Are you over training? Or under recovering?           Photo: Shutterstock

The Inertia

If you read enough fitness magazines, listen to enough wellness podcasts and read enough health blogs, you’re likely to encounter the concept of over-training. The basic idea is that you’re doing too much, too quickly, so that you end up giving your body a greater stimulus than it can adapt to or recover from. If this moves past just overdoing it once in a while (like the claw hands I got from deadlifting last night that are making it hard to type this article), your overtraining might lead to immune system issues, chronic fatigue and injury that we see in the likes of marathoner Ryan Hall, who before his recent return to a more restrained training approach retired because all those triple-digit running weeks had burned him out.

And yet while over-training is a very real phenomenon, for some people it’s not the root of what ails them. Under-recovery is. Sometimes we’re exposing our body to an adequate load to produce physiological change, but missing something on the other end of the equation that’s leading to similar symptoms to those experienced by over trainers. Here are three common under-recovery mistakes and what to do about them.

You’re Getting Inadequate Sleep

In our culture many of us have come to view sleep as a time-sucking inconvenience. We’re trying to run our lives with precise efficiency like the Henry Ford assembly line, and cram as much into each day as possible. As a result, our sleep gets short shrift. A recent NPR story revealed that 37 percent of Americans don’t get adequate rest. This means that more than a third of us are wandering around like blurry eyed zombies. For athletes that’s a real problem. When you exercise you not only break down tissues that sleep repairs, but also place strain on your nervous, musculo-skeletal and many other systems that don’t work without enough shut-eye. And it’s not just the duration of sleep that’s important (it’s hard to make a case for less than seven and a half hours), but also the quality.


So how do you get more Zzzs and better ones? Make sure that even as the temperature drops outside, you’re keeping your bedroom at 68 degrees or colder. Block out all light from the room, including putting a piece of duct tape over LEDs on smoke alarms and such. And remove all technology from your bedroom. You can also try a simple breathing protocol to help your body cycle down, such as a five second nasal inhale, 15 second breath hold and 10 second nasal exhale. Do this for five to 10 minutes and you’ll likely slip into a restful sleep more easily. Pick up a copy of Chris Winter’s book The Sleep Solution for more advise.

You Don’t Have a Soft Tissue Practice

When you exercise, your muscles and other soft tissues tighten to produce and resist force. This is necessary but if you don’t undo this stiffness, it’s like putting your surf or SUP board on your car roof rack and cranking away on your straps until the fiberglass splinters. Then you add in the systemic tightness we create by sitting too much and not moving enough throughout the day. No wonder we’re all so tight. Then we go to work or ride the slopes and ping! There goes that hamstring or Achilles tendon.

Fortunately, such a catastrophic outcome is easily avoidable and, in fact, movement and mobility expert Dr. Kelly Starrett believes that we can head up to 98 percent of injuries off at the pass. How? By simply doing 10 minutes of mobility work a day. You can start with the major muscle groups you used today. Hit the trails for a run? Then roll a soft ball under each foot for a couple of minutes and then smash your calves with a roller. Get a good paddle in? Then lie on your side and roll a ball over your lats (the fan shaped muscles on the side of your back)? Did some deadlifts? Then spend a few minutes in the pigeon pose, or in a variation where you mimic the position with your foot up on a counter or bench. Another way to help your soft tissues is to make sure that you’re pursuing movement quality in your sport and the gym. If you’re not sure where to start, go to YouTube and type in “squat form” or “pullup technique.”

You’re Under-Eating and Not Rehydrating

With up to two thirds of Americans overweight or obese, we obviously need to be careful to avoid over-eating. Yet some athletes get so overly concerned with adding even a pound of body weight (particularly endurance folks) that they’re actually under-eating, which can be a big component of under-recovery. When you exercise you don’t just need adequate fuel for the session itself, but also help your body repair the tissue breakdown you’re causing and restore every system in your body to equilibrium after making the needed adaptations. In addition, regular physical activity increases the number of calories you burn at rest, an effect that’s amplified when you gain muscle mass. Every part of this equation adds up to a simple sum: eat more!

This isn’t to say that you should go wild on the food front, or that anything goes. Rather, try to ensure you’re eating plenty of high-quality protein and fat (meat, fish, dairy and eggs, or if you’re a vegan seeking out meat and dairy-free complete proteins like quinoa combining incomplete sources like beans, lentils, nuts and seeds to ensure you get all nine essential amino acids and some healthy fats as well). Also include some carbs from veggies, fruit and, at the risk of drawing fire from the Paleo and Keto folks, whole grains, after you exercise. This will not only replenish muscle glycogen, but can also help with rehydration. Speaking of which, after a sweaty session, add a pinch of sea salt to your food or water to top your sodium levels. Still believe salt is the enemy? Check out Dr James DiNicolantonio book The Salt Fix to see the role sodium plays in recovery.


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