Two things I hate about working out: 1) The warm-up and 2) the cool-down.
It’s like I love the ham and cheese in the sandwich but not the bread (and thus, not a sandwich).
Clearly, you can see my dilemma. Not only are the warm-up and cool-down essential to performance, but without either one I can count on a fast trip to injury-ville. Since signing up for my first powerlifting meet two months ago, I’ve found myself in a state of disarray: injury, sickness, immense amount of stress, minimal sleep, poor diet. It’s like all my good habits went out the window the past two months, including my habit of warming up and cooling down effectively.
It was clear I needed to step up and make some changes before things came crashing down like it did for Britney Spears in 2007.
It occurred to me while listening to Dr. Scott-Dixon’s talk over at the Women’s Strength Summit that my biggest problem wasn’t a lack of training, effective warm-ups or cool-downs, but a lack of total mental and physical recovery.
“Aggressively chase your recovery.” – Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon
The woman has a point. Traditionally, we’ve broken up our workouts into three blocks: warm-up, the workout itself, and the cool-down. Boom, bang! You’re done. Proper training, however, doesn’t stop at the very last rep. Proper training actually begins at the end of your workout, and long after the cool-down.
Recovery is part of the training process, and it might be equally if not more important, than the workout itself given our modern lifestyle. When you think about it, we should do exactly as Dr. Scott-Dixon says and “aggressively chase our recovery” as much as we chase the next PR.
No doubt, proper nutrition, stress management and some mysofascial release are all an important part of recovery. But I’m not here to talk to you about what you already know. I knew these and yet my workouts were suffering anyway. At this point, I’ve taken more time off from my program than I’ve actually trained for my meet. And it sucks. But it left me wondering, what are the most critical components of recovery that I’m not considering?
The structured warm-up
Say what?! A warm-up is integral to the recovery process? You betcha!
Most of us (you know who you are) walk into the gym with a full program but zero clue how to warm-up. We might do a few leg swings, squats or walk on the treadmill and then just go for it. It’s not an awful way to warm-up but it’s not very good either.
Yet a structured warm-up gears you up for a better training session and a better recovery process overall because you’re actively engaging the right muscle groups, tendons and ligaments for your workout. Take squatting, for example. Many of us suffer from immobility or stiffness in the ankle joint, causing our squat to suffer in the parallel position. A structured warm-up ensures we not only activate our hips, glutes and quads for the bigger lifts ahead, but it can also address certain weaknesses in our kinetic chain. In this case, the ankles. Anytime you load a dysfunction (i.e. them tight ankles) you create more dysfunction. Make the warm-up as structured as the workout itself so you can move better during and recover better afterwards.
We nourish our bodies with food but what about our souls? The connection between our spiritual and physical state appears irrelevant, but if you want to perform your best soul nourishment will take you far. In an effort to grind and get sh*t done, I neglected everything my soul needed to be at my happiest and most vibrant. I stopped hanging out with friends. I didn’t call anyone to talk. My weekends were filled with studying, work, hours of training and education. Soon enough, everything that I used to enjoy felt like a chore including exercise, teaching classes, and writing lengthy blog posts.
As much as we need to eat well to stay healthy, we need to feed our souls to remain healthy as well. Don’t ignore the things your soul needs – sisterhood, laughter, quality time with friends. This is the stuff that a good life is made of!
Your soul matters – not just for training or balance, but for your sanity.
Movement and mobility
We can all agree that post-workout movement and mobility is important, can we not? How many of us skip it or cut it short anyway?
There are plenty of great resources like Doyogawithme.com and RomWod that guide us toward proper recovery. While we can’t always devote an hour a day to stretching and recovery, we can be more diligent and efficient about what we do post-workout and do it consistently. Here are some ideas to get you started:
– Develop a bedtime ritual of myofascial release (use a foam roller or lacrosse ball). Select 4 areas and roll for 1 min each. That will take 4-10minutes tops. For me it’s usually my serratus, my chest, glutes, and back.
– Develop a 5-minute flow ritual. To be completed either upon waking up before going to bed, create a 5-minute flow to open up your body and stretch. It doesn’t matter what it is or if it’s “yoga” or not – move the way your body needs to in that moment. Strength coach Max Shank’ #5minuteflow is an easy way to improve strength and flexibility in the least amount of time.
– Devote one day to active recovery – and actually do it. If you’re a lifter, going on a 6-mile hike is not a recovery. That still places stress on the body and that’s not helping you very much. Treat recovery the way it’s meant to – it should make your body feel better not tighter or more tired as a result. My go-to recovery method is light yoga and Pilates. I know that even with 30 minutes, my body will feel lighter and better than before.
There’s a huge mental element to training that we often overlook. How we approach the barbell, the lift or working out in general can inform us of how that lift or session will go. When our mind is cluttered and we’re distracted, it’s hard to focus on the workout. If the internal dialogue is chaotic, negative or self-depracating, our efforts are diminished. What we believe we create, and no where is that more true than in our workouts. Meditation clears our minds of the clutter and allows us to focus on the bigger picture. Things are clearer as a result. It’s also a huge stress reliever and once you start, you’ll grow addicted to the profound changes it creates within you. When my meditation practice is inconsistent, I feel off balance. But when I’m diligent about those 5-10 minutes a day of meditation, my energy shifts to calm; my mind is clearer, and I react peacefully to difficult people and situations. Meditation is exercise for the brain.
Good quality sleep
Sleep is like the new waist trainer for fat loss (except that it actually works). Researchers have gushed about the importance of sleep for years and it seems that the world is finally catching on to its benefits. I mention sleep because it is the most important part of your recovery. For real.
Noticed I’ve called this ‘good quality sleep’ over just sleep here. That’s because I know many of us go to bed early but we feel restless throughout the night. We may even rely on sleeping pills and alcohol to help us go to sleep but in the end, those things hold us back from high-quality sleep. If you’re constantly restless before bed, aim to shut off all screens, ditch the social media and build your ‘bedtime rituals’ with the movement suggestions above and maybe add in light meditation. Use light blocking window treatments, wear ear plugs, spray your pillow with lavender…whatever it takes to get you to doze off.
It’s easy to neglect recovery once we walk out of the gym, but this is when we should start thinking about it. When we approach recovery holistically and start incorporating these unconventional methods as methodically as we do our training, we can make leaps in our physical and mental wellbeing.