That is the question.
I still hear the prevailing wisdom that says that you absolutely need to chill out and rest at regular intervals. As in, do nothing, sit, sleep, nada!
OK, I’m on board with that. But let me throw a few nuggets your way that may change your mind.
There is a lot we don’t know about rest, recovery, and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). If you think about it, there are several ways that we gain and grow from exercise. One is the predominant idea that if you get sore, you have broken your body down so much that when you heal, you’ll be stronger than before. Another idea is in creating physiological and mechanical efficiencies in your body. If you repeat a movement, like running, rowing, or lifting, your body builds neural frameworks that enable that to happen better. In addition, if it has a heart pumping element, then the heart is continually laying down new cells and those individual cells become more efficient at pumping blood. I believe this all to be true.
The latter case where you’ve had a neurological or physiological challenge that improves efficiency, its quite possible that less recovery is needed. There isn’t a structural component that needs to be “cleaned out”. But for the former, where it is possible that muscle breakdown has occurred, fibrin and collagen and healing lymphocytes are sent to the site of trauma and a more defined recovery needs to take place. Picture the arms that connect an old choo-choo train’s wheels to make them rotate. Each one of these arms is now clogged up with gunk, whether sludge, mud, or other debris. You can either sit and wait for the rain, wind, or other natural processes to wash the gunk away. Or, you can go in there and clean it up manually.
First of all, I’m a firm believer that sleep is the numero uno (#1) priority in recovery. You don’t get any bragging rights for sleeping less. If somebody tells you they function just fine with 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, they are blowing smoke up your nether-regions. You need those repeated 90 minute cycles that lead to hormone growth producing REM sleep. Each cycle is progressively deeper and more effective. Without this, you’ll not grow or recover and you’ll likely end up sick and injured. Sleep, then nutrition, should be your first priorities. You can’t make hormones if you are not eating healthy fats, proteins, and carbs.
So back to the choo-choo train’s clogged levers. Old school exercisers and mothers around the world would tell you to rest (aka do nothing). In the old days, the doctor would put you in a cast and tell you not to move for weeks if you had broken something. Now, we know that leads to frozen shoulder types of ailments. Today, you can get a major hip replacement and the next day the doctor has you walking laps around the 5th floor of the hospital. Its a totally different mindset from what was previously thought.
ACTIVE RECOVERY should be your mantra today. If you feel sore from doing Murph (run 1 mile, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, run 1 mile for time), the answer is not to lay down for 3 days and let your body recover naturally. You need active recovery. That is, go for a walk, a run, get a massage, take an Epsom salt bath, or, heaven forbid, do a workout.
The massage and bath are passive ways to recover. But they are very effective in that kneading those muscle fibers clears out the junk around the muscles. It also moves the lymph, which doesn’t have its own circulatory pumping mechanism. Lymph is what carries all those T-helper cells and other healing hormones. It also carries the bad stuff away, the toxins and broken bits of tissue. All of this makes sense in old school recovery and shouldn’t be overlooked today.
What is a newer concept is the active recovery. OK, maybe not that new. We know that running, riding your bike, walking your dog, or swimming can all be effective tools to recovery. They are doing the same things as passive recovery. What many haven’t explored, however, is the idea of actually working out again. I mean, you just broke down the muscles, how can you possibly go back and do more? But its true.
When I wrestled as a kid, I was always sore. But somehow, we’d run, do some exercises, and get our bodies warm only to go back on the mat and work at 100% every day. In Ashtanga Yoga, the Primary Series is called the healing series. When someone was tired or sore, the founder Pattabhi Jois would say “You Do!” And somehow, you get on your mat and find yourself all better again. There is something to hopping back on the horse and getting stuff done. Its not a macho or boneheaded kind of thing. It is a matter of physiology and mechanical efficiency. You gotta clean out those levers of the Choo-Choo.
Olympic weightlifters train up to 2 long sessions a day for 6 days a week. And remember, they only have two primary movements, the snatch and clean & jerk. Runners often run every day. And a carpenter swings a hammer every day. Get your sleep, eat well, and try to workout often. Travis Mash, coach and record holding powerlifter, says that youngsters may do better to take a day off now and then. But as you age, he says that we should lower the intensity slightly and workout more often, like every day! This keeps us well-oiled and functioning at full capacity.
Sleep, eat, and keep moving EVERY day!