Recover better to perform better
Written by Rebecca from Way Up Fitness

When training people physically, you could argue that they can be broken down into two distinct groups; people that like to stay in their comfort zone, and people that like to be uncomfortable.

Physical adaptation occurs when your body is challenged in new ways. When it experiences stimuli it has never encountered before. It grows and changes, gets stronger and faster and enhances it’s ability to be resilient, only when it is forced into situations where it becomes uncomfortable.

Every system in your body, no matter how micro, or macro that system may be, works in a continuum of performance and recovery.
All of your systems, including you as an entire being, require a refractory period, where it can recover from the stimulus that has been applied to it. This is a fundamental principle of human physiology (change) and performance alike.

Training your ability to recover, in the same way as you train your ability to perform will result in a large increased overall training performance, and will allow your body to make the changes that you train for. You have to assume that if you aren’t able to fully switch yourself off, then inherently you will lack the ability to fully switch yourself on. You will exist somewhere in the purgatory between your performance ceiling and floor, never quite being able to reach either.

Whilst there are many strategies you can employ to improve your ability to recover from exercise, ranging from smaller interventions to help you recover from, for example an interval run, before you commence your next run 30 seconds later, to recovery from long weeks of training and workload.

Here are some examples:

  1. Learning how to diaphragm breathe properly and use it to aid in affecting the parasympathetic nervous system (think the de-stress part of your nervous system).
  2. Learning 3 stage breathing (breathe ups) to once again affect the parasympathetic nervous system.
  3. Get more sleep.
  4. Eat a better diet.
  5. Improve the quality of your soft tissues (trigger point and foam rolling work)
  6. Stretch.
  7. Visualization of the next performance you are about to embark upon.
  8. Meditation.

To gain precise control of a system that functions linearly, only two points of control are required; a braking system, and an accelerating system. Your nervous system essentially features this in the form of sympathetic innervation (think high performance requirements, but also situations of constant stress and failure to relax and recover) and as mentioned, para-sympathetic innervation (the opposite of sympathetic). Like anything, your ability to gain a measure of control over these systems is trainable.

In the life you lead when you aren’t looking to improve your performance physically, the ability to engage your para-sympathetic system is critical. Anyone experiencing constant self described high stress environments, poor sleep, fogginess of thinking or constant sub-par performance socially and professionally, will find that utilizing techniques to improve recovery and mindfulness (presence) will begin to improve the afflictions listed above.

Having an addiction to past evaluations as opposed to a present one, is a cognitive bias which severely affects your ability to continue to grow and outperform your prior self. Changing your mindset around what performance is fundamentally, and approaching it from a new angle, could well prove to be the silver bullet cure you are looking for. By simply taking a few deep breathes into your belly (diaphragm breathing) and returning to the present moment and choice, you will begin to experience the impact the para-sympathetic nervous system can have on your social, professional and training goals.

Try the following;
Hold your palms in front of you, fingers facing up, a few centimeters apart, shoulders relaxed. Now breathe in, while gently expanding your fingers putting your mind on all your fingers. Your breath and mind should softly shoot to the end of your fingers. This inhalation is slow and purposeful, gently pulling oxygen into the bottom of your belly, about 5 centimeters below your navel, then moving that energy from here to your fingers. Once complete, gently exhale and release your fingers. Let your mind fall asleep. Relax your hip joints and let everything relax into soft, quiet awareness. Once exhalation is complete, re-energize and begin again. Do this for a minute, and see how you feel.