What if I told you that without proper recovery, all the precious time that you are spending in the gym, under the barbell, working on making yourself better is for naught.  While that may not be entirely true in every case, in terms of optimal outcomes for increasing performance and improving body composition, it absolutely is. During a workout, the trainee is applying a stimulus that is stressful enough to force his body to respond. The resources an athlete’s body has available to use will determine how well he recovers. Your ability to recover from training ultimately dictates whether or not you accumulate an adaptation from that training stimulus.

For example, if an individual is training for strength, the program is designed in a way that applies a slow increase in load over a period of some weeks. So, if workout #5 has you squatting 135lbs for 3 sets of 5 repetitions and the last rep of the 3rd set was an absolute SLOW grind. What is going to happen when workout #6 requires you to add 5lbs to the bar for the same workout, what needs to occur between workouts? RECOVERY. If you do not have protocols in place for yourself to ensure that you are recovering fully between sessions, progress does not occur, and then the program or coach gets blamed. Really, it’s your responsibility. Hopefully, the remainder of this article will help to prevent this from happening to you.

Now that we understand that without recovery there will be no progress, what can we do as athletes and trainees to prevent our hard work from being done in vain? Here at Strength Therapy, we believe in 3 main pillars to optimizing your recovery and the effectiveness of your exercise program.

This recovery triad includes sleep, nutrition, and well-thought-out programming.

Sleep is the first one listed because even if the two following points are flawless, which is unlikely anyhow, without sleep a trainee will be hard-pressed to get through even their initial stages of beginning a training program. This is true for several reasons, but we simply think about it like this, optimal partitioning and restoration of vital nutrients cannot occur without adequate REM sleep making even the most precisely measured application of stress impossible to recover from. This is true even if you surplus your protein consumption. So, if you train and you are serious about seeing results, do yourself a favor and build a routine around bedtime. Turn the lights down and turn the electronics off an hour before it’s time to shut your eyes. Try and get to bed around the same time every night and PLEASE, get your 8 hours.  

Out of the 3 pillars discussed in this article, nutrition is probably the most difficult one to get correct. Notice I used the word difficult, not complex. The truth is, the concepts behind what you need to do with your nutrition are quite simple, but for reasons outside the scope of this article, it’s the food that most folks cannot seem to stay on top of. For that reason, we try to make our guidance as easy as possible to follow. You need to track your calories and you need to eat a gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you are trying to continue gaining muscle and strength beyond the initial few weeks of your program, you need to be eating in a small surplus. If your goal is to lean out, you need to eat fewer calories than you expend. If you are eating in a deficit, it is even more crucial that you eat the recommended amount of protein (1g per 1lb body weight) as to not lose a disproportionately high percentage of muscle during your weight loss. This is not a controversial approach and for the last time, NO, this amount of protein does not cause kidney disease or damage. I challenge you to eat SO much protein that your kidneys struggle to keep up. The notion that protein is somehow poisonous is utterly ridiculous, but yet it is still spewed out of the mouths of countless physicians and RNs. Proteins are the building blocks for muscle and if you are not feeding your body protein you will not recover from the stress you are placing on the muscles during training. So, if your progress is stalling prematurely, one of the first things you need to look at is how much you are eating. Whether you are training to gain strength or lose weight, you have to eat an adequate amount of protein and you need to track your calories.

For the purpose of this article, well thought out programming refers to the design and application of your training regimen. Does the program match the goals of the trainee? Does the physical stress applied to the body through performing the exercises match the athlete’s ability to sufficiently recover? For many of us, this is a lesson learned by way of trial and error.  If you want to save yourself some time, but you are unsure about how many sets/reps to perform, how many days per week to train, and which exercises you should be doing, maybe you should hire a coach. If you feel like you are trying really hard in the gym, you are always tired, sore, or injured and the progress seems hard to come by (assuming nutrition and sleep are on track), perhaps it would be worth your while to hire a good coach to guide you through constructing a proper program and dissecting technique.

So, before you allow yourself to become frustrated with your lack of results and before you start to blame your coach or your exercise program, ask yourself the following. Am I sleeping enough? Am I getting enough protein? Am I eating enough? Am I eating too much? Does my program make sense and is it practical?

Authored by Chase Ruhmann