by recuperating from raising weights.
I have actually typically attempted to show the value of healing by showing development as an easy formula:
Stimulus + Healing = Adjustment
Tension Can Be Excellent
Tension can be both excellent and bad. Excellent tension, or what psychologists describe as eustress, is the kind of tension we feel when delighted. Training is a tension to the body. If properly dosed, it is unquestionably helpful.
Bad tension can be found in 2 kinds:
- Intense tension sets off the body’s tension action, however these triggers and feelings are not delighted or interesting. In basic, severe tension does not take a heavy toll. The tension action is short lived, and the body go back to homeostasis, or its pre-stress state, rapidly.
- Persistent tension is bad. It happens when we consistently deal with stress factors that do take a heavy toll. We typically feel crushed, overloaded, and caught by this tension. For instance, a difficult job with a jackass for an employer or a dissatisfied house relationship can trigger persistent tension.
Your tolerance for stress and the ability to manage it is different from mine.
Our tolerance also fluctuates over time. There is only so much stress you can handle. When you have too much pressure, you get overwhelmed. Your recovery from training will suffer at times of high stress.
Managing your stress levels will improve the quality of your life.
It will improve your digestion, recovery, mood, and productivity. It will also enhance your muscle gain and fat loss efforts.
Stress Management; Not Avoidance
Notice I refer to it as stress management—Not stress avoidance or reduction.
The fact is that you cannot avoid stress altogether.
You can, however, improve how you manage it. If you manage stress better, you will be happier, fitter, leaner, and more muscular. In short, life will be better.
What Is Stress?
The body’s control center is the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS regulates the involuntary functions of the human body. The stuff that happens without you consciously thinking about it, such as breathing or digestion.
The ANS has two branches:
- The parasympathetic is also known as your rest and digest mode.
- The sympathetic is the fight or flight mode.
These two work in a see-saw-like fashion. Whenever one of the modes is activated, the other isn’t. When one is up, the other is down.
Unfortunately, your body cannot differentiate between different types of stress.
When the sympathetic nervous system is upregulated, it cannot tell the difference between the stress of a life-threatening event, a challenging workout, or the asshole who just cut you off in traffic.
To manage stress, we want to spend most of our time in a parasympathetic state. The reality is, however, that we spend too much time in a sympathetic state. The non-stop barrage of stresses adds up as we face daily challenges.
This sympathetic state has many negative health implications and inhibits our ability to build lean muscle and drop body fat.
In my experience, so many hard-gainers struggle to see progress because they are chronically stressed and work to manage stress, which increases their anxiety and causes a downward spiral.
Rather than being hard-gainers, I refer to these people as easy-losers.
Their stress levels result in them losing gains alarmingly quickly with the slightest change in a routine or life circumstance because they manage stress poorly.
With that background out of the way, it’s time to identify strategies that help to control stress as much as possible.
Monitoring Heart Rate to Manage Stress
A good proxy for your stress levels and parasympathetic versus sympathetic dominance is your waking heart rate.
Monitoring your heart rate will give you useful data to assess your general stress status and identify when stress levels spike upward.
Significant increases or decreases in your waking heart rate indicate when you are experiencing higher periods of stress. I suggest you get a decent heart rate monitor to assess this. You could also explore heart rate variability apps to add another level of assessment.
Be More Productive With Less Stress
Cal Newport talks about how being on autopilot can help you be more productive and less stressed. He says that there are two types of work in his world:
Regularly occurring tasks
Non-regularly occurring tasks
Being on autopilot is true of almost everyone’s life.
The problem with regularly occurring tasks is that they are so numerous that if we try to manage them on the fly, we get behind and become overwhelmed.
I believe this sense of being overwhelmed is one of the critical drivers of stress in people’s lives. It certainly is a significant cause of mine.
To deal with this, Newport assigns every regularly occurring task a specific time slot. He calls this his auto-pilot schedule. He found that he doesn’t waste time or energy struggling to prioritize and schedule tasks day-to-day. They run on autopilot.
Once you have this stuff allocated to specific times and make that a routine, you can assign all other available time to other things that interest you. This method takes some up-front planning but, it pays dividends.
The final point is to understand that it will take time to refine and adjust this process.
Fortunately, you’ll be so much more efficient you’ll have the time available to make adjustments when needed.
The Miracle Morning Routine for Positivity
Having a morning routine to start your day gets you off on the right foot and sets the scene for the rest of the day.
It allows you to run the day rather than the day running you.
I am a proponent of the Miracle Morning Routine. I do the express version, which takes less than 15 minutes and has six steps.
The six steps are:
There are various apps available that guide you through the process.
When I stick to the Miracle Morning routine, I am more productive and feel in control.
Meditation Combats Stress
Meditation is a great way to combat stress. I have not gone full granola-yogi yet. Perhaps when I’m a bit older, I’ll embrace Zen fully.
I am aware that the word meditation conjures negative connotations with some people (my granola-yogi reference is a case in point). So, if you’re not quite prepared to consider meditation, call it sitting in silence, chillaxing, mindfulness, or whatever makes you comfortable.
Rather than full-on meditation, I sit quietly and focus on my breath for a couple of minutes.
Belly breathing deep breaths through the nose and slow exhalations out through the mouth do the trick.
If you want some guidance, then the app Headspace is excellent. I have done some of the 5-10 minute guided meditations, and it certainly chills you out. These few minutes every day will have a remarkable effect on managing your stress levels.
Being mindful or present is all the rage these days.
There is a good reason for that. We live in an ever-connected yet hyper-distracted world. The sheer volume of inputs competing for our attention is mind-boggling.
Living in this always distracted state is difficult and similar to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
Try to fix this:
- By focusing entirely on one task at a time
- Then, aim to be present within that task.
- Fully immerse yourself in the sounds, smells, sensations, visuals, and taste of whatever you are doing.
Whether that be journaling in your leather-bound notepad while drinking a coffee, hanging out with friends at a BBQ, or drafting that killer sales pitch sitting in front of your laptop in the office.
Being fully in the moment will make you more productive, efficient, and effective at whatever you are doing. It will help to improve your mood and filter out external, potential stressors.
Cheesy quote alert:
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift––that is why it is called the present.
Emotional Reactions Last 90 Seconds
In his book, The Chimp Paradox, Dr. Steve Peters talks about our chimp brain and how it can control us. When the chimp takes over, logic evaporates, and emotion takes over. All too often, when we are under stress, we take the emotional approach. The chimp inside us gets irritable and can wreak havoc before we know what has happened.
When we get an emotional reaction to something, it usually subsides after about 90 seconds if we don’t act on it.
Pema Chodron speaks about this in the book, Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change.
Emotions will ebb and flow. Under stressful situations, they might rise like a Tsunami inside you. That’s only natural. It seems the best way to deal with and keep stress under control is to accept the emotions. To feel them. But do not act on them. If you act on them, you add fuel to their fire. They will rage higher and for longer. Instead, let them burn themselves out. Then, once you are calm and logic has returned, consider ways to avoid repeating the situation, which placed you in a stress position and caused negative emotions like fear, worry, hate, or anxiety to surface.
Take a Deep Breath
While feeling the emotions, it might be a good idea to take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a few seconds and then exhale through your mouth.
This deep breathing has an incredibly calming effect on your body. In my experience, it can help to speed the reduction in negative emotions when they arise.
A side effect of stress is shallow breathing.
Shallow breathing impairs the proper oxygenation of cells and reduces your body’s ability to recover.
Given I am so fond of saying, “You don’t get big lifting weights, you get big recovering from lifting weights.”
I’ve said it twice in this article, so it should be obvious why I believe being stuck in a stressed, shallow breathing state limits your gains.
Post Workout Recovery Pro Tip: Using some simple breathing exercises, post-workout switches you from the fight or flight mode to the restorative rest and digest mode.
This breathing instantly reduces stress levels, increases the oxygenation of cells, and accelerates the recovery processes. If you train in the evening, it will also help you to relax and get to sleep.
Sleep is the most powerful recovery tool you have available, so this is crucial!
Breathing exercises can also be beneficial as a proactive stress management tool when done daily. As I mentioned earlier, I try to do it each morning for a couple of minutes. It creates a wonderfully calm sensation. I would never claim to appear serene, but this is probably the closest I feel.
Is what is stressing you out that bad? Most of the stuff we worry about is not that significant. It’s rarely life or death or leading us to financial ruin.
Sit back, take stock, and ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Often this allows you to gain some perspective, view the stressor objectively, and place its significance appropriately in the hierarchy of events, needs, wants, or stresses in your life.
Nine times out of ten, you’ll then chill the f**k out and realize you’ve got your knickers in a twist unnecessarily.
Step away from your phone–no, not this very second–keep reading this fascinating article:) then, step away from your phone.
While waiting for a train or in a line, what do you instinctively do? Most of us reach for our phones. This dependency for our phone wasn’t the case as recently as 10 to 12 years ago. We would have to wait—occupied only by our thoughts or perhaps the conversation struck up with a stranger waiting alongside us (conversations with real people, in-person–now that is weird).
We’ve lost the art of patience, waiting, and thinking.
Boredom is a thing of the past. There is always a notification, something on social media, YouTube, or Netflix to entertain us. We still plug into the matrix and appear unable to extract ourselves.
There are many positives to smartphones (don’t get me wrong, smartphones are incredible). The downside is we have become slaves to them.
Our phones increase our stress and anxiety and help to push us towards a sympathetic state.
Try to take some time away from them—a digital detox of sorts. Switching off/into flight mode can relieve stress and anxiety. It can also allow you to achieve the mindfulness and presence that I discussed earlier.
Taking time away from our phones isn’t easy. Smartphones are addictive! I struggle with it but, I am aware that when I have work to do, or I’m out with the family, I am less stressed, more productive, and happier when the phone is out of sight. This struggle applies to those that I am with also. Start small and build up the time.
Some ideas to begin to control your phone usage are:
Don’t check it for the first 30 mins of your day.
When doing important work, please switch it on airplane mode and set a timer for how long the work task should take. Don’t look at your phone until the time is up.
No smartphones at mealtimes
Put your phone down in another room when at house so you’re not distracted by it.
Are you watching TV with your wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend, friends, family, cat, or dog? Have the phone out of sight. Enjoy doing what you are doing and the fact you are not distracted by the phone.
Establish no-go zones. Whether it be physical (e.g., not in the bedroom) or time zones (e.g., no phone use for the first hour after I get home from work), this rule will improve the quality of your relationships with significant others.
Lead by example on this. If you would like to be less distracted when spending time with your partner, begin by deliberately being less distracted yourself. Then, when you suggest they do the same, they are more likely to respect and value your opinion. Trying to force it on them before you have achieved it will meet with resistance.
I hope the above tips on managing tension are useful to you.
If you can use some of these to manage your tension, you will be a happier, more productive, and focused person. You will likewise thrive on rigorous training programs and translate your workouts into noticeable gains in strength, size, and body composition.
In the second installment of this series, I will be explaining why significant healing begins with excellent program design.
In it, I’ll outline four key concepts you need to comprehend how to enhance your training and optimize your recoverability.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.