The Secret to Longevity

Since it is indeed Recovery Week I find it only fitting to include a quick article about recovery and why it is so important I dedicate an entire week to it.

I am just like most of you. I want to go go go and never let off the gas pedal. This works great for awhile but just like any Ferrari if you don’t take time to change the oil, rotate the tires, or tune up the engine you are just one drag race away from a blown tire or engine. The non-stop attitude although awesome in the short-term is not a long-term approach for longevity. The go go goer will typically end up in one of two ways.

The Injury

The first is injuries.

Most of us don’t take breaks until our knees start hurting or our shoulder feels like someone took a sledgehammer to it. We then proceed to take off as little time as possible, to heal up just enough to get back to doing what we were doing before we got injured. We then repeat the cycle beating our body down more and more each time.

Finally, our body says it has had enough and forces us to take time off. During this time we become deconditioned and many times disinterested in exercise again. Now, it’s a struggle to even get ourselves in a routine again.

The Burnout

The flipside is we simply burn ourselves out. I most commonly see this with runners or the chronic cardio crowd. You can only take so much mind numbing repetitive motion before you want to run right off a cliff.

You start dreading your workouts and in turn the workouts suck because you are not motivated. Progress stalls and disinterest gets greater. Most then simply give up and opt for nothing. Now, after a few months or years we are back to where we started.

So how do trainers, coaches, and elite athletes eliminate these problems from happening?

We incorporate scheduled off–weeks or deload weeks to allow the body to recover and mind to rejuvenate.

The Science

Here is a quick science lesson for you. The body doesn’t get stronger while you work out. It is actually quite the opposite. The workout is only the stimulus; you actually “injure” the muscle during every workout. It is during the recovery period, the repair process, that you get stronger.

Those of us, myself included, that think breaks are for wussies keep tearing our body down day after day and never give it time to recover. Our body is a very smart system. If you won’t give it a rest, it will find a way to rest somehow which usually manifests itself through the two ways we talked about earlier, injury or burnout.

I have had some of my best weeks of workouts AFTER a good week of recovery and have many times been much stronger from NOT lifting for a whole week.

What to do?

The recovery week doesn’t mean sit on your bum all day, eat potato chips (don’t worry they are trans fat free) and watch reruns of The Wonder Years. We still need to be active and moving, but without the I need to “workout” mindset. Just let it happen.

Here are a few quick tips on what you can do during your off-weeks to ensure proper recovery and progress for years.

1. Emphasize Recovery Activities

This means lots of foam rolling, flexibility, and mobility folks. Also, probably a massage and some hot baths as well. Get your husband or wife to warm up a hot tub for you and make sure he/she lights a few candles too. Then, here comes the hard part — relax. Repeat, 3-4 times for the week!

2. Do Something Different.

We do lots of strength training and movement exercises in class. Spend 30 minutes and focus on your joint mobility, especially the hips for those of you who sit a lot. As we age and stop moving through full ranges of motion we lose this mobility. This then leads to joint problems, increases the risk of falling, and the overall “its hard to sit down and stand up” syndrome (not quite a scientific term yet).

Go rollerblading, ice skating hiking, explore the woods behind your house or some other activity you don’t normally do. Learn something new.

3. Play!

This is something we do not do enough. To me it seems as people get older they forget how to genuinely and spontaneously play without form. No rules or guidelines, just play. Society conditions us to be very rigid and responsible and don’t forget to follow the rules. Keep that shirt tucked in and stand up straight. Sometimes we need to just have an impromptu game of tag or touch football. How about hide and go seek, cops and robbers, or backyard wrestling. The beauty is not in the game played but in the spontaneity of free form creativity.

Start a wrestling match with your kids, get the dog going, or just run around the house screaming. Don’t think just go.

Remember, we need to take breaks every so often. Fitness for life is not a sprint but a marathon filled with many sprints and breaks. Having scheduled breaks allows you to recharge your mind and body. Sometimes, its even great to just take a week off and focus nothing. Maybe sleep a little more or spend that hour planning out your meals for the week.

No workout program is perfect and as we age we need more breaks. Last I checked, you and I are not 15 anymore.

For me, this really hit home when after a weekend basketball tournament we played 6 games in 2 days. I was exhausted and each game became increasingly hard to warm-up for. Then, the ah ha moment hit when I tried to get out of my car after the 3-hour drive home. To say the least, I was prepared to die in that car before having to move my legs to get out. 10 years ago I did this EVERY weekend and then played more when I got home.

I guess the moral of the story is, the older you get the more recovery you need. This doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, but it does mean you need to take time to get stronger.