Want to build muscle, burn fat or improve your performance? You bust your butt day in and day out at the gym, but are your results worthy of your efforts? You are investing your valuable time and energy into your training, but is this investment really paying off? Once you are training hard and smart, the next step is to work on your recovery. The faster and better you can recover the faster progress be and the less time it will take you to get to your goals. To accelerate your recovery and thus your training gains, you need to learn how to turn on your body’s recovery switch.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Your autonomic nervous system has two branches – sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic is your fight or flight path. This is what you use to get amped up for a big game or when you hit the gym to crush some weights. It can also save your life in an emergency.
Your parasympathetic system is your rest-and-recover system. This is the system that brings you back down from warp speed. It helps your body rest, digest, recover and rebuild. It stops your body from producing muscle-wasting hormones like cortisol and gets your secreting hormones to burn fat, build muscle and perform at your best.
While most people have no problem getting amped up, few are able to effectively switch back to parasympathetic dominance after a game or training session. As a result your training and competition just amplifies the stress you already have in your busy life. You stay in sympathetic dominance long after the game or training session ends and you rob yourself of the opportunity to effectively recover.
To enhance your recovery, you want to get back into parasympathetic dominance as quickly as possible and stay there as much as possible. Here are some fast, easy ways to flip the recovery switch.
How flip on your recovery switch
I know you have been breathing your whole life, but chances are you have been doing it wrong. Slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm are one of the fastest ways to shift back into parasympathetic dominance. Shallow rabid chest-breaths will keep you in fight or flight mode.
Related: Breathe your way to a better body
A great breathing drill I learned from the FMS folks is crocodile breathing. Simply lie on your stomach using your hands as a pillow for your forehead. Practice taking slow deep breaths with your diaphragm. Sniff air in through your nose and into your belly. Feel your stomach expand out to the sides and push into the floor as you inhale. Try to keep your chest and shoulders relaxed. See this video for more details.
If you have a foam roller, try lying length-wise on the roller. This is a great position to practice diaphragmatic breathing. See this video for more details.
Note: both of these drills are also great for improving posture, mobilizing your t-spine and improving your overall functional movement.
Ever passed out after thanksgiving dinner? It was not the tryptophan in the turkey that did that. Eating is a great way to put your in parasympathetic dominance. After a big game or a hard training session, get some food in right away.
I usually recommend some protein powder (e.g. whey) with some fast-acting carb (e.g. banana, raisins). Then, ideally follow this up 1-2 hours later with a big meal that is high in carbs, moderate in protein and lower in fat (e.g. chicken breasts, rice & veggies).
Note: be careful not to over-do it. Base the amount of food you eat (especially your carbohydrate intake) on what you did, how hard and how long you went and how lean you are. Don’t turn recovery meals into sabotage binges.
Related: How to Personalize Your Carb Intake
Also, how you eat will impact the effectiveness of your digestion and how much you switch into recovery mode. As much as possible sit back, relax, eat slowly (actually enjoy your food) and ideally eat with people you enjoy being with.
Laughter is an amazing way to melt stress out of your body and get you back to parasympathetic dominance. If you can hang out with people you like and have a good laugh do it – it is amazing for recovery. Finding some good comedy on YouTube is a another good option.
Foam Rolling – the right way
In a perfect world we would all get massages after big games and hard training sessions and at night before bed. If you have access to or can afford professional massage services – take full advantage. However for most of us, this remains a luxury. This is where you turn to foam rollers.
While foam rolling is nothing new, we are finally building up some research data to know what it actually does for you. One particular benefit the research has discovered is it is great for helping you get into parasympathetic dominance.
The problem for most people is that don’t foam roll properly. They make it way too painful and they hold their breath. Both of these things make you sympathetic dominant. Most people also do fast, useless strokes. To make rolling effective you need to do the following:
- Breathe slowly and with your diaphragm while you roll
- If you come to a particularly tender spot, exhale as you move through it
- Don’t make it painful. It should feel like it is doing something, but if it is painful, push more of your weight off the roller and/or use a softer roller
- Go slow
For more info on foam rolling, check out this video:
If you need to some flexibility work, a perfect time to do it is right after some rolling.
While cell phones do countless amazing things, they also add a lot of stress to your life. Also communication such as texting and tweeting add urgency to your life which can flick your recovery switch off. Make sure you get time away from your beloved phone eat day – especially when you need to wind down after a big game or training session.
How about you? Are there other techniques you have found helpful to switch your recovery switch? I invite you to leave your comments and questions below or on my Facebook Page.
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