‘My idea is that first of all the players need to recover and then to train’ – Claudio Ranieri.
At the time of writing this post, Leicester City FC are leading the English Premier League. In footballing terms, their rise from the bottom position of the table a year ago, avoiding relegation and now to be top of the league, is the stuff of fairy tales. Commentators, journalists and pundits have discussed, debated and argued over their rise and the means by which they have done it. At the heart of the team’s success is their manager, Claudio Ranieri, a true gentleman of the game.
Last weekend I was listening on the radio to the build-up of a match and the subject of Leicester’s miraculous season was brought up again. Only this time I heard something new in the conversation. The panel were discussing what they, for the best part, regarded as something novel in Ranieri’s coaching methods- that he placed a greater emphasis on recovery than he did on training.
This got me thinking, not simply because I happen to agree with Ranieri’s approach, but because our default mind-set tends to be that in order to achieve something we need to work harder or work smarter. Yet how often do we rest harder, how often do we recover smarter?
The case for (more) rest and recovery
Exercise and movement exert stress on the body, and the extent to which they do is down to a number of factors, including the following:
- existing level of fitness;
- current volume of training;
- current nutrition and hydration levels;
- one’s mental and emotional state;
- the intensity of the session; and
- the amount and quality of rest and recovery beforehand and afterwards.
For the best part exercise related stress, the physical stress our body is placed under is very beneficial to us. It can help regulate energy balance, minimise or offset the potential adverse effects of lifestyle related illnesses and conditions, and elevate mood and metabolic processes to name but a few advantages.
However too much exercise, combined with inadequate rest and recovery, can lead to a host of problems in it’s own right. If you’re already feeling the effects of another stress on your body (eg: from illness) then, depending on the choice, duration and intensity of exercise, the stress effect of exercise could cause suppression of not only the exercise recovery process but the illness recovery process as well. The overall recovery time is increased despite best intentions to create the opposite outcome. Fatigue, susceptibility to illness, sleep, posture, diet – essentially your entire well-being – could all become compromised through this approach. To help make a further distinction on the matter it may be useful to think of your exercise sessions with respect to whether one is at the risk of ‘over-reaching’ or ‘over-training’.
Over-reaching versus Over-training
Over-reaching is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s more likely the result of one or two sessions for which the intensity was not best aligned with ability at that precise time. Over-reaching tends to be acute in duration. Over-training though is something you probably want to avoid. This occurs when there is a constant pushing of limits, when one may be ignoring the body’s warning signs. Over-training is chronic in nature and duration and this can have adverse health implications, especially when it comes to our immune system.
The graph below, taken from an excellent article “Working Out When Sick” by Precision Nutrition, shows the relationship between infection (in this case upper respiratory tract infections) and exercise volume.
Essentially some exercise is better than none or too much when considering the effects on the immune system. This isn’t to say that you can’t have an intense exercise session. Rather it’s important to ensure you have a strong rest and recovery protocol in place to compliment it.
My exercise rest and recovery strategy
With my own training I presently exercise on two consecutive days and then have a day off. At first glance I have a 2:1 work:recovery ratio, hardly in keeping with the content of this post. However, in terms of days, I actually have a 1:2 work:recovery ratio. How so? I do this by training between, for example, 8am and 9am on Day 1, and then between 7am and 8am on Day 2. With Day 3 as a rest day, and knowing that I will train again at 8am on Day 4, I’ve given myself a 48-hour period of recovery. In my two training sessions there is only one exercise that I incorporate into my plan for both days, so even within my sessions I vary my routine to assist with recovery. Why? The reasons are that I want to be able to train injury-free, for my training to be effective, and in line with my current goals. Right now this strategy works for me. At the end of this month I will take a week away from my physical training to allow my body to have time for further repair and growth. I also monitor my Heart Rate Variability (I’ll be posting on this in the near future) on a daily basis so that I can address any unexpected variances that may otherwise impair my rest and recovery.
Within each session I’ve one eye on my goals for that session and one eye on rest and recovery. Here’s some of the strategies I use:
- I always turn up with a pre-written plan of the session. For me, I’ve started training the moment I’ve committed the plan to paper as I try to internalise the plan.
- I run through a series of fascial mobilisers at the outset of the session to check in and see how my body wants to move in the here and now. With this feedback I can decide whether my plan is line with my body. If not, I adjust where necessary.
- Within the session if I feel I need a longer rest between sets then I take it. I don’t compromise quality or technique over time.
- I always perform a cool down, either stretches, use of a vibration plate/platform and/or a walk afterwards.
- I eat as soon as is practical after my training. (I personally find it difficult to take on nutrients when training and so prefer to simply have water.)
The emphasis of this post has been more on the physical aspect of performance yet the principles can be applied to most endeavours. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve solved a matter that was challenging me when I’ve not been consciously working on it, when I’ve stepped away from it. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. I take regular breaks when I study. In writing this post I’ve taken a break from it several times. I’ve gone from the physical (note taking) to the digital (computer) and back again throughout the process of creating it, allowing the rest from one medium to inspire the work on the other.
Do plan appropriate rest and recovery into your work and I’m sure you’ll be more energised, productive and happier with your subsequent achievements. So far at least, it’s working for Claudio and his team too!