The Recovery Paradigm, something not many talk about – yet 100% of people are affected by. Yes, 100% of people – meaning everyone – is affected by this and often times, it’s a negative impact happening.
The reality with recovery is simple; if you want serious results, you have to take recovery real seriously.
Recovery is the process of returning to homeostasis, essentially. Which means it’s the process your body will go through, physiologically, to get better from any stress placed on it. The cool part of recovery is the ‘get better’ part – because this means you’re not just returning to homeostasis, but better than.
Any stress placed on the body causes damage and that damage needs to be recovered from if the body plans to sustain life OR be able to better handle that stress next time (the later is especially true when repeated stress is placed on the body, like training).
Exactly why I talk a lot about building your stress capacity, rather than trying to completely remove the stressor. Because lets be honest, some stress we just cannot control – we can only control how we react to it.
After 8 years of training, dieting, and coaching – there’s 2 very specific things I’ve realized, the hard way.
That is that (1) your body simply will not adapt (see results) if you do not prioritize the recovery process.
And that (2) your body cannot always distinguish the type of stress it’s experiencing, it can typically only understand that stress is being placed on it.
Because of the second realization, The Recovery Paradigm was born and brought into our coaching practice.
This is really just the understanding that we need to balance stress and recovery, but on a much deeper level than simply foam rolling after your training session.
When going to ‘a much deeper level’ inside of stress and recovery, we first need to consider what stress is affecting, truly, within us and that’s the CNS (Central Nervous System).
Our CNS is like the control center. If it’s burnt out, slowing down, or in any way dysfunctional, our results will come to a screeching halt.
Think of it like an amp inside a car stereo system. I’ve always looked at this way because I’ve always loved having a really nice stereo system in my car – subs, tweeters, touch screen Bluetooth control center, etc…. basically doing the most to make sure my system sounded the best it possibly could, because I used to drive a lot and I absolutely love music.
But the second I would play it a little too loud with the subs beating a little too hard, for just a bit too long… the amp would fry. I would have to go get some new cords or something, just to get it running again – but until then, it took some down time and rested while I repaired it.
Well, when it comes to your body, your nervous system IS your amp. Which means if you push things a bit too hard for just a bit too long, you’re going to burn out and the ‘system’ is going to shut down for a while.
And when I say, “shut down” – I mean your motivation sinks into the floor, your muscles don’t get that same pump they usually do, the numbers on the bar seem to be declining almost immediately, and your body comp just doesn’t change (fat doesn’t burn and muscle doesn’t get built).
The reason this happens is simple and can be explained in this equation below.
When we stress the body, we need to recovery and when we recovery adequately, we adapt. This is the process of creating results and without each step, we do not get where we want to be. We need the stress because without it, the possibility of adaptation is impossible – but if we don’t recovery in the middle, our body won’t be able to fully recovery in order to adapt. Each part plays a crucial role in making progress.
So now you get it and it’s clear, right? Your CNS is important and if you don’t keep it on point, your results will move slower than a sloth taking a nap (aka they don’t move).
Good. Now let’s get into the how, so you can use this article in an applicable way.
As you saw in Recovery Paradigm infographic above, there are many stressors in our life that affect our body’s ability to recovery – NOT just training.
And this is also why I said ‘I realized that the body cannot always distinguish the type of stress that is getting placed on it, but rather it just realizes there is a stress being placed on it.’
The list goes on.
ANYTHING that places some form of stress on you, affects the CNS and can slow down the process of recovery by adding the list of things your body needs to recover from.
This means we need to prioritize recovery in more ways than one. We cannot expect a good night’s sleep to help us deal with the hard training session, the fight with our spouse, and the hard 15 hour day at work we just had.
We need a recovery practice for the training, the fight and the 15-hour day, believe it or not.
This is exactly why I’ve taken countless people into our coaching program and actually reduced the amount of training they’re doing, to produce better results with their body.
And also why I’ve taken countless people in and increased their daily carbohydrate consumption, to produce better results with their body.
Both have the same explanation → Their Recovery Improved.
Carbohydrates are a massively important nutrient for proper recovery and cortisol management. So that means if we have a high stress individual or someone who is training hard, the last thing we want to do is pull a ton of carbs – and especially for an extended period of time. Read this article on Carbs to get all the details.
Training is a massively important practice to elicit change, because it IS the stress we place on our body to cause adaptation (results) down the line. But too much leads to overload on the nervous system, which I see quite often. So by removing some training, while managing the weekly load on their body – we can facilitate more recovery and therefore better adaptation. It’s like your body playing catch up, essentially. Read this article on The Best Weekly Training Split to know it all.
This all boils down to understanding the body’s nervous system outputs and inputs.
This is Sympathetic Output and Parasympathetic Input.
Sympathetic is classified as “Fight or Flight” and Parasympathetic is classified as “Rest and Digest”. Green light, Red Light. Go, Stop. Hard, Slow. Push, Chill.
Any way you want to spin it, it means you’re pushing your body and you’re slowing your body down. It’s the Yin and Yang of our physiological nature and without considering it, more so prioritizing it, the Sympathetic Output that starts the entire equation will not be able to occur – because without a functional CNS, your body cannot push into Sympathetic drive.
It’s exactly why adrenal fatigue (HPA Axis Dysfunction) is so common in elite CrossFitters and individuals who go hard in every aspect of their life (Entrepreneurs who grind all day, sleep every other day, and lift weights throughout the week).
Your body shuts down.
So… all this being said, let’s dive into the list, in order of implementation or importance, of what you actually need to do in order to fully recover → balance your nervous system → and see true adaptations (results).
→ UNDERSTAND THE STRESS BEING CREATED
This obviously comes first because if you do not understand what’s causing your body stress, then you cannot facilitate any recovery from it. My suggestion here is to make a list of any and everything that causes your regular stress, meaning the stress you can expect or possibly control.
Once you have this list, you can understand the stress load placed on you as an individual as well as the requirements to build your stress capacity and recovery.
→ PAIR EACH SYMPATHETIC OUTPUT, WITH A PARASYMPATHETIC INPUT
For everything you placed on that stress list, you need to create another list of recovery practices to help facilitate adaptation to those stressors. And yes, you WANT to adapt to the work stress because in many cases you cannot remove it unless you quite your job… which may not be realistic.
So you need to plan how you can recovery, mentally, from that and better handle it next time. I’ve seen people begin to meditate, journal, and sleep better; then completely eliminate their fatigue from the mental stresses placed on them. We didn’t stop their boss from being a complete dick, we simply improved their ability to handle and respond to that stress, and so it didn’t affect them as greatly.
This occurred from pairing each of the sympathetic outputs (stress) they faced with a parasympathetic input (recovery).
Training hard? Do mobility and soft-tissue work post workout.
Dieting to lose fat? Take a refeed or two each week.
Working stressful days at your job? Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
Family or spousal stress lately? Meditate for 5-10 minutes daily.
Self-doubt, negativity, and judgment pretty regular? Self-affirmations and daily journaling.
It’s simpler than you’d probably think, but it’s massively important. And this isn’t just theory backed up by years of coaching experience, although that holds a lot of water. It’s backed by science, too.
→ FOLLOW AN INDIVIDUALIZED MACRONUTRIENT PRESCRIPTION
I cannot do this one for you in a bullet point within an article, because that’s what we do as coaches. You can click here now and apply today, so we can dial in your nutrition and show you first hand how powerful nutrition can be in order to change your body composition, improve your performance, create mental clarity, and increase your recovery 10 fold.
But for the sake of this article, let me just say – this is crucial. The reason it’s crucial above anything else within the nutrition realm, is because macronutrients are the nutritional keys to recovery. Protein for rebuilding tissues and systems within the body, carbohydrates for fueling muscles and the nervous system (also to rebuild tissues, too), and fats for proper hormonal balance and again CNS function.
As a whole, these macros build up calories and calories are the energy source that our bodies cannot survive without. Calories are also the dominant factor in hormonal function, which is critical for literally any result you’re chasing.
For more on macros, download our free ebook – The Nutrition Hierarchy – I explain it all and teach you how to individualize the process, along the way.
→ BALANCE YOUR TRAINING, 50/50 TO 70/30
I wrote an article on how to design the perfect weekly training split and inside it I help you understand the need for balance between the nervous system outputs and inputs.
This idea is actually pretty simple… yet SO many people neglect it because it’s much more fun to go hard in the gym then it is to take it easy, until you cannot go hard any more.
The concept here is easy to program in if you use an RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) system inside your training, like we do. The way to implement this is to have about 50-70% of your training in the 8-10 RPE range, which means you’re pushing the intensity pretty damn hard. The other 30-50% of your training is an RPE of 5-7, which means you’re leaving the gym feeling like you could’ve done more.
This is going to push your body hard enough to provide the stress needed, while still having enough rest to truly recover and see those results come to life. It’s also keeping you in the gym instead of completely resting, which allows the skill of lifting to continue improving and for some keep your mentally sane.
Whether you should be more on the range of 50 or 70% hard intensity, is completely dependent on your training experience and lifestyle.
→ TAKE A FULL REST DAY AND PRACTICE ACTIVE RECOVERY
This is obvious but I have to cover it, because I wouldn’t doubt if you are ‘that type’ of person… the type who just “has to train” every day. Yeah, it’s probably hurting you.
Take a full rest day and if you’re smart about everything else here, that may be an active recovery day – which is a cool way of saying go for a walk or do some mobility.
Either way, you need at least one day per week that is VERY low in intensity to help down regulate and fully recover to what you’re doing – it’s the only way to keep doing what you’re doing.
→ CONSIDER NUTRIENT TIMING AROUND YOUR TRAINING
This is another that’s hard to cover in a single bullet, so go check out my recent article on Nutrient Timing right here.
But the thing to remember and prioritize here is what you eat before and after your training, matters for recovery. Set yourself up for the training session by consuming some protein and carbs (low fat meal) about 1-3 hours prior to training and some protein and carbs (low-moderate fat meal) 1-3 hours post workout.
If you’re a high stress individual, possibly hormonally damaged, in a big caloric deficit, or simply cannot get to a meal for a while – make sure you’re supplementing with a protein and carb shake immediately post workout to manage the cortisol response.
→ WARM UP AND COOL DOWN
The most unsexy rules inside training… prepare yourself and down regulate afterwards. It’s just not as fun as training, so we get in and get out – completely skipping both of these crucial steps.
Let’s keep it simple:
- Spend 5-10 minutes going through a dynamic warm up prior to lifting.
- When jumping into a compound lift, perform ramp up sets prior to lifting submaximal loads.
- Spend 5-10 minutes running through low intensity cardio, mobility, soft-tissue work, and/or breathing drills in order to down regulate.
I promise you’ll start to recover better and get better results, quickly.
→ REMOVE OR REDUCE ENVIRONMENTAL STRESSORS
What’s going on around you dramatically effects your body’s ability to recover, so audit your surroundings and work to reduce the stresses placed on you. This could mean using less plastic, getting outside to get some sun, using blue light blockers at night, etc….
You know, the ‘hippie foo-foo stuff’ that we all laugh at but are actually backed up by science (and yes, I do all of the above and more to help reduce my environmental stressors).
→ BE PROACTIVE ABOUT TRAINING DELOADS AND DIET BREAKS
Every 4-6 weeks, take a deload in your training where you bring all of your training down by 1-2 decimals on the RPE scale and/or lower total volume by 10-25%. This is simply going to reduce the stress inside the gym for about a week, which can lead to a dramatic improvement in recovery and lead to better performance the following week.
Every 8-16 weeks, incorporate a diet break where you bring your total calories up to maintenance, ideally via carbohydrates, as your body will utilize them more effectively than fats being raised. Spending 5-14 days in a diet break can improve your hormones, psychological stress, and physical output in the gym; then possibly break any plateaus you may have been facing.
The other way to do this is to implement regular (weekly) refeeds in your diet, which prolongs the need for a full diet break. But again, this is another pretty individual nutritional strategy.
→ TRACK YOUR BIOFEEDBACK ALONG THE WAY
Last but definitely not least, track your bodily cues along the way.
Without knowing how your body is responding to all the stress it’s facing, we cannot predict whether or not results will even happen – because we do not know if we’re fully recovering/adapting to the stresses we’re placing.
Every week, or day if you can, track your sleep, stress, mood, motivation, digestion, hunger, cravings, sex drive, performance, and fatigue.
Doing this, will give you all the signs needed in order to predict the results to come and make the proper adjustments along the way to keep things progressing.
Cody McBroom is owner and head coach of Boom Boom Performance. He’s a Strength Coach and Nutrition Expert located in Seattle WA. He coaches people in person and online, now internationally. His passion is helping individuals changing their lives through body composition transformation, as well as creating content across all platforms to help individuals and other coaches learn more about training and nutrition.