Snapshot of Takeaway Points
- How to use grip strength to test day to day readiness
- 8 recovery options to improve your training results
- Yin & Yang must be balanced to make optimal progress
Throughout my years of coaching and consulting I’ve seen plenty of people who train hard but rarely someone that recovers hard. If you don’t have anything to recover from but spend plenty of time making a permanent dent in your sofa then you need to assess your life choices. As always, it’s all about balance; yin versus yang.
Inadequate recovery can lead to a plateau in fat loss, strength or building muscle mass. Fatigue can mask fitness but also eventually it can stop progress. Instead of going one step back and two steps forward, you’re going one back and one forwards. You feel like you’re moving towards your goal because you’re doing the right things. Or are you?
How do you know if you’re not recovering?
Grip strength decrease
After speaking with Dr Peter Lundgren, he believes grip strength will decrease when in an under-recovered state due being one of the few muscles that can activate closest to 100% of 1RM. It also has a lot of real estate on the brain if you consider the amount of nerves in the hands cover a large area on the brain. Small muscles when weak will show up earlier and easier which is why it is great to use. The grip test is something the Russians have been using for years because it’s quick, easy and accurate.
I recommend clients to grip plates before loading them onto the bar or you can simply pick up a set weight and gauge how it feels. For instance if I’m testing a certain lift I’ll grab a 25kg bumper plate in one hand. If it feels like I could load into the bar in one hand I’m on for a good workout. If it feels like it could slip and drop onto my ‘t-ingers’ then PB lifts aren’t on the menu today!
Body weight decrease
This will be a more drastic decrease over a short period without actually searching for a weight loss result. You’ll likely be losing body weight from muscle mass and not fat loss in this instance which is why your strength will be dropping.
Blood pressure increase
This will come about due to an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity which increases secretions of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress related hormones. These hormones can cause vasoconstriction and a heart rate increase which then affects the blood pressure increase. I see it with a lot of strength athletes who complain of being light headed after front squats or log presses.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
This is the variation of the time interval between heart beats. The HeartMath Institute has been doing some incredible work with this reading and more. One of my students even used HRV with one of his athletes to determine and auto-regulate every one of his track and strength workouts day to day. He won three World Championship gold medals with him and as always, success leaves clues. You can now purchase finger monitors so this is extremely easy to execute on a daily basis.
Testosterone to Cortisol ratio
Not only do we see the increase in stress hormones we also see a concurrent drop in testosterone due to the reproductive system being negatively affected. That’s a double whammy hormonally for impeding recovery!
The easiest indicator for men is that you should be waking up in a tent every morning. Ladies, your sex drive should be equally vociferous. You could also look at body fat levels at your umbilical/stomach and triceps/upper arm. The higher they are, the worse that ratio seems to be. Ultimately, blood tests are the most accurate indicator.
How to enhance your recovery
Muscle glycogen is essential to fuel training sessions. If you don’t replenish stores either immediately post workout or in the following meals you could see a rise in catabolic hormones and a decrease in growth hormone output thus limiting recovery. If your body doesn’t have sufficient glycogen, a process called gluconeogenesis begins whereby your body can use its own protein/muscle to supply the body/brain with glucose. That over a long term will make you look more like Humpty Dumpty than Adonis. A loss of muscle mass does not make for ideal recovery!
So, post workout you might want to consider a shake with some sugars. The amount of sugars will be based on your goals, the volume of the workout and total muscle mass. Alternatively or even in addition you can consider adding in a serving of carbohydrates in solid food form in the next 1-2 meals. With all of these meals I highly recommend adding in some Magnesium to help absorption of the carbohydrates and replenish glycogen quicker.
De-load training volume
As mentioned previously, fatigue masks fitness. Most trainees don’t write in or auto-regulate a de-load in their training volume. If it were that simple then the guy who did the most volume would be the biggest/strongest/fastest. Training volume is a bigger indicator for poor recovery/overtraining than intensity (Intensity as a measure of 1RM).
The general rule is to remove 30-40% of training volume every 3-4 weeks. This is easy enough to complete by simply reducing the total sets completed by that amount. For the best return on investment I recommend you hire a decent coach who can periodise your training and nutrition concurrently according to you as an individual.
Nothing can replace good sleep and the research is backing this statement up. This is a necessity not a luxury. The restorative process for your whole body occurs during sleep so if sleep isn’t optimal then you can guarantee your recovery won’t be either. Besides my 15 tips article, here are the basics which can’t be ignored if you want to improve your sleep:
Step 1: Create the correct environment (Pitch black, cool, zero electronics on in the room)
Step 2: Improve sleep habits (Routine sleeping and waking times, limit blue light before bed)
This is a combination of near and far red light that penetrate deep into and through the skin to the soft tissue and its surroundings. Cells are stimulated which increase their function, energy levels and signalling. Red light therapy is clinically proven to reduce muscle soreness and speed recovery and even growth. Although it is promoted as a new therapy/treatment, it’s actually been researched and used by the Russians for over 50 years now.
I like to use red light pre-workout as it has been shown in the research to reduce muscle soreness post workout. So an investment of 10-20 minutes of sitting on your arse will reduce soreness and improve recovery. Sit there, watch some YouTube motivational videos or visualise the upcoming workout.
I have a Joovv red light at my Gym in Southampton [Winning Health Solutions] and my clients have access to unlimited usage. All that is needed is 10-20 minutes before or after sessions. It can even be used on off days.
Infrared sauna has been proven to be more effective than traditional sauna. This is likely to be down to the improved flow of water through the cell during infrared sauna which greatly lowers inflammation. Other benefits are an enhancement in detoxification, an increase in growth hormone output up to 1000%, blood flow/circulation increases and a feeling of relaxation.
I have a Heavenly Heat Infrared Sauna at my Gym in Southampton [Winning Health Solutions] and my clients have access to unlimited usage. All that is needed is 20 minutes after sessions. It can also be used on off days.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
HBOT provides a supramaximal amount of oxygen which saturates all of the tissues in the body. This speeds recovery by reducing inflammation. It should also be noted that HBOT can also promote parasympathetic nervous system dominance which provides a favourable hormonal output for recovery.
I have a hyperbaric chamber at my Gym in Southampton [Winning Health Solutions] and my clients have access to unlimited usage (Getting jealous of what my clients receive yet?!). All that is needed is 60 minutes after sessions, or alternatively once at the last session of the week.
I’ve been using FSM since 2014 with great success. The protocols and frequencies put together can greatly boost any tissue within the body. For enhancement of recovery you could consider the adrenal protocol early-afternoon or the recovery protocol post workout to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance. There are too many protocols to post about. Just using it for boosting organ health has provided myself and my clients with huge recovery benefits.
Again, my clients at my Gym in Southampton [Winning Health Solutions] have access to unlimited usage but you can find FSM practitioners around the world. (Surely you’re jealous now of their membership?!)
Dry needling is similar to acupuncture but a different execution. Acupuncture will follow a theory using meridians due to its origin in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dry needling has been shown to increase circulation which improves recovery. Cupping also does the same but most don’t enjoy the bruising/marks associated with cupping.
Your nervous system will also benefit from dry needling. An improvement in proprioception is seen which enhances neuromuscular control and creates homeostasis in the limbic system and hypothalamus. You will also receive a release of endorphins that will help you fight cortisol.
My recommendation on practitioners is to consult Dr Peter Lundgren and not just someone who does dry needling. Why? You want a practitioner that understands how the body works as a whole, not just popping needles in wherever and whenever. Dr Lundgren not only understands the nerves and muscles and how they work but also everything from a neurological point of view
Flotation tanks with added magnesium/Epsom salts are currently all the rage. They work due to giving the body a period where no sensory input is experienced. No sounds, sight, smell or feeling due to the floating. The brain and body love this. It’s like meditation on gear! A cost effective way of doing this is ear plugs, sleep mask and some Epsom salts in a bath at home!
So now you understand how to identify if you are under-recovering before reaching the end of a training cycle. I’ve also offered my preferred recovery modalities. The issue as always is that extra recovery modalities require an extra investment in time. The return on investment though is certainly worth it and should not be avoided.