Sam worries about recovery, rest, and fitting it all in

Orange tabby cat sleeping in a sunbeam on a wooden deck, belly to the sunbeam. Photo by Unsplash.

When Cate blogged about working out everyday in July, I thought I might have things to say about that. I’m all about the importance of recovery and rest days. See here and here. But it turns out, no surprise, that Cate had that in the bag. Easy days and recovery were all part of her plan. Cate’s smart like that.

That said, I do think that we could all do with being more intentional about rest and recovery. That’s especially true for those of us over 50 for whom rest and recovery are especially important.

When I was training on the bike super seriously I took one day a week off. I was also doing the kind of training program that had a rest and recovery week built in each month. The first three weeks were hard, harder, hardest, building in intensity and volume, and then the last week was recovery. Easy riding.

At the end of the recovery week, we did two 5 km time trial field tests to check our times and see if we’d really recovered. I checked my resting heart rate daily and I paid a lot of attention to sleeping enough and seeing how I felt after hard workouts.

Our coach would stress that you work hard on the bike but make the real gains while you rest.

When we’re working out for fun, or for functional fitness reasons, and it’s not serious training. it can be easy to put rest and recovery on the back burner. It doesn’t seem necessary.

Still, it can be tricky fitting in workouts and allowing our bodies to recover in between. It’s commonly thought that older athletes need more of everything. More rest between workouts, more sleep at night, more stretching, longer warm ups and cool downs. We need time to fit it all in. More hours in the day, please!

At what age does the need for more rest and recovery begin?

In your 40s? Read Do You Recover From Workouts More Slowly in Middle Age ? Malcolm Gladwell writes, “Do I recover more slowly these days because I’m old, which prevents me from training as hard as I used to and consequently makes me less fit? Or do I recover more slowly simply because I don’t train the way I used to, which in turn makes me feel old?” It’s known, he says, that 60 year olds take longer to recover than 20 year olds. But what about 40 year olds? He’s not sure. Probably it depends as much on the individual as it does on the age.

That’s the answer Joe Frield gives. He writes, “Older” athletes are old primarily because their rate of recovery is relatively slow. Someone can be “old” at age 35 due to a poor rate recovery after stressful workouts. On the other hand, I’ve coached athletes in their 60s who recovered very quickly and so by this definition were still “young.” In fact, recovery is probably the key to performance at all ages, but especially so for aging athletes who tend to have the deck stacked against them.” See Recovery and the Aging Athlete.

How about over 50?

Old rule: Take one day in between each weight training workout

New rule: You may need longer than a day between workouts

Taking a day off in between workouts gives muscles time to recover, but you may need more recovery time after age 50, says Dr. David W. Kruse, a sports medicine specialist with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, Calif.

“You need to focus more on recovery after 50. Tissue recovery takes more time and more effort to support that recovery,” he says. “The exact amount of time depends on your baseline fitness level.”

How do you know when you’ve had enough rest? “Look at trends,” says Kruse. “If you find soreness isn’t going away and is impacting your next workout this may indicate early signs of injury or not enough recovery time.” Being unable to decrease your time or improve whatever markers you’re using to gauge progress may also indicate you need to allow more recovery time, says Kruse

from Fitness Rules that Change after Fifty

There are many different ways we can adapt to the changes that come with age. Some masters runners use longer training cycles to fit everything in and still have adequate recovery time, using 9 day cycles rather than 7 day cycles. See here. I think it would be odd though not have your long slow run on the weekend

What’s changed for me? Well, I still take rest days. But I’ve found that’s not enough. I need to be careful I get enough sleep too.

It seems it’s the year to think about recovery. See Recovery Is the Latest Workout Trend and The next hot trend in fitness? Recovery.

How about you? What’s your take on rest and recovery as we age as athletes?

Photo by Spring Fed Images. Unsplash. Image description: rear view of a green hammock with two people in it resting over a spring in a forest dappled with light.

7 thoughts on “Sam worries about recovery, rest, and fitting it all in

  1. Such an important topic. Thank you for raising it. I am terrible about scheduling proper rest and recovery. I take it, yes. But I don’t plan well. Sometimes, for example, I’ll have a long run scheduled just two days after a heavy leg workout. That’s how my schedule fell out last week and my legs have felt heavy and weak ever since. Unlike in the past, I pretty much do get in rest days, but they’re usually active. For example yesterday was a rest day after the leg workout Friday, yoga Saturday (which I also consider active recovery), long run Sunday, shorter run Monday. But I still walked both directions to work — 10K round trip. This morning I skipped my scheduled run because between the pouring rain and the ache in my tired legs, I just couldn’t. This aft I have personal training (upper body). I want to get that run in tomorrow. But then I have “leg day” on Friday and my long run on Sunday. And so the cycle reasserts itself. To be quite honest, I don’t even know how to “be intentional” about this, but your post has prompted me to start thinking in those terms.

    1. I think making a schedule that includes rest helps. Also reading some of the exercise science on how much it rest it takes to make progress. Not resting doesn’t just make you tired. You’re more prone to injury. Competitive athletes train a lot but they also rest a lot. Thinking of yourself as an athlete is a thing that can help with taking rest seriously.

      1. It’s also, I think, where we sometimes realize the limits of trying to do everything and make performance gains in one thing. For you it’s running and for me it’s cycling. Most serious road cyclists don’t do leg strength training in the gym in the summer. Am I serious cyclist or am I middle aged person trying to keep functional fitness through cardio, strength as flexibility workouts? How much does performance matter? Interesting and complicated.

  2. This piece is an important and provocative reminder. Rest is essential. Although I always take one day off a week, I suspect that if I took more here and there I’d “perform” better. The tricky question is this–am I looking for performance, or am I going for my run or ride or yoga or whatever because of the pleasure of moving? A few years ago when Citibike came to town (the shared bike system in New York City) and I started riding instead of taking the subway, I had to do a big recalibration to account for all the extra time that wasn’t technically a workout, but was in fact effortful movement. As for aging–at 52 I’m still in a bit of denial about adjustments (which feel like concessions!). I see all the truth in this piece and it provokes to experiment a bit more on the rest front!

    1. Right. So much is a matter of identity. Are you an everyday exercise person moving for fun or are you an athlete concerned about performance?

  3. We must listen to our bodies, out for signals of fatigue. Taking it slow and steady doesn’t is always a good strategy which many a times stops the injuries from getting aggravated.

  4. We must listen to our bodies, look out for signals if fatigue. Taking it slow and steady is always s good strategy which many a times stops the injuries from getting aggravated.

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