11 Ways to Maximise Recovery from Intense Exercise

Competitiive CrossFitters (or at least those who prioritise and commit to training) love to work hard. In the most part, this hard work has a perfect positive correlation with rate of return (increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains). There becomes a point where 'hard work' becomes detrimental. The further back we can push that point, the more we can train to maximise performance. The way to move that point is by improving rate of recovery.

Read Why you need to overtrain to be your best and Does Exercise at Intensity Cause Negative Damage to your Body? to learn more about overtraining.

The format for this 'how to guide' is pretty simple.

  1. I'll state an element playing a key role in recovery. 
  2. I'll tell you what you should be doing pertaining to this element.
  3. I'll tell you why you should be doing it.
  4. I'll link to relevant Range of Motion Blogs on the topic.

Nutrition
Hydration
Sleep
Power Nap
Rest Days
Deload Weeks
Follow Responsible Balanced Programming
Cryotherapy
Post Exercise Nutrition
Pre- and Post- Exercise Routines
Fish Oil Supplementation

 

Nutrition:

Eat the closest modern equivelent possible to "animals caught via hunting, and unculivated plant foods from gathering". PROTEIN (lean and unmodified animal protein - Fish, red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs. High bioavailability varieties are preferable.), CARBOHYDRATES (unprocessed and uncultivated - Lots of vegetables. Some fruit and berries. Low Glycaemic Index varieties of each are preferrable) and FAT (minimally refined sources of animal and plant fat - naturally occurring fat in meat, nuts, seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil).

This way of eating will best maximise muscle and nervous system recovery, and encourage the maintenance of a favourable omega 3:6 profile.

Read: Range of Motion's Official Position on Nutrition

 

Hydration:

Dehydration is a major predictor of fatigue during sustained high intensity exercise. Inadequate water intake results in thermal stress, low plasma volume, premature fatigue and other major markers of impaired recovery.

Consume 2l of water / day as an absolute minimum. More if possible.

 

Sleep:

Sleep normalises hormone levels required for recovery, with growth hormone and the sex hormones optimised - aiding in muscle repair. Sleep plays a role in 'resetting' insulin resistance, aids the immune system and reduces inflammation.

High intensity trianing and lack of sleep skyrocket your cortisol levels (the same stress hormone released in long slow duration exercise), leading to overtraining and possible adrenal fatigue (bad).

Get eight hours of sleep. Not eight hours in bed. Jiggy jiggy, time to get to sleep, and hitting the snooze button repeatedly don't count.

Read: The Effects of Exercise on SleepAll About SleepSleep Apnoea and Sleeping Posture.

 

Power Nap:

We don't all have this luxury, but it will improve recovery, so it has a place in this guide. This is beneficial for all the reaons listed under 'sleep' (above).

Sleep in the early afternoon for 20 minutes.

Rest Days:

Adhere to your rest days. Not 'active rest', complete rest. Eat healthy on these days and let your body recover. 

 

Deload Weeks:

Every eight weeks, have a rest or 'de-load' week. You can still train, but drop the intensity and avoid exercises that will cause excessive central ('I've been hit by a truck') or peripheral ('I make old person noises when I try to walk down stairs) fatigue.

 

Follow Responsible Balanced Programming:

Follow the programming of someone who knows what they're doing. Programming should long (months) and short term (within the session) balance to prevent overuse injuries and undue fatigue. If your programmer can't tell you what you'll be doing in a month (either the exact session or at least the plan) your recovery is being compromised. Don't follow a program that has been written for someone else and their recovery profile - follow a plan for you.

Read: How Range of Motion Programs CrossFit

 

Cryotherapy:

Exercise is a form of stress. It's a positive stress (eustress), but stress non-the-less. Exercise causes inflammation. In severe cases, inflammation can become severe, called 'chronic inflammation'. This is when the signs of inflammation persist for longer that four to six weeks. This is one of these conditions that ice could have had fixed in two days, but instead becomes a major disabler. From a mechanical perspective, the major cause of chronic inflammation is irritation and interference with repair. Ice causes constriction of the blood vessels (vasoconstriction), reducing spasm, pain and bleeding. If in doubt, ice (for pretty much everything 'cept frostbite!)

Ice not only injured joints and muscles, but also sore muscles. Ice baths suck, but they work.

Read: Im Injured! What Do I Do!? and Inflammation.

 

Post Exercise Nutrition:

Within 10 minutes of finishing a workout, do exactly this:

Consume an easily digestible protein that wont take a huge amount of blood away from the skeletal muscles to digest. I suggest an unflavoured whey protein mixed in water. Easily digestible with a high bioavailability.

This should be mixed with very high Glycaemic Index carbohydrates. Maldextrose (glucose) is the best you can get. The aim is to replenish the stores of glycogen in the muscles and in the liver. Glucose is the best method for achieving this. Hepatic (in the liver) glycogen is responsible for keeping blood sugar at a constant level. These extra stores of glycogen are invaluable to prevent periodic crashes in blood sugar and energy levels throughout the day. We want to give our body all the tools to manage our energy requirement ultra-precisely. This is the only time where high GI carbohydrates are a good thing.

My recommendation would be to consume approximately 30g of whey protein and 60 of carbohydrates IMMEDIATELY after a workout.

Read: Post Workout Nutrition - Literature ReviewPost Workout Nutrition and Fuelling Your Body on Competition Day.

 

Pre- and Post- Exercise Routines:

A warm up should not be generic, but rather, specific to the movement being performed in the workout.

Aside from the injury prevention benefits of a warm-up, the efficiency of movement can be drastically improved, leading to greater power output and increased work capacity. This is achieved by activating structures that are otherwise inhibited, and releasing structures that are otherwise tight.

Post exercise, recovery and restoration of function following an exercise will result in a healthier musculo-skeletal system and improved future performance. This is achieved through musculo-skeletal release and PNF stretching.

Foam rollers and trigger point balls should be your best friends (although they will hurt you).

Read: Pre and Post Exercise Routines

 

Fish Oil Supplementation:

Fish oil supplementation aids in maximising muscle and nervous system recovery, including the maintenance of a favourable omega 3:6 profile. This is particularly useful if you're consuming grain fed meat (grass fed is ideal but not realistic for everyone).

It's very hard to OD on this stuff, but if you're getting excessive, see a Medical Professional etc.

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Dan Williams's picture

Dan Williams

Dan Williams is the Founder and Director of Range of Motion. He is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Exercise Scientist with a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science. Dan is a CrossFit Coach (at CF Games Level) and four time CrossFit Regionals Athlete.