The first principle involved with accelerating recovery isn’t about techniques to employ during recovery, it’s about designing effective workouts that won’t trigger unnecessary damage in the first place. There’s an important place for soreness and pain, but only if you get something out of it: an adaptation that makes you better than before.
If your body were as dumb as a rock, then any beating it took would leave permanent cracks in your skin, tendons, muscle, and bone. But it’s smart – it adapts to those stresses through remodeling, and gets tougher and stronger instead… except when it doesn’t.
Don’t Overdo It
For one thing, there’s limits to what it can handle. It can handle some stress, and it can increase its ability to handle more of that stress over time, through many successions of stress and remodeling. But if it suddenly gets overwhelmed by too much stress, things fall apart instead.
In other words, just because some is good, it doesn’t always mean that more is better. Conditioning your shins with a thin wooden rod won’t be accelerated by pounding them with a lead pipe instead.
Don’t Under-Do It
Secondly, you won’t continue to adapt if your body gets used to it. Your body is always working to create balance and harmony with its environment, inside and out. If a new stimulus comes in, your body senses that the environment is changing, and it begins to try and create a new state of balance with the new environment. And once it does, that new stimulus no longer has any shock value. Now it’s just normal life.
In other words: Everything works at first, and nothing works forever.
Gaining continually from bouts of training has everything to do with finding that small, optimal zone between undertraining and overtraining.
“Overtraining happens any time you apply a stress greater than is needed to trigger an adaptation, and you pay for it by a longer recovery window. This stress can come in the form of too much intensity, too much training volume, or training too often, or any combination of those.”
“Undertraining happens whenever you deliver a stimulus that is too weak to trigger a response, or whenever you deliver the stimulus so slowly that your body adapts and then detrains again before the next stimulus comes in.”
But finding this sweet spot can be subtle, because the window between undertraining and overtraining is a moving target. In fact, you move it every single time you train. Here’s what happens:
If you push your body past what it’s used to, it will go through a number of steps to adapt:
1. Recovery–First, for a short period after the stimulus comes in, your body will need time to repair the damage. During this time, your performance will be below average. If you introduce the stimulus again before you’re sufficiently recovered, you’ll have trouble reaching step two, and your performance stays below average until your body gets the chance to recoup.
Things get worse before they get better.
You know that first day you decide to get back in shape after some down time? Or that day you decide to play an intense game of football, and you haven’t played in years? Try and remember how tight and sore you felt the next day, and then ask yourself how well you would have performed if you did the same thing again.
Don’t Interrupt Recovery!
If you interrupt recovery on a regular basis, you’re overtraining. You’re clocking the hours but you’re going backwards. You’re beating your body further and further down and never letting it claim its earned rewards.
Repeatedly overtraining dramatically increases your risk of injury, and can lead to other deeper problems, like adrenal insufficiency. Injuries can knock you out for 6 weeks or more, and adrenal problems take months to correct. So, while it’s wise and strategic to accelerate recovery, it’s extremely unwise to interrupt it on a regular basis.
[notebox]NOTE: this applies specifically to physical conditioning, and not to practice, which is precisely why it’s better not to lump them together and confuse them for the same thing.[/notebox]
[notebox]ALSO NOTE: Different tissues recover at different rates, which makes this principle a little more complicated when you’re stressing multiple kinds of tissue at once. We’ll get more into this in the next article.[/notebox]
2. Supercompensation— If all goes well during recovery, your body supercompensates for what you did, and your ability to handle the stimulus is better than it was before. You’re stronger, bigger, faster, less filling, tastes great — whatever you put in, you get back with a surplus.
3. New Equilibrium–Next, there’s a period of time where your body works to preserve this elevated state. You’re now in a new, elevated equilibrium. If you introduce another stimulus during this time that pierces this new equilibrium, the cycle starts again. You get even better.
4. Detraining—On the other hand, if nothing else happens, your body decides that it’s unnecessary and it begins to restore your body back down to normal–your genetic equilibrium. This process is called detraining.
5. Retraining – if you fully detrain, you’re still not back to zero. Your body retains a memory trace of your elevated state, and it won’t take you nearly as long to get back there as it did the first time.
Progressive Overload: Adaptation Only Occurs By Piercing the Equilibrium.
After your body supercompensates, you get no more adaptations unless you pierce the new equilibrium — not the old one.
If you’re running a 6:00 minute mile, either trim it to 5:50 or try to go more than a mile in the same 6:00 minutes. If you’ve been throwing 60 punches in 30 seconds, try for 64. If you’re doing 8 reps with a hundred pounds, do nine—or increase the weight to 105 and try for 8 again. You get the idea.
This is extremely important. If you lift that 100 pounds 8 times again, and you do it exactly the same way with no improvements in quality or speed, then you do nothing but burn energy and delay the onset of detraining. You maintain, but you don’t improve because your body is ready for that, now.
It looks like this:
As you can see, the second workout didn’t pierce the new equilibrium. No new adaptation took place. Even though it was the same stimulus, it wasn’t as stressful the second time, which is why the second peak and trough aren’t as big. The new equilibrium was maintained for a little longer, and that counts for something, but if you want steady progress, you have to steadily increase the stimulus.
[notebox]SIDENOTE: Are you measuring your progress, or are you just winging it? If you’re just winging it, there’s a good chance you’re not training optimally. If you’re going to train optimally, get a training journal, set records, and then beat them. We’ll talk more about the right way to track progress later on.[/notebox]
How Much Increase is Enough?
To answer this question, it’s important to understand that any piercing of your equilibrium will be effective – even the barest minimum. However, you may be able to squeeze some extra benefits out beyond that minimum. But the more you push past your set point, the more caution you have to use.
Once you’ve given yourself that minimum effective dose, there’s three adaptive ranges that follow:
“Optimal – this is where extra benefits accrue, but negative side effects don’t. This is the target you want to hit with every bout of training.”
“Diminishing Returns – once you’ve pushed outside your optimal range, benefits from excess effort continue to decrease, and negative side effects continue to increase.”
“Destructiveness – push things far enough and the benefits begin to disappear entirely because of how severe the side effects are going to be.”
To help you understand these ranges, I’m going to use your skin’s adaptation to sunlight as a training metaphor.
Wisdom from the Sun
Consider this. Would you rather burn the hell out of your skin right away in one long sun bathing marathon at the beach in mid July with no sunscreen, or give yourself frequent bouts of short exposures that are only slightly beyond what your skin is used to – bouts which lengthen and intensify as you adapt?
People seem to have more common sense with their skin than they do their training. Compare this reasoning with your typical “balls to the wall” training enthusiasts:
[et_table class=calltable th=true]
“I had a good workout because:”, “I got a good tan because:”
“I can’t even lift my arms”, “My skin is pink and crispy and it turns white when I press it”
“It’s been 3 days and I can barely move”, “It’s been 3 days and my skin is cracked and peeling”
Common sense tells you to avoid severe burns because they’re not optimal – they’re destructive. Peeling and blistering rob you of the benefits you could have accrued. And you avoid burning by determining the right exposure time and the right exposure intensity, which comes from a couple of common sense rules:
“ Adaptive Level: The less adapted you are, the shorter the exposure”
“Intensity Level: The more intense the sunlight, the shorter the exposure”
“Timing:The closer to a serious burn you let yourself get, the longer you have to wait before you go back for more.”
Your muscles, connective tissue, bone, and nerves adapt using the same biological principles as your skin. Training optimally, not destructively, will help you minimize your downtime even before you apply a single accelerated recovery technique. Using the JKD Dit Da Jow (Bone and Joint formula) BEFORE you work out to help provide specific nutrition to the bones and joints of your target area is an excellent way to help strengthen and condition the against injury from the stress of training.
At this point, you might be wondering, “how can I tell where my set point is?” That’s the subject of our next article.