It’s a simple formula: The quicker you recover, the more volume of training you are able to handle. The higher volume of training results in more gains in performance.
Recovery is a neurological process. Your brain is the primary determinant of how effectively you will be able to:
- Repair broken down tissues
- Relieve stress
The brain is constantly analyzing and interpreting the environment you are in. Depending on how it perceives the current circumstances it finds itself in, it will set you body in either a sympathetic or parasympathetic state.
A sympathetic state is extension. It is a state of perceived threat. It is the “fight or flight” branch of the nervous system. When you are in this state, hormones are released that increase body’s alertness and heart rate, sending extra blood to the muscles. Breathing quickens, delivering fresh oxygen to the brain, and an infusion of glucose is shot into the bloodstream for a quick energy boost.
A parasympathetic state is correlated more with recovery and when your brain perceives a safe and non-threatening environment. This is the “rest and digest” branch of the nervous system. This state conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes muscles throughout the body.
Therefore, the goal is clearly to achieve a parasympathetic state if we want maximal recovery.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
In order to best set yourself up for success and allow your brain to not interpret your environment as a potential threat, dopamine (the chemical released when you are happy) is a key driver for success.
It really is that simple. We need to engage ourselves in activities that release dopamine. While that’s easier said than done, here are a few easy ways to stimulate dopamine, and therefore good recovery.
Positive social interaction – Get together with people you enjoy being around. Socialize, laugh, dance, or whatever floats your boat. Other than sleeping and eating enough, this is probably the single best way to stimulate good recovery. Just limit alcohol, as that inhibits recovery dramatically after your first one or two drinks.
Exposure to favorite sights, smells, feelings – Cuddle up in your favorite blanket with a nice scented candle (everyone does this, right guys??). Go visit a nice place in nature.
Low intensity walking – Take a 15 minute casual walk around the block, or even better, on a beautiful trail.
All of these release dopamine, relaxes the mind, and the body feels comfortable and unthreatened.
There’s no need for contrast showers, eating 6 meals a day at exact times, or deep tissue massages if you aren’t doing the above. Take care of the low-hanging fruit before you worry about expensive and/or time-consuming recovery modalities.