I often get questions from people about taking time off: how do you know when you need rest and how much recovery time is necessary? I got one such question from a reader (but more importantly, a very good friend of mine), and although I gave her a quick answer at the time, I thought this really deserved a little bit more attention! Her question was this:
Question on recovery time- how much of it is needed and when should I push through? Legs feel heavy, but don’t know if I am being a baby and should push through. For example:
Tues- 90 min hot yoga
Wed- 90 min hot yoga, 60 min elliptical
Thurs- 5 mile run
Fri- 90 min hot yoga
Sat-…. to be determined.
Thoughts fit friend? – Missy
My first response to Missy was of course if she would consider trading in some of that elliptical time for some weight room time. Unfortunately, that was a no-go, but I’ll keep trying to convince her 😉
No matter what your training regimen though, I think the key phrase here comes at the end of her question. “Legs feel heavy…”
When you’ve been training intensively for 4 days in a row, it’s no wonder your legs feel heavy! Let’s break it down into time spent training — never mind the type of exercise. In the past four days, she had worked out for anywhere from 45 minutes to 150 minutes every single day. Only one day was as low as 45 minutes, but that was at least 45 minutes of continuous impact from running (This is just an estimate, I have no idea how fast she runs 5 miles). All of the other days included at least 90 minutes of training, one of those followed by 60 minutes of elliptical time.
Now, overall, I do not think she had done too much that week, so I’m not concerned that she has overdone it. I would just recommend that the following day be a “rest” day, where rest can mean one of two things:
1. Complete rest. Just going about your normal daily activities, not worrying about physical activity, and nurturing your muscles with healthy food to fuel your recovery.
2. Active recovery: Light exercise (walking), foam rolling, mobility drills, etc.
But I would not recommend any heavy exercise on this 5th day. There are many people out there who do train 5 (or 6, or even 7) days in a row, and if you’re feeling great and have not been doing heavy lifting, intensive plyos, or high mileage for those first 4 days, than adding in a light exercise day on the 5th day is more than acceptable. If one or two of these days had been upper body intensive, it could be a different story all together as well. However, Missy had done 4 days of leg-intensive activity and was well aware that her legs were feeling “heavy”, which to me is code for “my legs were screaming for a day off”.
Training weeks should be broken up so that you can maximize your performance in each session. If you were to have two heavy-lifting lower body days, and complete them back to back, there is no way your body would be recovered enough for the second session. This can increase your chance of injury as well as decrease the efficacy of your training sessions.
I know that there are people out there who feel otherwise, but I do not recommend intensive training for one area of your body for more than 3 days in a row. Even for runners, 3 days followed by an off (or very light cross training day) is generally my recommendation. And for heavy lifters, the breakdown of work vs. rest needs to be followed even more carefully.
In her question, Missy did not include any heavy lifting days, but I know that many of my readers combine both power yoga and lifting into their weekly workout calendars. Here is an example of my typical training week, so that you can see the rest time that I build in for myself:
Sunday: Light conditioning work, or Yoga in the summer. Usually a light, low speed stadium workout.
Monday: Lower body lift day (Squat focus)
Tuesday: Upper body lift day (Bench press for compound lift)
Wednesday: Conditioning day. Intense stadium workout
Friday: Lower body lift day. (Deadlift focus)
Many weeks I’ll switch out Sunday’s light conditioning for a second upper body (bench/row) day, or I’ll take Sunday completely off and use Thursday for my second upper body day. On weeks like this when I’m only going to have 3 lifting days, I’ll add in some pull ups/push ups to my lower body days to turn them into more of a full body session. But you’ll see that I’m never doing more than three days of lower-body-intensive work at a time. While Sunday is a lighter day, it still stresses my lower body muscles enough that giving my legs/glutes some rest time on Tuesday is very important, especially if I want to perform well in my conditioning day on Wednesday.
That’s it for meow. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about why adequate recovery time is so important!
How many days do you train per week? Do you take your rest days in succession or split them up throughout the week? Do you ever push through a session even though you feel like you need a rest day?