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Reaching Athletic Goals: The Importance of Recovery

This article is part of a series focused on the extraordinary women that make up Team Brigham Health, a four person team of age 60+ women who are competing in the Race Across America. Over the next few months, we'll be bringing you stories from the team as they talk about the challenges they've overcome and what drove them to enter a 3,000 mile bicycle race.   

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It is not hard to see the advantages of working out.  Health and wellness rely on a body that is often in motion, and the emotional and physical wellbeing that results from exercising spurs people on to continue this lifestyle. 

Those who become bitten by the workout bug find ways to inject more exercise time into their lives, since working out makes them feel so good! Folks blessed with a bit of talent often choose to become competitive in their sport. They try to be faster every time they workout.  Stopwatches turned on, they are out the door to strive for another personal best. 

What Happens When We Train?

As coaches, we often say, “The more you do, the more you can do.”  The body is a marvelous creation that becomes progressively more efficient. In endurance sports, mitochondria are packed into muscles as the body adapts, increasing the ability to carry oxygen. The body can seemingly do more with less, and it also becomes better at recovering from athletic poundings.

Part of training the body to do “more” is tied into the body’s learning how to recover from “more.”  In the early phases of one’s athletic pursuit, adequate recovery comes with the territory. Workouts are generally short and likely not every day.  Once in competition, however, many athletes jump onto the “more IS more” bandwagon, training harder and longer.

Whether engaging in endurance sports, skill sports, weight lifting – or combinations of these, the body endures damage to the muscles and deficits to its systems. The body’s reaction is a miraculous rebuilding which, ideally, brings its systems to an even stronger status quo. Getting faster and stronger is a byproduct of the rebuilding, but this healing takes time and happens most effectively when the body is resting.

Some athletes brag about never taking a day off. While they think this strategy gives their workouts even more importance, these athletes are ignoring a critical equation.  Workouts + recovery = training.  Without recovery, workouts are simply workouts. 

What Makes Us Stronger?

Repairs to the body are best done while resting, since more of the body’s energy systems are available for that purpose. Once recovered, the body feels GOOD, and a body that feels good is going to be able to push the envelope in training to induce the processes that propel the body to the next level. Train while too tired and those numbers are not going to be reached.  Race while too tired and the results are discouraging, at best.  Skimping on the recovery part of the equation limits one’s potential by increasing fatigue and the chance for injury and illness.  The motivation to improve must fuel the desire to rest as much as the desire to work out.

What Helps the Body to Recover?

There are many tactics to help the body to recover. Here are some of them:

  • A strategically placed day off works wonders, but at times, a complete week devoted to recovery is in order.
  • A workout schedule that peppers easier days between the hard days is smart, provided the easier days are actually easy! 
  • Immediate nutrition and rehydration after a hard workout is an important follow-up to adequate nutrition and hydration during the workout. Avoid falling into preventable deficits in these areas for optimal recovery.
  • Stretching and meditation can help bring the body back to a calmer place.
  • Chilling out – meaning doing nothing – can have a huge impact. 
  • SLEEP!  There are hosts of metabolic processes that happen while asleep, yet athletes often cheat themselves out of this valuable time.

So many good coaches agree on this: You can work out hard and long, but you will never be as good as you could have been if you do not take the time to recover.  

*To support these extraordinary women, visit the team's fundraising page.