Rest and recovery are critical components of any successful training program. They are also the least planned and underutilized ways to enhance performance. Because we are not just muscle and bone, recovery requires many techniques and approaches to recover our entire being, from muscles, tendons ligaments and bones, to hormonal systems, our neurological, mental and emotional systems.
There is a difference between rest and recovery, and we need to understand and implement both if we want to optimize our health and athletic ability. Rest is usually understood as sleep. Rest is also just ‘hanging out’ and being. Rest provides time for mental preparation and reflection. This can be accessed through meditation, or simply sipping a cup of tea while looking at the beauty of nature. Recovery is a little more technical and less understood. Recovery refers to actions and activities that maximize your body’s natural repairing abilities. These include, but are not limited to: hydrating, ‘proper’ nutrition, stretching, self-myofascial release (aka: Foam rolling) and stress management.
There are many ways we can optimize our rest and recovery.
The following are my top 5 recommendations:
Although many people say they can get by on less than 7 to 9 hours of sleep, it’s likely they are just surviving and not thriving. Sleep deprivation can lead to problems such as increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol and decreased activity of human growth hormone, which is required to repair tissue.
Other studies link sleep deprivation with decreased aerobic endurance and increased ratings of perceived exertion, meaning your next workout will feel twice as hard as it would have if you’d just gotten a good night’s sleep.
When we are asleep, our entire system gets to work repairing damaged tissue and replenishing our energy stores. Just like a good tennis match is unlikely to happen with a damaged racquet, a dirty court and a ripped net, we need to optimize a successful sleep sesh with a clean, comfortable bed, dim/dark lighting, fresh air and quiet. Create a reliable bedtime ritual and get to sleep at roughly the same time each night. Humans crave consistency, so give yourself the gift of a reliable bedtime.
Our body is mostly water, and in fact, it depends on water to operate properly. Our body uses water to maintain its temperature, flush waste (in the form of urine, feces, and sweat), and lubricate our joints.
Water is needed for overall good health. Like with sleep, most people think they can get by with sports drinks or fizzy water, but plain, filtered water is best to keep things running smoothly without adding more stress on our systems to process additives.
Don’t wait until you notice symptoms of dehydration, which include headache, confusion, dizziness, sleepiness or fatigue, or dark-colored urine. Be sure you are hydrated before exercise, and hydrate after your workout, but also keep hydrated all day.
Aim to drink your full 8-10 cups of water throughout the day. Little sips at a time. If you need a reminder, try drinking one cup as soon as you wake up, then drink a small glass of water at the top of each hour until about 2 hours before bed. If you are really averse to plain water, try adding a slice of lemon or lime, but avoid other (especially chemical) additives.
There is a mountain of information (and mis-information) around nutrition, and this is one of the most personal of these 5 tips. The truth is there is no one nutrition plan that fits everyone. That said, you can optimize your nutrition by preparing your own food from basic ingredients. Opt for the lesser processed foods; pick an apple instead of apple sauce, or go for cooked rice instead of a slice of bread. The less a food is processed, the more natural building blocks it can provide your body.
Aim to veggies and fruit to every meal and snack. And add variety! Make a game of seeing how many colors of fruit and veg you can add to your plate every day. Find deep green in spinach or broccoli, purple in an onion or eggplant, blue/black of local berries, yellow in squash or apples, red in peppers and apples, orange in carrots or tangerines.
Mobility Work and Stretching
We have published lots of articles on various stretches for just about every part of your body, and there are tons of resources out there you can find. The most important part about stretching is to do it daily!
Make it part of your morning: right after you drink that glass of water, check in with every joint in your body. Mobilizing your joints is different from stretching, but both are important. I recommend mobility (moving with control through the full range of motion) for each major joint before starting any exercise session or before you head out on the court. But it’s also great to do after any period of prolonged inactivity – mobilize after a long drive, after you get up from sitting at your computer, after watching tv or a movie… you get the idea.
Stretching is more passive in that you are relaxing all the muscles around the one you want to stretch. Stretching requires you to relax into a position that will allow a relaxed muscle to be stretched from the pressure of an external force. Think of the difference between reaching your arms overhead versus reaching for an overhead bar and hanging.
SMFR stands for Self Myofascial Release. Although SMFR will stretch the muscles, tendons and ligaments, it primarily addresses the myofascial system that encapsulates muscle groups in a larger system and attaches the skin to the muscle. Fascia is a fascinating system that is getting a lot of press and research these days. Take time regularly to use foam rollers, tennis balls, or even your hands to break up the adhesions that naturally occur in our bodies that create tension.
Resources to Read More: