Many women are aware that exercise and eating well are essential for good health. Many women also know that good work/life balance, as challenging as it is to achieve, can help them feel more satisfied. In spite of all the things we remember to work towards on a daily basis, there is one crucial thing women frequently forget to make time for. It’s often referred to as “the forgotten training variable” and it’s an important component of wellness. The forgotten variable of exercise and healthy living is recovery.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, we don’t reap any benefits of exercise until we have recovered. Yes, it’s true. Exercise is a stress applied to our bodies and it’s only once we have recovered from this stress that our bodies becomes stronger and more capable.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. Stress stimulates the body and helps it become resilient. An article about stress and recovery, The Making of a Corporate Athlete, written by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz for the Harvard Business Review, cites that stress is not the main thing that hinders professionals from reaching their peak performance. What does hinder professionals from reaching their “Ideal Performance State” is the absense of a purposeful recovery.
Loehr and Schwartz explain in their work that “Sustained high achievement demands physical and emotional strength as well as a sharp intellect. To bring mind, body, and spirit to peak condition, executives need to learn what world-class athletes already know: recovering energy is as important as expending it.”
Athletes and professionals must go through cycles of peak performance and subsequent recovery or “off-seasons” in order to rejuvenate and thereby successfully enter back into their demanding daily grind. Many professionals burn out and athletes get injured when they do not allow for proper recovery. What would happen if a CEO refused to take vacation for years on end and worked 80-100 hrs/week? What would happen if an elite runner trained at race speed every workout in between Olympic trials? Peak performance is something we briefly achieve, not something we maintain for long periods of time. In between moments of reaching “our best” we must work in cycles of effort/expenditure and recovery.
For the average person, a balanced training approach (not including nutrition) is four pronged and includes achieving the following: 1) cardiovascular health, 2) strength, 3) flexibility, and 4) RECOVERY. ACE Fitness offers a great explanation for why this fourth prong, recovery, is so crucial:
“The best workout program in the world won’t create the effect you want if you don’t get the proper rest and allow the appropriate time for your body to recover from the exercise. In fact, training too hard, too often, with little recovery can actually be bad for you and lead to Overtraining Syndrome (OTS), which could cause weight gain, sleeplessness, poor immune system function and other physiological issues that can keep you from reaching your fitness goals.”
I get it. This is a hard pill to swallow because American culture, and the many roles a woman plays in her life, make it very difficult to take a break. How many of you have multi-tasked on a much needed “sick day” answering work emails, doing the laundry, or running out of the house at lunch to do errands? Is that really recovery? How many of you have traded in sleep for extra hours of work? (Raising my hand!) 1/3 of Americans get less than the healthy amount of suggested sleep. They trade it in for work. This lack of rest could quite literally be killing a nation by adding to disease and issues with health. Yikes!
You don’t have to forgo rest though – it’s okay to take a break! In fact, once you return to better health via rest then you will be in a better physical and mental place to take on the next great challenge in your life. Promotion?! Child #2?! Kickboxing class?! Organizing your closet?! Taking a break to relax, get enough sleep, or allow your body to recover from stressful exercise will both feel good and help you to do good. You will have more energy to share. This is truly a scenario where giving to yourself should be top priority. You have permission to think of yourself first and to be a little “greedy” with your time. Simply relax, lady. Recover. Oh, just enjoy!
Yours in health and wellness,