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The Missing Link: Rest and Recovery to Improve Fitness Performance

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 1

 A new training year is about to begin and with rest and recovery being placed within the training yearly phases, you are  able to complete the fitness program and prepare for the last stages of competition. The amount of effort in the daily fitness program has to equal the time spent on rest and recovery or  eventually you may only sustain sub par performance.

Physical Performance

When you complete a physical fitness program on a daily basis, stressors occur to the body that effect it physiologically and psychologically. Physical fitness program design helps the body be able to adopt to these stressors.  Over the training time the body will adapt to the fitness program and then it becomes time to apply a higher intensity and duration to meet this imposed demand. When this imposed demand  is only met with  some rest and recovery, performance can decrease, or you might plateau.  This is where you are only making small changes in your performance and where you might realize that a boundary exists and passing by each time without rest and recovery has placed  you at risk for illness and/or injury. This illness is a result of the immune system being compromised because of not enough rest, and injury from the stresses on the soft tissues of the body. Overuse of the body is a result of improper rest and recovery.  Being tired and practicing at a lower level of intensity and duration , undertraining could be occurring. This is when you train at this lower level of intensity and duration, and you are slowly progressing. The rest and recovery within the fitness program is not being addressed in the program design to support any of the performance increasing. Over time, an imbalance occurs and  this could  lead you into pushing harder.  The longer this occurs, the result being an overtraining situation which puts stress on physiological and psychological systems. Overtraining can have a major impact on overall training components and healing of this condition can take from a few weeks to months to return the body to normal status.


Characteristics of this condition:

Psychological Components:

  • Lacking energy to get up and go
  • Concentration levels are  reduced especially during practice/competition
  • Irritable or anxious
  • Depressed state of mind
  • Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep

Physical Symptoms:

  • Heart rate raised after practice/competition
  • Minor infections occur more often than usual
  • Minor injuries increasing
  • Joints and muscle soreness becomes chronic
  • Feeling of exhaustion
  • Performance times and/or distances are decreasing

First Step

Noticing these symptoms as they occur can delay their onset, before they become chronic is the first step in preparing to succeed. Place rest and recovery in the physical fitness program  when workouts are moderate to the vigorous categories. This can prepare you for the next workout, depending on whether you have had proper rest and recovery.   

Rest and Recovery

The two methods of rest and recovery begin with long-term recovery and  its basis is the training year. Long-term recovery breaks down to the smaller phases within short-term recovery (active recovery).  The intensity and duration of the fitness program will be key factors that lead into what active recovery phases are used in the rest and recovery program. Depending on whether a full body workout occurs versus specific body areas (back, triceps) you could potentially only need one day of recovery. Two or more days of recovery can occur when factors of hydration,  food status, sleep patterns, and emotional awareness are in need, because of vigorous intensity and long duration.

Active Recovery

This immediate term recovery also known as active recovery, since you are completing tasks that aid in getting you back to the next workout. To keep track of how rest and recovery are  assisting your performance, a written record on the physiological and psychological limits during training are helpful. In a calendar place into each date what type of training you complete each day. Also, write down time of day and what the environmental conditions were.  Check heart rate when you first wake up and before training to get an idea of how your heart is responding to your program. Ask yourself how you are feeling depending on how hard the intensity and duration have been before. Using a numerical or alphabetic system to write in what you complete is a great benefit. When you do, you can check what your program has been and you can make adjustments at practice to better those limits of intensity and duration. A positive fitness program level can lead into positive adherence to completing your physical fitness program, with equal rest and recovery techniques.   

Physiological Rest and Recovery Techniques

Fluid Replacement: An idea is to weigh in the morning after awaking and before your first meal. That way you know what amount of fluid loss can occur during the day. The next time to weigh is before practice/competition and after practice/competition to see the amount of fluid lost. Begin replacing fluid as soon as you can, before dehydration can set in. During the off-season you can test out how much fluid loss occurs and how much time you need to replenish.  This testing during the off-season can lead to better performance during the season, since you have taken the time to figure how the body can respond.

When the intensity is moderate to vigorous, and duration is longer than sixty minutes, consider replacing fluid loss with a carbohydrate that you can digest without discomfort. Depending on whether you are at practice or competition, keep track of the measure you take in and how you are receiving recovery. Balance with fluid loss and gain to stay properly hydrated. Water is usually the main focus when it comes to rehydrating, with alternatives from sports drinks to a good choice in chocolate milk.

Which ever you decide to pick, make sure you pace the rate of fluid recovery on the intensity and duration of the activity.

Fueling the Body

An important part to consider is nutrient timing when fueling the body. The main nutrients are carbohydrates and proteins and these need  to be taken within thirty to forty-five minutes after ceasing activity. Eating a small amount a complex carbohydrate  (i.e., whole-wheat bagel) and adding a protein (i.e., peanut butter) followed with a sports drink can enhance recovery. Plan on eating at least as many times it takes to keep the body's fuel moving at a steady pace with the intensity and duration that your  in. Weigh yourself when you sense that you might be gaining or losing weight to quickly. A better method of watching your weight is to track performance in your activities sheet to see how well you are doing. A drop in the level of performance can lead you to adjust when its time to get calories needed .

Once you complete the fitness program for the day and have begun recovery, it is the next few hours that are also vital. Keep up with a ratio of 2,3,4 complex carbohydrates to 1 protein that you can functionally digest to receive the energy lost. As with what you did in fluid replacement; test how well you respond to specific foods while in the off-season. This will aid you in knowing how much you are able to eat without discomfort when the pre-season and in-season physical fitness training are underway.

 Training with a Different Emphasis

During this rest and recovery phase of training it is time to turn to alternative fitness movements and  attempt other activities. Using other muscles that you normally don't use is the idea behind this training. The main thought is to enjoy the movements that you are doing and not to get caught up with doing specific muscular movements. This can lead the body to rest the prime mover muscles that you are consistently putting under stress. With these new movements happening, other muscles that don't normally get movement at this level will now be the prime movers. This leads into muscle balance with rest and recovery occurring for the muscles that primarily move during practice/competition.


A) Ice Bath: prepare the mind to enhance recovery from the stresses on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  The idea behind this is inflammation is setting in and without recovery, it can take longer than needed. You are able to get back to your fitness regimen in better time to then workout vigorously. The temperature range is about fifty degrees to about sixty degrees farenheit. The ideal time when you step is in the range of five to ten minutes, or when you think you have been in long enough. Constriction of blood vessels and the flushing of waste products is key to this recovery technique.

B) Contrast Water Therapy:  This therapy is where you go between cold water and hot water within a few minutes of each of these. Start in the cold medium for the first minute at about fifty to sixty degrees fahrenheit.  Then into the hot water medium of ninety-eight to one-hundred four degrees fahrenheit, for about two minutes. Make sure to hydrate properly with this therapy, since you are moving between two temperature extremes.

C) Cool Water Bath: This is an alternative for you depending on how well you tolerate the ice or hot water mediums. The temperature is around seventy-five degrees farenheit, which is higher than the previous two processes. The time limit in this bath is as long as you are receiving recovery which is enhancing performance. Balance the time spent in this bath and how many other recovery techniques you can carry out into the rest and recovery program. Again, hydrate with this medium to enhance the fluid replacement due to the time in the water.

 Self-Massage Foam Rollers

This can aid in rejuvenating muscle and  reduce  swelling.  The pressure brought upon placement of the body can break up adhesions within the muscle fibers, as well as help circulation of the blood to remove wastes and decrease inflammation.

Helpful tips on when using foam rollers:

  1. Begin within fifteen minutes of completion of the activities of practice/competition
  2. Start movement at the middle of the body and go to the extremities
  3. While rolling-watch body placement
  4. Move over the trigger site while holding yourself up
  5. Add weight as needed by placing one leg on the other

The areas that might need emphasis for this are the legs, back, and upper and lower shoulders.

Foam Roller Areas

  • Glutes/Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Iliotibial Band
  • Calf muscles
  • Upper Back (Trapezius)
  • Latissimus Dorsi/Triceps/Teres Major

Getting Back to Basics

This part might seem more time-consuming then you would like to give it, but it  is actually very important. Stretching during the cool-down phase affects the muscles because they are still warm which assists in more elasticity to the tissue.  Be aware of balancing the stretch on each side; dominant side versus the non-dominant side. No pain, no gain is a myth especially here. Tension is the point where you go slowly while exhaling. Stretching takes from fifteen to forty-five seconds, which  may seem like a long time, but the muscles need that time to elongate and then move back to their original position. The movement being slow and controlled leads to rest and recovery of the prime movers, as well as secondary muscles.

 Improvements that can occur from stretching are:

  1. Circulation of blood vessels enhanced
  2. The range of motion around joints assists in keeping them limber
  3. The main muscles of posture relax
  4. Rest and recovery enhance  since tension is reduced

Recommended Stretches for upper and lower body

  1. Shoulders/Chest: Standing with your back  and  your head against the wall. Feet flat on the floor with the heel also on the wall. Shoulders turned out with forearms and back of hands on back of wall. Elbows at a ninety-degree angle, begin slowly lifting the back of the hand on the wall until you feel tension in the shoulders and the chest. Breathing out,  hold this in place and slowly return to original position.
  2. Upper Back/Rear Shoulders: Standing with legs shoulder width apart, grasp left hand on right elbow. Slowly pull with the left hand on the elbow until a point of tension, then return to original position. Now do the opposite side.
  3. Hip Flexor: Standing with legs shoulder width apart, grasp the right ankle with the right  hand and slowly bring the foot toward the glutes. Hold your chest up and slightly bend the opposite leg while holding the stretch. Return to starting place and do the other leg.
  4. Quadriceps: Begin laying on the left side and grasp the right ankle with your right hand. As you bend the knee, lift the knee slightly to keep inline with the hip. Watch your back to keep it aligned with the abdominals that are assisting the hip. Return to original position and do the other side.
  5. Calf: Begin with legs shoulder width apart and step back with your right foot until you can place the heel flat and opposite knee is directly over left ankle. Move the leg back depending on how the calf muscle feels as you are getting a stretch.  Return to original position and do the opposite leg.  

The relaxation techniques take time for the mind and body to adapt. Give yourself time to learn and reflect on these different techniques. You might find one that really works well and as you progress, change how you approach each of these specific techniques to make sure you receive the best from rest and recovery.

 All the stress of the body adds up depending on how approach the psychological process of the fitness program. During the rest and recovery phase  you will need to think on how these methods can help you on completing your goals. These mind recovery techniques are able to aid your recovery to the greatest opportunity of obtaining a restful night of sleep. These techniques can help in overall rest and recovery:

  • Pressure in the blood vessels reduced
  • Rate of pulse begins to descend
  • Respiration rate begins to slow down
  • Relaxation of muscles and in turn the nervous system is positively effected

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Within this framework of muscles relaxing, be sure to breathe as you move through this recovery mode. Position your body where you can sit or lay down without undue stress (noise, light) around you. Beginning at the head, tense the muscles of the forehead and face and hold for ten to fifteen seconds. Once you have finished the head move to the neck and so on in a progressive way until you reach the feet. All the while,  concentrating on those specific muscles while inhaling  and exhaling.

Deep Breathing

This continuous movement from (PMR) can occur there or you can find a specific time to do this during practice or competition. This can also occur during any time that you sense a stress response occurring. Begin taking a breath through the nose for five to seven seconds and hold the breath from seven to ten seconds. Release the breath slowly through rounded lips for at least seven to ten seconds.


This is when a specific thought process occurs now and where you focus on what is happening, at a point of practice or competition that can help you in making a specific goal obtainable. Find a place where your thought process is clear and you aren't disturbed. In a relaxed place with eyes closed and thinking about where you have been so far, think of where you would like the practice or competition to go. Once the mind is there, give yourself at least fifteen to twenty minutes to concentrate on this goal, and then slowly begin to awaken.


This takes thought and action on your part, as in reviewing how the training phases are working. Once the review is finished,  write what is working and what might need modifying. Then approach  from the changed perspective and then note any changes that might be occurring. This change might take a while to accommodate to, but as long as you give this time you are successful.


 As you continue with other techniques, this one is important because as you show on your fitness program, this method of journalism can enhance training even more. Depending on your training and the successes you are having, you can check what you have completed during each day. With this knowledge,  you can change intensity, duration, or rest and recovery. Encouraging thoughts can also be written in as a motivating factor when it comes to those days where you might need a pick me up, and then notice how well the training program is succeeding.

Mental Imagery

This technique can occur at any place depending on what the situation is. Sometimes a quiet place   for this can be used as you move through practice or competition. This takes mental energy with eyes closed and on what goal you are considering. You place yourself at a scene of where this is taking place, and then you walk your way to each place at a specific time. Now that you imagine yourself there, and with each step taken,  you are successful while imaging along with deep breathing. 


  • The most important part in a training schedule
  • Maintain the same time for sleep and then awaking
  • A fifteen to twenty-five minute nap is helpful when needed
  • * Average seven and one-half to nine hours of sleep*

These relaxation and rest methods can lead to a  much-needed night of sleep. Growth hormone which occurs during deep sleep, helps muscle to grow and repair the tissue that has undergone specific stresses. While that occurs, the bone building process also occurs thus culminating into muscle and bone able to recover and you being ready for the next strenuous workout.


1. Effect of incorporating low intensity exercise into the recovery period after a rugby match; British Journal of Sports Medicine; 2004;38; 436-440.

2. Effects of active recovery on plasma lactate and anaerobic power following repeated intensive exercise; Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise;1996;28-4; 450-456

3. Effects of Active Recovery on Lactate Concentration, Heart Rate and RPE in Climbing;Journal of Sports Science and Medicine;2006-5; 97-105




















Feb 22, 2016 11:39am
easily the best article of the decade. love it
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