Go ahead, skip your workout! 8 Ways to Maximize Your Athletic Performance with Recovery

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Wait?  Did you really just read that right? 

In the land of more – more time, more time, more exercise, more weights, more miles, more workouts, go faster! Push harder! Do MORE! – We need to remember BALANCE is key.  More is NOT better when it comes to exercise.  Physiologically speaking, our bodies were made to move through patterns of exertion and relaxation all the way down to our bones.  Our muscles contract, relax, and contract again to allow for movement.  Our bones need stimulation through activity to grow, but too much activity, and they crack (stress fracture, anyone?)  Our mind must be stimulated to grow.  Too little stimulation of the mind and we lose intelligence, too much stimulation and we shut down from stress.  Therefore, sometimes, you should know that YES, it is appropriate to go ahead and skip your workout.  Your body will be healthier for it.

When is taking a “skip” appropriate or necessary?

If you’re feeling overly tired, you’ve plateaued in your fitness progress, you’ve lost motivation, or you’re feeling achy, it might be time to exchange your next workout for a recovery session.  Here are a few of my favorite, scientifically backed ways to recover from a strenuous workout routine (like training for an endurance race) or from a challenging workout (like how I feel every time I lift weights. 🙂  )

  1. Take a day off of anything you’d label as exercise. Americans need to move more, but skipping a day or two of organized training/exercise is good for your body, mind, and spirit.  Your body takes this time to rebuild and repair muscles, your mind gets the day off of trying to figure out when, what, and how you’re going to exercise, and your spirit likes the freedom to just do what you like to do.  Yes, it’s ok to take your dogs for a leisurely stroll or play tag with your toddler, but don’t do anything strenuous like run, take Step, or hit the weights at least 1 day per week.  And, when you’re feeling achy, like your body is on the verge of injury or when you feel injured, a few days off is not going to hurt cardiovascular endurance, but it WILL allow your body to heal.
  2. Sleeping ALP 2016Get some extra sleep. The general recommendation for sleep for most adults is 7-8 hours per night, but if you’re regularly hitting the gym hard or you’re in your peak training weeks of your [insert any race/athletic event here]training plan or just pushed yourself through a particularly challenging workout, adding an extra 30-60 minutes of sleep will do wonders for your body.  During sleep, our body regroups and repairs.  We build and repair muscle, balance our hormones, fight any viral or bacterial invaders, and our brain relaxes and resets.  The extra ZZZs will leave you feeling healthy and more energized for the next day and be able to access the energy required for your next productive training session. Read more about sleep on Brittany’s post The A to ZZZs of Sleep.
  3. Kneed out your fascia! What’s fascia?  The fibrous, connective tissues that surrounds your muscles.  You might imagine it like a sausage casing.  It’s not as pliable as your muscles and when this fascia gets “stuck” and it feels “tight” - think I.T. Band or Plantar Fasciitis -,  pain and decreased range of muscle ensues.  Pain and less range of motion means that you’ll change your movement pattern - not helpful thing for efficiency, power, overall mobility, and speed and worst case, causes injury.  Myo Tools ALP 2016So, grab a torture device like a foam roller, tennis ball, The Stick, etc., and get to it.  Kai Wheeler’s how to videos are a great online resource, ask a personal trainer, and/or get a deep tissue or sports massage!  I cannot tell you how many times my tennis ball has saved my running career and my massage therapist is my go to for peak training and post-race recovery and, well, regular fitness instructor/triathlete body maintenance.  (Thanks Jennifer!)
  4. Bring on the ICE! Cryotherapy is coming up in the news lately as well as in the Exercise Science Journals.  What is it?  In simple terms, ice bathing.  Yes, you’re cringing right now, but hear me out.  A post-workout ice bath will help decrease inflammation, pain, and spasms and promotes healing through the process of blood vessel constriction during the cold and then the  vasodilation that occurs post ice bath which helps flush out metabolic waste .  Bonus benefits of ice baths: 1. They increase your tolerance for discomfort making you more resilient and confident when you’re pushing yourself to the next level athletically or otherwise.  Ice baths also promote brown fat generation – the fat that helps you stay warm and since warming is this fat’s job, the bi-product of the warming process is increased overall metabolism.  So how do you do it?  My personal method is to grab a bucket of ice and a sweatshirt.  Take a regular shower, then, at the end, slowly turn the shower to cold.  Once you stand under the cold for a minute or two, turn the shower into a bath and sit down in the cold tub.  At this point, put on the sweatshirt, tying it up so it doesn’t get wet.  Now, add ice and set the timer for 8-10 minutes.  This method makes it possible for me “mom” after my long runs, since lounging around post training is no longer an option with two little guys.  When I use ice and move around post hard training session, I recover more quickly, which brings us to….
  5. Wheel ALP 2016Get [lightly]active after a hard workout. That’s right.  It’s the last thing you want to do when it’s hard to sit on the potty after “leg day,” but EASY cardio actually helps you recover more quickly as it gets your blood flowing and allows your body to more quickly eliminate exercise induced waste products in your muscles and decreases inflammation.  My favorite active recovery workouts are anything in the water – swimming, water walking, aerobics, splashing around with my boys – and practicing yoga.  Make the workout in a cold pool and you’re golden!
  6. Stay hydrated. The feeling of depletion when you’re dehydrated is not fun, but when you’ve already pushed yourself to your limits, your body needs to be hydrated so your blood stream can clean and help you eliminate the waste products as a result of exercise. Sip up!  Water’s best unless you’re a heavy sweater or you’re participating in or you’ve just finished a workout session over an hour, especially in the heat. At that point, a sports beverage may be a better option to help you replenish electrolytes.  Check out Kelly’s Fuel Your Training post on how to make your own, healthy sports drink.
  7. Eat well. We talk about this a lot on this blog, but we can’t say it enough!  What you put in your mouth will affect your body and your athletic and mental performance.  Salmon and Greens ALP 2016When it comes to maximizing recovery, as tempting as it is to enjoy that post workout pizza and beer, you’ll feel much better and recover more quickly if you provide your body with the tools (protein, antioxidant-rich, colorful fruits, mineral rich veggies, and anti-inflammatory spices like cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric) to clean and repair. Imagine you need to fix a wobbly chair.  If you try to fix the chair with a fresh coat of paint, yes, it will be prettier, but without the proper tools it’s not going to stop wobbling.  You need a screw driver to tighten those wobbly legs.  Pizza and beer are yummy and will fill your belly, but they’re not necessarily providing you with all the nutrients you need to repair your muscles, build bone, and replenish your energy stores.  Read more about fueling pre, during, and post training on Kelly’s Fuel Your Training
  8. Manage stress. Overstressing your body with exercise and overstressing your mind with life does not make for great performance outcomes both in and out of the gym, so it’s ok to sometimes skip a workout to take care of business like getting your teeth cleaned, spending some much needed quality time with your spouse or family, or to just give yourself a break from your routine.  Coloring ALP 2016In addition, planned skips are also important to help stay motivated, refreshed and energized.  During planned “skips,” do something fun and/or completely new and different like watching a movie, reading a book, cooking a fancy meal from scratch, or crafting.  For Christmas, my husband bought me a coloring book and a beautiful set of colored pencils.  My sister also received a coloring book from a friend.  All three of us enjoyed sitting down and splashing colors throughout the pages over our winter break.  After an active year of triathlon training, running, and teaching, this quiet, still, internal time was just what we needed to rest and get excited about hitting the pavement again in January.

Yes, SOMETIMES, go ahead and skip your workout because SOMETIMES what your body, mind, and spirit needs most is rest.  The sometimes here is key.  I’m not saying that everyday should be a skip or even most days. In our technological society of ease and busy-ness, it can get tempting to skip workouts more often than not. Most days should include exercise and movement for our health.  Don’t take the skip when you’re feeling lazy, when movement will make you feel better physically or mentally, or when you don’t have a good reason to, but when you do, by all means, skip it!  Rest, recover, and then get right back to it!


Want to learn more?

  • The Performance Benefits of Beets
  • Beyond Training by #BenGreenfield
  • The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast
  • Sleep Smarter by #ShawnStevenson
  • The Model Health Show (Podcast) with Shawn Stevenson
  • Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance by Kelly Starrett  and Glen Cordoza
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About Author

Amanda Pack

Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator

Amanda received her Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Passionate about health and fitness, Amanda worked in the fitness and wellness industry for 6 years prior to joining the Recreation and Fitness Center team in 2011. At the RFC, she enjoys sharing her passion with the SAS Community through personal training, group exercise instruction, teaching yoga, and coaching recreational endurance athletes. A wife, working mother, triathlete, and yogini herself, wellness is an important theme in both her personal and professional life. Amanda is registered through Yoga Alliance as a 200 hour Yoga Teacher (RYT200), certified in personal training and group exercise instruction through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), and is an IRONMAN Certified Coach.

1 Comment

  1. Celeste Cooper-Peel, MA, MCHES, E-RYT, CWHC, CYT
    Celeste Cooper-Peel, MA, MCHES, E-RYT, CWHC, CYT on

    I totally agree. Listening to your body, providing mindful self-care and tapping into your creative spirit are part of holistic health and wellness. Love the tips. Thanks for sharing!

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