Serious athletes, stay-at-home parents, busy executives and most other mortals succumb to the effects of under-recovery from time to time. Under recovery is slightly different than overtraining. Most non-athletes would have a hard time achieving “textbook” overtraining syndrome since it’s difficult to achieve the high training volumes related to overtraining.
Under-recovery may be related to training volume, but often is a result of poor lifestyle and nutrition choices, which compete against the effects of an intense training program. Not surprisingly, the symptoms are very similar and stem from an excessive level of stress compared to the ability to recover from it.
See if you can relate to any of the signs below, and if so, make a point of re-assessing as part of your recovery plan. After all, the value of a workout isn’t just what you do during your training. The real benefit comes from recovering afterwards, as your body gets stronger, faster, leaner and healthier.
1. Workouts seem more like work than training
It can be easy to ignore what your body is trying to tell you during a workout and embody a “push through it” mentality. While it works once in a while, it can also work against you when it comes to your workouts.
If we listen to our bodies, they usually let us know when something isn’t right. If the excitement is gone from your workouts, it could be a sign that you’re not recovering from them.
Don’t use that as an excuse to stop exercising. Instead, you may need to rethink your training program, change it, or address what’s going on between your training sessions.
Most people keep doing the same workouts week after week until they get injured or bored. Then they stop for a while, gain some fat, lose some muscle, and then start up again with the same program.
Periodization is the most important part of seeing continued improvements with workout programs. It’s also important for avoiding boredom.
Periodization involves looking at each year and putting together 6-12-week cycles of training. It’s a core principal in personal training program design.
Exercises, sets, reps, body part splits, rest periods and modifying the combination of strength and cardiovascular training should all be part of an annual plan.
If workouts feel more like work, connect with a fitness professional to work on a complete, long-term program.
2. You’re weaker from week-to-week with the same movements
Do you want to know a secret that is almost guaranteed to get you better results from your training than 99% of people who exercise? Write down every workout.
I’m always amazed by how few people write down their workouts. The only way to get stronger is to push yourself beyond what is done in the past. The only way to remember the weight, sets and reps you did the previous workout is to write them down.
Each workout, you can look back at what you did the previous workout and know that you need to do better than before.
Most people will see continued improvements for 6-12 weeks and then they plateau or regress. If they regress sooner, it can be that they they’re not recovering between workouts. If the plateau occurs in the 6-12-week timeframe, it may be time to change up the training program.
If you don’t write down your workouts, you won’t know whether you’re hitting a plateau or not.
When you see that your progress has stalled, connect with a fitness professional (if you’re not already working with one) and discuss whether you’re under-recovering, or if it’s just time to change up your program.
3. You’re sore all the time
Are you sore, or do you hurt?
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is expected during the first couple weeks of a new training program, and even once in a while throughout a training cycle.
Muscle soreness for a day or two is uncomfortable, but probably isn’t a sign that you’re under-recovered. If you want to avoid the irritation curcumin was shown to help alleviate DOMS.[i]* Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, also help maintain normal inflammation response.*
Sufficient protein intake is also critical to provide the building blocks for your muscles to recover. Each meal should include a serving or two of protein throughout the day. You may also benefit from some supplemental protein powder or amino acids.
If you hurt, you may have something else going wrong. Joint pain is a sign that you may be training too often, using poor exercise technique, or simply using exercises you shouldn’t. Don’t ignore joint pain.
You don’t want to be forced to take time off due to an injury. Curcumin may help with some of the soreness, but you should also connect with a fitness professional to modify your training program, and possibly a physical therapist or chiropractor to see if you have or on the path toward an injury.
4. Your spouse or friends keep asking what’s wrong with you
Do you feel blue? Do you get the motivation to push through a great work out and spend the rest of the day in a state of melancholy?
You may be using up your reserves during your training, leaving little energy to get through the rest of the day.
The first thing to determine is whether or not you’re getting enough protein and total calories. Too often, people train like maniacs and cut way back on their calorie intake in hopes of getting leaner faster. It’s counterproductive.
Don’t take that as an excuse to have a gluten-free bagel-eating contest. But, realize that you can’t constantly eat in a chronic calorie or protein deficit, and expect to recover between training sessions.
Some people benefit from fewer carbs in their diet, but if your training intensity is high, you may need to slightly increase your carb intake. Most people don’t fare well on a high-intensity or high-volume training program while following an extremely low carbohydrate diet.
A small amount of quality carbs after training can make a big difference. Keep in mind that “lower” carb does not mean “no” carb. If you train hard or train frequently you’re probably better off including some wholesome carbs like rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes around your training sessions will likely improve your recovery and support better resilience over time, which is the goal, right?
Beyond calorie intake, be sure you’re using a high-quality multivitamin to optimize micronutrient intake, and managing stress in your personal and professional life.
5. You Toss and Turn at Night
A lack of quality sleep is very stressful. On the other hand, excessive stress makes it difficult to sleep at night, which means you can end up in a downward spiral.
If you normally sleep okay, and notice that your sleep is more disrupted, or that you’re having a hard time falling asleep, it may be related to your body being unable to combat the stress from exercise and life.
As mentioned above, a restricted diet can be a major stress on the body. You may be able to deal with it for a while, but long-term calorie restriction can become quite stressful on the body. Physique competitors and bodybuilders consistently experience sleep problems as they near the end of contest prep.
The same thing can happen from calorie-restriction, even if you have no interest in single-digit body fat levels. Don’t look at this as a license to overeat. If you suspect poor sleep might be due to calorie restriction, work with a coach to either gradually increase intake to reduce your daily calorie deficit or trial periodic “refeeds” or higher calories days to get a reprieve form dieting.
Also, try improving your sleep environment. Keep the temperature in the 60s at night. Get rid of any extra light and try to keep your room as quiet as possible.
You can also consider some supplements that support sleep, such as Restore PM Complex or magnesium. Diffusing essential oils may also be helpful.
Chances are, if your sleep improves, your recovery will as well. Just don’t look at supplements alone as the solution to better sleep long-term. You must address nutrient deficiencies, excessive stress and at times, excessive exercise.
Your body is an amazing machine. If you pay attention to what it’s telling you, you can reduce the chance of injury and maximize the results you’re looking for.
– Written by Flourish staff
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.