Renewing Your Training with Recovery

Rest days aren’t so bad. After a hard workout you deserve to take it easy the next day. Plus your body needs it. You secretly love it, I know.

Yeah, right.

Go on, admit it: You think of recovery as something other people do. You? You can go hard every day. You don’t need no stinkin’ rest. And no one’s going to tell you NOT to do what you love.

Ok, that’s all good. You can go on the way you have been…. little aches and pains, big injuries even. Plateaued progress. Burn out. Fatigue. You can still push hard so what’s the problem?

Why Recover

Simpy put, lifting weights (and any intense exercise) places stress on your muscles, connective tissues, and central nervous system. If you don’t give your body time to repair itself, it will continue to break down. You can’t build muscle, strength, or endurance when this is happening, but you can hurt yourself.

Of course we want to recover as quickly as possible so we can get the most out of our workouts. You can do this by adjusting variables that affect your recovery (listed below) and periodizing your training.

The concept of periodization doesn’t just apply to athletes who train at a low intensity most of the year and peak at competition time. Periodization (using training cycles to increase performance by varying the stimulus) should be a critical part of your lifting program too. For example, when I write programs for online clients, I integrate recovery with lower volume days or deload weeks. This prevents overtraining and ensures steady progress.

Even for myself, though, it’s taken a few hard knocks for me to appreciate recovery as a critical part of my training. I’ve always loved lifting much more than I wanted to rest. I also had an ego to protect, so I wasn’t too keen on backing off ever. But after a host of overuse injures, I finally figured out that rest is required, not optional.

Recovery should be part of your overall training cycle, not “if-I-think-of-it-have-time-get-injured.”

What Affects Recovery?

Listen to your body. If you’re tired and sore all the time, try backing off frequency, intensity, or adjusting any of these variables:

1. How FAST your body recovers (recuperation)
2. How HARD you exercise (intensity)
3. How OFTEN you exercise per week (frequency)
4. How OFTEN, MUCH, WHAT and WHEN you eat (nutrition)
5. How LONG you exercise (duration)
6. How MUCH stress you have or are able to manage in your daily life (stress)

I’d add that how fast you recover is impacted by your AGE. Those over forty generally notice slower recovery, but obviously this can vary.

Are You Making These Mistakes?

You can see from the list above that eating junk, not managing your stress, and sleeping poorly can slow down recovery. So let’s look at a few other specifics that negatively your recovery from strength-training workouts:

  1. You lift heavy year round. If you never have low-to-moderate sessions, your body is under constant siege. You need to work in low-volume days to avoid injury and see muscle and strength gains.
  2. You do intense cardio more than 2-3 times a week. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and endurance cardio sessions take energy and recuperation away from your strength-training recovery. You can build some muscle and strength while you’re also hitting cardio hard, but you can’t have it all – you may end up burned out or injured if you overdo it.
  3. You don’t take rest days. Everyone needs at least one day a week to do only low-intensity exercise such as walking, yoga, or stretching/foam rolling.
  4. You frequently lift to muscular failure. Not lifting to failure takes practice, but you must master leaving a few reps in the tank. Read more here about why.

Be sure to include branched chain amino acids and/or glutamine in your recovery plan to help with muscle rebuilding.

What Constitutes Recovery?

  • Short-term recovery occurs within 48-72 hours of an intense lifting session. In this window you need healthy nutrition to replace glycogen stores. You also need to rest the muscles you just trained so they can repair themselves and grow, so doing an intense leg session Monday and hills on the treadmill Tuesday doesn’t qualify as rest.
  • Long-term recovery spans the length of a training program (weeks, months, or a year). If you are not incorporating low-volume days, you should map out six- to eight-week cycles that allow you to deload.

So we’re not talking rest between sets here, which impacts how much you can lift.

Don’t wait until you’re plateaued, injured, or burned out to integrate proper rest. Cycle it into your workouts for renewed zest and sweet results.

This article originally appeared on

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  1. Years ago I mandated that I HAD to take at least 2 rest days a week no matter what. The reason behind that was that I got stuck in a plateau and couldn’t lose any weight (I’d already lost around 75lb at this time). I thought, MORE IS BETTER! So I exercised for nearly 30 days straight without a break. I was tired mentally and physically and still didn’t break out of my plateau.

    Since then I’ve stuck to the 2 rest days a week and my body is happier for it. Sometimes I even think I should make it 3 rest days a week but haven’t quite gotten there yet.

    I would like to know more about deloading.

    • That’s SO insightful that you figured out how to break out of your plateau by resting. Yeah… I have three rest days and I like it. Deloading- check out the link in the post :).

  2. Suzanne, this post came at a great time for me, as I was trying to decide if I should hit the gym for separate cardio tomorrow am and then take a pilates/strength class at lunch or just do the strength class alone. Following my workout today, I need to just focus on the class and let my body recover a bit…and then take Thursday completely off. Thanks for your great content and reminders!
    Shira recently posted..The Beauty of A Work in ProgressMy Profile

  3. Great post, recovery is such an important part of our fitness regimes. I especially like the way you have broken down the various types of training and the type of recovery that might be suitable.
    Gillian recently posted..Resolution Update October – Enjoying The JourneyMy Profile

  4. All if this sounds very familiar;) Great post and reminder, something I’m still working on!

  5. Rest days are hard but my schedule often makes sure I take at least one a week. Days that I have expos or business development events keep me up and moving around but out of the gym.

  6. So with runners there are people that will run every day they call it a run streak. I know that many of them will only run a mile if it is outside of their training schedule, but still. I have often wondered if they are doing themselves a disservice by straining their muscles. I would love to run daily, but a rest day is very important. Now I just need to incorporate strength training in there with more consistency. Great information thank you!
    Jenn Speer recently posted..The dreadmill a love/hate relationshipMy Profile

    • This information totally applies to runners. Unless you’re structurally gifted, that much daily stress will eventually catch up to you. Runners love to run, and that’s one reason you see so many running injuries.

  7. I don’t have a problem taking rest days, but those also end up becoming my worst eating days, too. Something about doing a workout keeps me more motivated to eat healthy, I guess?
    Sarah @ Beauty School Dropout recently posted..One Community: NovemberMy Profile

  8. I am like you – love to lift & hate to rest!!! 🙂 Lucky for me I can over train a bit & not lose size. Not saying that is good to over train but I love to lift! I have learned to listen to the bod thru the years – so important to learn early!

    I have harder days at the beginning of the week cycle & less at the end of the week… If you lift to lift for size & all that – definitely need all of the above advice!

    Now I do more than 2 days of cardio as you know – I need it to stay as lean as I want to be even with my clean eating – even as a young person I had to & with age – well, UGH! 😉 I am not trying to gain though – just maintain my muscle with age although I was lifting to gain a for a couple years now & still did my cardio but that is my body type so it worked for me… 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted..Comment on Protein Banana Nut Bread; YMX LOVE!My Profile

    • You know, I’ve heard of people who need to overtrain to see results. Interesting and probably a result of so many years’ experience. I wish I could get motivated to do cardio. Having a machine at home is the only way I’d do it, though, because I’m already too busy when I’m lifting.

  9. Rest is soooo important. I have overtrained in the past and it only resulted in injuries, I have learned to love my rest days, but it is hard sometimes.
    Toni @ Runninglovingliving recently posted..#RWHalf 5K & 10K AKA The Five and Dime RecapMy Profile

  10. Rest is so critical! But it’s funny that it’s so hard to actually do. I have to remind myself and my clients that we deserve time to rest. Results aren’t made during a workout but the time after!
    Taylor @ LiftingRevolution recently posted..10 More Jaw Dropping Confessions Of A Personal TrainerMy Profile

Mentioned Elsewhere:

  1. […] Metabolism – Living the Nourished Life Confession of a Food Addict – Wellness Today Renewing Your Training with Recovery – Workout Nirvana Food Shaming and Comparison – The Real Life RD The Bloat Cure – […]

  2. […] If you lift weights three or four times a week on top of other resistance-based activities else (CrossFit, boot camps, etc.), you might be burning the candle at both ends. All of these activities tax your neuromuscular system, and you need at least 48 to 72 hours between strength workouts. (I talk more about strength-training recovery here.) […]

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