The importance of recovery
Recovery is something overlooked by a lot of people when planning their training. Without effective recovery from training you are leaving your body prone to injury and missing out on training gains.
Recovery is talked about in 2 contexts, the immediate recovery between sets and the recovery between training days. In the immediate sense you are restoring your energy stores and removing the waste products of exercise. In longer term recovery you are allowing the micro tears to heal, new bone to form and muscles to develop. Basically reaping the benefits of your exercise!
One of the models of training is the supercompensation theory. This outlines that after exercise you are temporarily tired and your performance drops but then with the right recovery and correctly timed training, your body then adapts to beyond it's previous ability. However if you don't recover properly then apply a new stimulus by training again, you miss out on this effect as displayed in the graph below:
I see a lot of injured people who don't take their recovery seriously and end up with me. By giving your body rest you allow it to adapt to the training stress you're doing. Unless you are an elite level athlete with their time to rest between sessions and full time commitment to exercise you DO NOT need to exercise every day! If you are exercising over 5x per week you will need a good structure to your training to ensure you're not stressing the same muscles/systems each time so you can rest one area whilst training another.
Recovery encompasses many systems; the muscles and joints are the obvious one but your nervous system, hormones and cardiovascular system needs time to reset too to optimise your performance. Part of recovery is time to rest/reset but you also have to make sure your diet is supporting your training. If you don't you are exposing yourself to injury, exhaustion and illness which can lead to syndromes such as the female triad and overtraining.
Signs that you are under recovered/overtraining:
Increased muscle tension
Injuries/pain when training
To maximise your freshness for exercise and avoid overtraining you should look at an overview of your week/month and plan in rest days alongside your tougher sessions. You should have a mix of super tough sessions and lighter days rather than going hard all the time. Recovery days whether that's doing nothing or going for a gentle walk/stretching should be taken as seriously as training days. I like to plot my patients weeks out marking out the super tough sessions in red as in this spreadsheet:
This is in comparison to the Insanity workout which would look like this if you put in the maximum effort they would suggest you should each time:
Workouts like insanity I liken to the 'crash diets' of exercise. Yes you may get initial results but they are not sustainable. If you trained this hard all the time you will soon find yourself running into trouble with injuries and start getting less out of your training. By maximising your recovery you will find your progress remains consistent as well as regular.
Make sure you have some down time in your week
Keep your nutrition in line with your training to ensure you are eating enough to support the training you're doing
Keep a note of how you're feeling throughout the week, if you're noticing you're not feeling strong during your sessions your recovery might not be adequate
Drink lots of water - comes in to a lot of advice guides as it really does help on a lot of levels, in this sense it helps flush the waste products of exercise out
Baths with ice or warm baths with epsom salts can help speed up recovery and prevent muscle soreness
Baechle, TR and Earle, R., (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. 3rd Ed. Champaign.IL: Human Kinetics.
Bompa, T. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics (2001)
Knapik, J. J. (2015). Extreme Conditioning Programs: Potential Benefits and Potential Risks. Journal of Special Operations Medicine : A Peer Reviewed Journal for SOF Medical Professionals, 15(3), 108–13. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26360365