I just finished up a recovery week, and this was the first one that I actually felt like I needed. Last year, a recovery week for me was this thing I had to do because Joe Friel said so, but it mostly consisted of endorphin withdrawal and dealing with those pesky once-a-month hassles, like calling my boyfriend or washing my hair. I didn’t feel the need for a physical break, in spite of having once referred to a questionable limp after lifting…but considering I had just come from an upper body workout, that was probably just the old Post-Gym Gangster Walk.
Now things are different: I get really exhausted and sore after workouts, especially lifting. A few explanations for this come to mind: A. I let myself get too out-of-shape in my extended downtime, B. I just wasn't going hard enough last year, C. I'm getting old and frail, or D. something about my nutrition is different this year. OK, let's face the truth: It's probably everything but D. I just compared yesterday's "food diary" entry to the same date a year ago, and the only difference is a new preference for single-celled algae over last year’s multi-cellular favorites (mostly due to a coupon…ooooh…I’m really pushing the limits of risk and change here).
Whatever the reason for this soreness is, it’s probably a good time to look at the science of recovery. To determine how long this frustrating process has to take, I first looked at short-term recovery. This study looked at muscle repair after heavy resistance workouts, and it concluded that protein synthesis peaks about 24 hours after ripping one’s legs to shreds, and returns to almost normal within 36 hours. The authors recommend spacing tough workouts at least a day and a half apart to avoid messing with the rebuilding of busted-ass muscles. This obviously can’t be observed all the time, due to stage race training, or if you’re one of those triathlon folk, but I suppose it’s a good way to get the most bang for your buck in terms of muscle repair.
For the long-term recovery stuff, I looked to my favorite training guru. Friel recommends monthly recovery intervals of 5-7 days, to account for that annoying inverse relationship between fatigue and form. Annually, he recommends one or two “transition” periods lasting from a few days to a few weeks, to rejuvenate the body and mind. Hmmm…my mind apparently needed a lot of rejuvenation over the fall, so I guess I’m good on that for…um…a decade or so.