The 'Bidness' of Recovery

This is a subject that I have been fooling around with (not literally of course) since the beginning of this year. I’ve learned a ton about recovery from edu-macating myself as well as seeing it’s effects on myself, my main training partner and a few of my clients. This article should open your eyes to the possibilities of what the body is capable of as well as some methods that you can implement if you are having recovery issues.
I will admit that I am strongly influenced by the high training frequency crowd. Guys like Jamie Lewis and Matt Perryman have been instrumental in my learning processes of training frequently the proper way. Although both have dug into the research surrounding the topic considerably, they both have their own distinct views on the subject.
Jamie Lewis has made a very good point in his book Chaos & Pain: Issuance Of Training Insanity. For one thing, he shits all over popular programs popularized by guys like Mark Rippetoe and Stuart McRoberts. Basically, Jamie Lewis feels they are both pansy’s, and he’s done a good job of making a convert out of me. Both of these guys suggest that training more than 3 times per week will cause you to internally combust and shrivel into a prune. After training nearly everyday for 8 months, I can tell that you this is definitely not the case.
Matt Perryman has gone into detail about how training effects: the CNS, adrenal glands, and other minute (but important and interesting) details. If you really want a great breakdown of how your body reacts to stresses check his site out. Due to much of the research he has done, I have basically come to the conclusion that the body is not as weak as many have made it out to be.
I will say that training everyday works, and it works well. Is it possible to ‘overtrain?’ Possibly, if you’re an athlete who trains for a living. If you are a regular working man (or woman) I don’t see overtraining being in the realm of reality. I don’t see how it’d be possible to train enough to fully become ‘overtrained,’ when one has so many obligations in their day-to-day lift. As Matt Perryman has pointed out, the term ‘staleness’ is probably a better term to use instead of overtrained.
Many strength athletes from decades ago have talked about the subject of staleness. It can be characterized in a few different ways, but the main part of staleness that I’ve noticed is a lack, or regression in progress. This doesn’t mean you are overtrained though!!! People need to understand this. Progression isn’t linear, it occurs in peaks and valleys. Yes you will hit a plateau, no this doesn’t mean you need to go AWOL from the gym in order to kick start your results. If we never reached a point of staleness then you could train forever and never stop getting stronger. This doesn’t happen… At all…
One of my favourite old-time strongmen was Doug Hepburn. His symptoms of staleness were:
1. Loss of appetite.
2. Digestive disturbances.
3. Inability to relax or to sleep.
4. Irritability, worry, etc.
5. Little or no enthusiasm for training.
6. Absence of nervous energy (especially noticeable during training).
7. No increase in training poundages regardless of alterations in the training routine.
His remedy for staleness was to completely take time off for the gym for a period of 4-6 days. I personally don’t feel the need to take any time off from the gym during periods of staleness. Programs such as 5/3/1, have a deload week programmed into it to give your body a break. Still, when I ran cycles of 5/3/1, I’d basically never deloaded and had trained for literally 6-8 months straight before taking it easy for a minimal period of time. I never noticed any differences when taking a deload, except that it took 4 weeks to complete the cycle instead of 3.
My personal opinion of overtrained is in line with that of John Broz. This quote sums up his beliefs and experiences on overtraining:
“If you got a job as a garbage man and had to pick up heavy cans all day long, the first day would probably be very difficult, possibly almost impossible for some to complete. So what do you do, take three days off and possibly lose your job?
No, you’d take your sore, beaten self to work the next day. You’d mope around and be fatigued, much less energetic than the previous day, but you’d make yourself get through it. Then you’d get home, soak in the tub, take aspirin, etc. The next day would be even worse.
But eventually you’d be running down the street tossing cans around and joking with your coworkers. How did this happen? You forced your body to adapt to the job at hand! If you can’t’ squat and lift heavy every day you’re not overtrained, you’re undertrained! Could a random person off the street come to the gym with you and do your exact workout? Probably not, because they’re undertrained. Same goes with most lifters when compared to elite athletes.”
– John Broz 2002
Basically, John Broz thinks there is no such thing as overtraining, only undertrained. Meaning your body can and will adapt to the stresses you place upon it. Even if you ‘over stress’ yourself, you can adapt and walk away stronger and better. I couldn’t agree more. As Dan John always says “if it’s important, do it everyday.” In the world of olympic lifting it’s important, and Broz’s athletes squat everyday.
Now, after going through the length of this article defending a high training frequency, let’s discuss a view curve balls that do occur if you lift heavy shit. Little painful pangs do indeed happen. The trick to training through these is knowing when to push through or when to ease off. I went through a period of about 3 weeks where my low back was killing me. Any compressive forces or lumbar rotation aggravated my back. Yet I still trained everyday. What differences did I do to my training in order to keep my training frequency high? I stopped doing what hurt!
Pretty straight forward, yet it seems people either cease to train, or stupidly (or stubbornly) train through painful joints. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that a level of muscle soreness is to be expected after training (depending on various factors such as exercise selection, volume, intensity, etc.), but joint pain is not something to screw around with.
This means, if your ankle joint, knee joint, hip joint, lumbo-pelvic joint, scapulothoracic joint, glenohumeral joint, any of your cervical joints are in pain, then don’t do exercises which aggravate them! This is why I screen clients, it shows me what exercises I should or should not be doing with them. Just because you have painful joints doesn’t mean you have to 86 your training program. It means you have to make changes to it to work for you. I’m not going to go over all the changes in exercise selection that can be made because changes vary depending on each individual. As I’ve said many, many times before, two people can have pain in the a joint, yet require two very different corrective exercise programs in order to relieve pain (yes this is out of my scope of practice, but it still holds true).
So if you are having joint pain here are my suggestions:
– Take anti-inflammatories. I don’t care much for supplements or pharmaceuticals, however I’ve gone on about fish oil enough to piss off anyone who reads this blog. So take it. An analgesic like Advil can be used as well, although I rarely use this or suggest it to my clients.
– Take a break from exercises which aggravate the joint. If your elbow hurts when you bench press, this still doesn’t mean that you have to stop benching. You can stop benching all together if you wish, or you could find another variation that is pain free. You really don’t even need to get that creative. Simply changing from a regular bench to a close grip bench might be all you need.
– Delete the exercise from your exercise library. Nearly all my clients have come to me with some sort of previous musculoskeletal injury. Therefore, they have certain exercises that they will never do. For instance I have clients who will never squat (if this happened to me I think I would need Prozac for the rest of my life in order to stave off depression). This client can still hip hinge and do a ton of other lower body exercises. Experience will tell you what exercises work for certain individuals. If you don’t train anyone, then experiment; or ask me.
– Go see a healthcare professional. Physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists can all have a part in rehabbing an ongoing issue. The trick (like finding a good trainer) is to find one who knows his head from his a-hole. Asking friends, and finding someone who actually helped someone with their issue is a great start. If they have you doing external rotation for 4 months, you know you found a dud.
This has been one of my longer posts, but I’ve been slacking too much lately so you deserve it. If you have any other methods of recovery that have worked for you feel free to post in the comments!

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