Recovering Over 40
Richo asks: “As I’ve gone past 40, I found I don’t recover anywhere near as fast as I used to. I currently try and roughly every second day and quite often I’m still sore and am unable to loosen up, and it inhibits movements and sometimes it means I have to skip things and do something else. I stretch every day and do a little bit of foam rolling as needed. My diet is pretty good. Sleep could improve.”
Okay. This is a really common question, obviously as we age we reduce our ability to recover. Our body’s not working as well. Injury rates increase. We get a bit stiffer and our joints start to make a little bit more noise. So, there are three things that we can do here. Firstly we can reduce the stimulus. That is we can reduce the amount of exercise that you’re doing. The second thing is we can increase our adaptation to that stimulation. And the third thing is we can do more recovery work.
So, let’s break these first three things down. The first option is to reduce the stimulus. Now, that means doing less exercise and based off exercising every second day on average, I don’t really think this is on the table, because we know that to a point more exercise is better and of course, there’s a law of diminishing returns, but you need to keep the exercise habits up. So, let’s take that one off the table. So, we’re not going to focus on reducing the amount of exercise we do.
So, if we look at the second thing here, that’s adapting to the stimulus. So, how can we improve out ability to adapt to the stimulus? ‘Cause when you exercise, it’s applying a stimulus to your body. That stimulus then needs time to recover, then there’s an adaptation. If we can make that better, then you won’t feel sore as much. Your recovery will be better. Your injury rates will be down and you’ll get all the benefits of exercise and really trying to minimise the downside or the negative effects of the exercise.
so, let’s talk about how we can improve our ability to adapt. The less training that you do or the less exercise that you do, the more general that it has to be. If you focus on quite niche areas. So maybe you do a session and it’s all squats or you do a session and it’s all dead lifts or a session that’s maybe all body weight work. If you’re doing this and if you’re doing this niche training, your body is having a large stimulus placed on it and it’s overloading one very certain movement. Now, not only does this overload this certain movement, these certain muscle groups and therefore cause excessive soreness, but it also means that you’re neglecting other areas. So, if we use that example, if you’re doing a lot of squats in a session, it means there are a whole bunch of other muscle groups, a whole bunch of other time domains, a whole bunch of other different types of exercise, which you aren’t doing. So, if you’re doing this niche specific training, focusing on very small bands of movement of muscle activation patterns or energy systems in your body, it might be two or three weeks between these bouts of similar sort of movements. And if you’re doing that, three weeks later your body has adapted and then it’s lost some of that ability. You then have to apply the stimulus again and you get excessively sore again.
So, instead of focusing on lots of squats and then lots of running, and then lots of body weight work, you want to try and combine these elements into one training session. It means you can get the maximum effect, but you can also keep that stimulus high across broad domains of exercise to ensure that the soreness is not going to be extravagant, is not going to be over the top, because you’re able to stay at a high point throughout your entire training programme.
Probably the most important thing for you here in terms of increasing our ability to adapt to it is our ability to be consistent. So, more important than the amount of time you spend even more important than the number of sessions you’re doing per week or the intensity is consistency. And I’m not talking about consistency over a week, but over months and over years. Again, if we can keep ourselves at a seven out of ten. Just training at a seven out of ten, it’s infinitely better than being at a 10 out of 10 for a few weeks and then down to a two or a three out of ten as our consistency drops.
Now, the third thing that we talked about here to maximise your ability to train without being excessively sore that it impacts your life is your ability to recover. Now, I’ve talked about this before, but I just want to run you through a quick checklist of the main things that you should be doing to be able to maximise your recovery. So, this is just your quick and dirty, am I doing these things? Is there an area that I’m neglecting? If there is, it tells us this is that needs the most work. So, firstly you communicate with your coach. If you do start to get some soreness and some niggles, let them know and we can mix things up a little bit.
Secondly, you prioritise mechanics. You don’t just get the reps done. You do them with quality, because quality movement is efficient and its also safer. It’s less likely to cause you damage.
Thirdly, before every session you do, you do a specific pre-exercise routine. This acts to prepare your body for the training we acre abut to do. Now, this should include some active moments like arm swings and leg swings, which emulate the movement patents that you’ll see in the exercises that you’re completing for that day. And also some activation work to turn the muscles on so you’re able to stabilise the body and again, it’ll reduce your chance of injury and excessive soreness. You should be looking at your post-exercise routine. What are you doing immediately following your exercise? You should be having some protein, some glucose, and what that will do is help to kick start that process of protein synthesis to repair your muscles to reduce the soreness and having the glucose is going to stock up your liver with what’s called glycogen, which is going to help to almost recharge your batteries and give your body the fuel it needs to help with your recovery.
The next thing you should do, we’re now talking post exercise. You should do specific drills, specific movement, and specific movement therapy to be able to fix the underlying causes of any movement faults that you’ve seen during that session. So, for example if you’re squatting and your knees fall in, we can do a bit of detective work and discover that this is because there are certain imbalances in your body. These things will cause excessive soreness and increase your chances of injury. So, you should be doing something which is going to help to correct that imbalance. Also after exercise you should do some recovery work. Some sort of deep tissue work, some sort of fascial work, something that is going to help to turn the muscles off to help to promote your recovery to the muscles and also reduce soreness. Things like foam rolling.
If we then look at a more long term macro level, you should be having day load wakes. So, a day load wake is when you exercise at about 75% of your normal volume, 75% of your normal weight, 75% of your normal intensity. Now, you will use this if you are training consistently and with intensity. For most people they don’t need day load wakes, because their life automatically inserts them. Maybe you’re going away on holiday. Maybe you’re sick and you’re not able to exercise for a few days. But if you are training consistently and with intensity, a day load wake every six to eight weeks is a really good idea.
If we zoom in a little bit more, you can also have day load days. This is where you are maybe in the middle of the week having a wake. It’s a little bit more recovery, but you’re still exercising, but that exercise session is not having as much impact on your body. You’re still moving. You’re still helping to promote your recovery. But you’re not adding an extra stimulus that your body has to recover from. So, we can cycle our training intensities over the space of a week.
If you’re injured, don’t stop training. Use movement alternatives to hold on to the same movement patterns and to still get the stimulus of the session. This will ensure that you’re staying consistent. You’re not losing your abilities, ’cause if you do, when you then start training again, you will experience that excessive soreness. You should be following balanced programming both in the micro in terms of each individual session. A good balance of different movement types, not over training a certain thing. For example, not doing too many pressing based exercises and not balancing out with a pulling based exercise. So, follow balanced programming in the micro, in the session, and in the macro in terms of a broad range of different sessions that you are doing over time.
The sleep is really important and probably the most important thing. At least eight hours of sleep per night is the recommendation. It changes based on age. If you’re younger, you’ll need a little more. If you’re older you need maybe not so much. This I think is the lowest hanging fruit. If you were going to change only one of these things it would be sleep.
And finally your nutrition. In particular looking at things like your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios. What does this ratio look like? Are you able to promote your recovery by having enough of the healthy fats? Are you getting enough fresh fruit and vegetables and micronutrients to help your body to recover?
So, have a look through this checklist. Identify what it is that needs the most work for you, because chances are there are one or two things which could be quite easy to address, which will really improve your ability to recover.
Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.