Fitness is the ability to do exercise, recover from the stress and strain, and then come back and do more work. Increases in fitness depend on adequate recovery after every exercise session. The main recovery period is the two hours straight after exercise, and the second recovery period is the next 24 hours after an exercise session.
If you exercise regularly but don’t seem to get any fitter, or you feel tired after an exercise session, or you often get ill, then have a good think about how you finish up each exercise or sports session. If you just plonk yourself down with a glass of beer or diet coke after a game of indoor netball, or head off to the showers straight after an aerobics class then you might be slowly wearing your body down rather than building up fitness.
You must have a recovery phase after every strenuous activity you undertake, and that recovery must start immediately you finish the main workout phase.
The first stage of your recovery phase is simply a continuation of your exercises but at a lower intensity. Slow walking or cycling on the exercise bike is the best thing for this first stage recovery. Walk forwards, backwards, and sideways, and keep walking until you’ve stopped sweating and your heart rate and breathing are back to normal. Rotate your shoulders and let your arms swing across your body and forwards and backwards.
If you’re a heavy sweater, take off your damp T-shirt and put on a dry T-shirt or sweatshirt. This will help prevent you from getting a muscle chill or stiff joints.
Once you’ve started to recover, the next thing you have do is to get all the grot (the metabolic wastes) out of your muscles and into your bloodstream and lymphatic system. They will be transported to the liver for re-processing or to the kidneys for elimination. You do this by elevating your limbs higher than your heart, and slightly stretching the muscles you used in your workout.
This recovery stretching is best done lying or sitting on the floor. Go until you feel a slight sensation of a stretch, and then hold that position until the feeling of the stretch disappears, about 20 to 30 seconds. Make a conscious effort to relax, and ease up on the stretch if the tightness in the muscle doesn’t go after 20 seconds.
- lie on your back and pull one leg at a time towards your chest to stretch the muscles at the back of your thigh (your hamstrings) and the back of your lower leg (your calves);
- raise both arms as high as you can above your head to stretch your arm muscles;
- lie on your side, bend one knee, hold the ankle, and pull the leg back and away from your buttocks to stretch the muscles on the front of your thighs;
- and finally, sit up and pull your arms back as far as they will go behind you. As an added benefit, you will improve your flexibility if you hold the position for another 10 seconds after the feeling of the stretch disappears. Don’t be tempted to pull back even more;
- just relax and let your body get used to the new position.
Once you’ve finished your recovery stretches, get up, and have a little walk around to give your circulation one more chance to flush out your muscles. Now you can have a shower or a drink — and don’t forget to eat some complex carbohydrates.
Match the recovery exercises to the muscles used during the conditioning phase. If you run, walk for your recovery. If you go to the gym, move the muscle you work on that day.
The higher the intensity, the longer the recovery phase. Keep the recovery going until you have stopped sweating and your heart rate is back to within 10 beats per minute of its normal resting rate.
A good indication that you skipped the recovery phase, or the recovery phase was inadequate, is a second flush of sweat two hours after an exercise session. Spend more time in your first stage recovery on low-intensity movements, and in the second stage recovery stretching.
Don’t have another similar exercise session until you have recovered from the previous session. Use cross-training principles to avoid injury and fatigue. This means that if you went for a run in the morning, do something different the next day and you’ll give your body the maximum time to recover.
Eat and Drink
Re-hydrate. Keep up your fluid levels before, during, and especially after exercise. Drink water, not de-hydrating caffeine drinks, sweet or salty drinks.
You must also replace the carbohydrates you used up in each exercise session. This doesn’t mean a Mars bar. The membranes of your muscles stay permeable to glycogen (the simple sugar that all carbohydrates are broken down into in your body) for the two hours after exercise. So in order to prevent muscle ongoing fatigue and to “prime” your muscles for the next exercise session, you must eat some food with complex carbohydrates within two hours of each session.
If you are exercising to reduce your level of body fat, plan your exercise session so that it falls just before you would normally have a meal. You’ll find that you won’t feel as hungry, and you’ll eat less!
Try exercising just before lunch, and then you’ll feel satisfied with just a salad and a piece of pita bread, or a whole-grain unsweetened muffin, or a half of a cob of corn, or an apple. The combination of light exercise, a good recovery phase, and a light lunch will give you the energy to power through the rest of the day!
Now that you can design your own Fitness Plan, and you know how important it is to prepare yourself for exercise and recover yourself after exercise.