By Mike Mahler
Serious trainees put a lot of thought into their training regimens trying to cover all the angles; however, few put equal thought into restoration or workout recovery–big mistake! You need to take your restoration program just as seriously as your training program and this starts with actually having a restoration program! Without adequate recovery you won’t last long on any training program or, at least, you’ll reach a point where you’re working harder for less return. Efficiency and progress will go down the drain as your body gets more and more beat up.
But I’m taking a protein shake after every workout–isn’t that enough? A well-rounded restoration program is far more than drinking a protein shake after workouts and the most important part of any restoration program is adequate sleep. The only time your body makes changes is when you’re sleeping; it doesn’t change during your workout–or even right after your workout–it changes while you’re sleeping. It’s during sleep that your body produces the most growth hormone and does its rebuilding, but this process only occurs during deep sleep, so tossing and turning for several hours and getting an hour of REM won’t cut it.
How much quality sleep do you need? Good question. While it varies with each individual, how much sleep you need depends on how much stress you carry and how active you are. For example, a professional athlete training several hours per day needs more sleep than someone training 30-45 minutes per day, a few times per week. You’ll have to experiment to find what’s best for you.
After leading one of my kettlebell workshops I can easily sleep 10-12 hours straight. Of course, this is after teaching an intense 6-8 hour workshop and generally my sleep the night before isn’t that great. When I’m not teaching workshops but instead, working more at home, eight hours of sleep is plenty. In fact, more than eight hours leaves me feeling tired and out-of-it upon awaking. But few people have the luxury of getting too much sleep, in fact, most people are sleep deprived and relying on coffee or other stimulants to get through the day. There’s no substitute for quality sleep: no supplement or drug can provide the benefits of sound sleep. Add sleep time to get the most out of your training program.
If you have trouble getting high-quality sleep, try taking 300-500 mg of magnesium citrate an hour before bedtime. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Due to the poor quality of our soil, most everyone in the U.S. is deficient in magnesium. Other supplements, such as GABA and valerian root, may be useful, but start with magnesium. Finally, avoid doing heavy weight training too close to bedtime–weight training stimulates the CNS, which increases alertness.
Regular massage is another component of an effective restoration program. Rather than getting a generic deep-tissue or Swedish-style massage, find a therapist who uses a personalized approach and knows what’s best for you each session. Save the massage for the end of your training week since you can feel wiped out after a good sports massage. If you work out Monday through Friday, get your massage on Friday and take the weekend off from training. You may want to go light for the first workout–or two–coming back and then ramp it up from there. Getting a massage twice a month makes a big difference in your recovery and, more importantly, your general well-being.
An interesting restoration method I started using a few months ago is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. I first read about the benefits of hyperbaric chamber use in Bill Romanowski’s book, Romo: My Life on the Edge–Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons. A hyperbaric chamber is an inflatable vessel, the size of a coffin, which raises oxygen levels in your body. It creates a pressurized environment forcing the body to absorb more oxygen. My first hyperbaric chamber treatment was a few days before teaching a workshop when I had a chest cold and was feeling considerably less than my best; in fact, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to teach the seminar due to impaired breathing. After an hour in the hyperbaric chamber I felt much better, and the next day I was almost back to normal. The following day I was feeling great–just in time for the workshop. If you’re claustrophobic, you may find the chamber uncomfortable, but after a session or two you may find the experience relaxing. You can bring your Ipod into the chamber and listen to relaxing music. I listen to a meditation CD and usually fall asleep right in the chamber. I incorporate hyperbaric chamber sessions once or twice per week, depending on how I feel and how hard I’m training.
Another form of restoration I find useful is meditation. Mental stress is draining and meditation is a proactive way to relieve stress and anxiety. Still, as beneficial as meditation is, most people find it difficult. It’s hard to go-go-go all day and then switch into relaxation mode; the mind wanders and even sitting still for as few as twenty minutes while focusing on the breath can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, there’s an alternative, which is Holosync. Holosync is a meditation program utilizing sound technology to put you in the same meditative state as experienced meditators. Here’s what the Holosync creator, Bill Harris, has to say about how the program works:
As one moves from the beta brain-wave pattern of normal waking consciousness to the slower brain-wave pattern of alpha, then deeper into theta, and finally to the deepest delta, the fluctuations in the brain are constantly increasing. Here is the important point, though: these fluctuations give the nervous system input, or stimulus, beyond its ability to handle, the way it is currently structured. In order to handle these fluctuations, the nervous system is forced to reorganize itself at higher, more complex levels of functioning, evolving a new structure that can handle the input it originally couldn’t handle. As the brain continues to receive this input, the nervous system will continually reorganize itself, in a series of quantum leaps—some at a micro-level of functioning and some at a much more global level.
Translation: Holosync is the lazy man’s solution to meditation. Start by listening to the program thirty minutes a day for two weeks, then increase to an hour. I like to listen before sleeping or after training. Without fail, I feel relaxed within a few minutes and often drift into sleep. Don’t worry about concentrating on what you’re listening to or focusing on a certain way of breathing, just sit–or lie down–relax, and enjoy the program.
Next on the list of restoration programs is the one thing training addicts hate to think about–what is it? Taking a week (or even two or more) off from training. Yes, sometimes the best thing you can do to get back on the road to training progress is to not train at all. How do you know when it’s time to take a week off? As always, it’ll vary with each trainee; however, when you’re getting weaker each workout and workouts that used to feel easy–or not too hard–suddenly leave you feeling wiped out, it’s time to take a break. Every form of work needs a vacation and yes, serious training is work: it’s stress on the body and mind and you can take only so much stress before needing a recharge. Most trainees come back stronger after a week off, though some will feel out of the groove the first workout or two before again making progress. Depending on how deeply you’ve overtrained, even longer time-off periods may be necessary. Whenever I’ve had a long period (several weeks to a month) off from training, initially, I come back weaker but quickly regain my strength and move on to blast though previous plateaus. Time off re-sensitizes the body to training and sometimes, it’s the only thing that works. Besides, taking a few weeks off might be the only way to get your enthusiasm back–you’ll miss training and want to get back into it ASAP. What are you supposed to do during your work off? Feel free to be active. Go for walks, play sports, and try out some new activities such as indoor rock climbing or swimming. The point of the week or more off is to give your body a mental and physical break from your regimen.
I generally structure training time-off periods for clients by simply having them not work out when they’re away on vacation. Go ahead, be active and do whatever fun, physical activities you feel like doing, just leave the weight training (or whatever exercise regimen you’re on) alone. You’ll no doubt return home refreshed and ready to go. For those people who never take vacations, ask yourself: why not? The world won’t stop while you’re relaxing, so do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and give yourself an occasional break from your life.