We seem to understand that to gain muscle, lose weight, gain strength, whatever the fitness goal may be. A balanced diet consisting of whole foods is vital to your progress. Yet, one thing many individuals tend to push off to the side is the recovery process. Especially new/beginner weight lifters, we hear the sayings of “b*lls to the wall”, “no days off”, “train to failure”, etc and as "motivating" as these messages may be, they are typically doing you harm. Most people do not want to admit that a workout got the best of them and they are tired or fatigued after a hard day in the gym.
Most people do not want to take days off, especially if they are seeing progress and loving the gym. Our mindset and the things we listen to play a major role in our thought process and opinion on recovery and rest days. Recovery is one of if not the most important aspects when it comes to progress in the gym and weight lifting. If you are failing to recover from workout to workout you will consistently be giving less than what you are capable of giving each workout.
Think of recovery like a car. You drive a car for x amount of miles and eventually it hits empty or gets close to hitting empty. The same goes for your body, but now you just have to recognize the signs of when you’re body is nearing fatigue/ that empty tank feeling. And learn to tell yourself you need to fill up again. For me it was never easy to recognize, I wanted to and sometimes did train seven days a week for months on end, until I could not anymore and then trained six days a week and eventually it got to the point where I burnt myself out and lost the overall big picture of the gym and working out.
To get an idea of how shifting my focus in the gym from meat-head, get jacked, lift heavy, balls to the wall mentality to less is more, stronger at 40 years old is stronger at 23 years old has saved my body multiple injuries, myself tons of stress, saved me from plateauing and many other things let me tell a little about how I got to where I am and how I f*cked up bad!
I finally realized about a year ago that I can workout until I am 60+ years-old but I have to find a way to sustain what I am doing at 23-years-old so I can lift when I am sixty. It all starts with building good habits and relationships with exercise and food. Exercise is not a form of punishment and it is not something you need to do everyday to be “productive” or “healthy”. Exercise is a way of relieving stress, energy, taking your mind off other things in life, focusing on bettering yourself mentally and physically. Plus it has a laundry list of benefits when it comes to being mentally strong, physically strong and emotionally stable.
Working out for me became a way to quiet my mind, relax, get in tune with myself and my body and just compete me vs me. In the beginning of my weight lifting journey, I worked out for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to get HUGE, bench as much as the guy to the right and left of me, get abs and be shredded for females, have the biggest biceps and most capped shoulders. Eventually when you workout due to self image insecurities and with your ego it ends up hurting you in the long run. As I said about a year ago I finally said I need to find a better why in the gym. Therefore it started with me just wanting to feel more mobile, fluid and comfortable in my body. I was coming off a back injury and a very inconsistent year in the gym during my senior year of college. I was starting a new job and had to focus mainly on school, work, coaching and making money to survive in the Fall of 2018 therefore I really did not have much time to dedicate 2 hour workouts and lifting 6 days or even 7 days a week. I transitioned to full body 45-55 minute workouts, correcting squat issues, hip impingement's, lower back pain, knee pain and just trying to fix all those injuries sustained from hockey and lifting.
I performed 3-4 full body workouts a week for 7 months, focusing my lifts on getting back to being strong in the core, compound movements (bench, deadlift, squat). To start I did not touch a barbell for the first 3 months, focusing on Bulgarian split squats, walking lunges, 1-leg exercises, floor pressing, 1-arm pressing, and taking the focus away from GETTING bigger muscles to focusing on getting stronger, more durable and functional strength. In the beginning I missed workouts, I was lifting HALF of what I used to, I was probably the most out of shape and heaviest I have ever been. It was extremely discouraging and difficult for me to go back to square one basically. But it was necessary and looking back was unbelievably helpful with helping me tame my ego, be less judgmental with myself and others and slow down.
On my days off, I would do 15-25 minutes of stretching, sitting in squats, and just overall feeling more fluid in my joints. My progress went as planned and I started front squatting and doing RDLs for the next 3 months,(Jan-April) I worked up to doing a 225 lb front squat with no pain in my knee. That was a major win for me. Now at this time(February) I was applying to jobs to be a hockey coach and landed one as a head coach for a HS team as well as their strength and conditioning coach.
From April-August I focused on very sport specific strength movements, working on unilateral, full-body strength and doing exercises I can tailor to my players to help them be stronger and faster while reducing risk of injury. End of August came around and I got back into power-lifting and I was extremely nervous to get started as I had so many issues with my hips and knees when I would squat heavy, I was so egotistical when it came to dead lifts and my bench was so bad due to my AC joint tear and rotator cuff injury back in High School. From there I started focusing on these main three movements, but with the proper RECOVERY and programming. I started with trap bar dead lifts, rack benching, light box, or high repetition squats, I sprinkled in some mobility movements for the shoulders and hips, focused on box jumps, 1-leg jumps, hip strength. Fast forward to this day, January 15th 2020, I am 4 weeks out from my first ever power lifting competition, PROGRESSIVELY getting stronger in the bench, deadlift and squat and feeling stronger than I ever have at 170 lbs body weight.
So my point here is RECOVERY and your focus on recovery is going to make or break you. You can only push through so many workouts in pain. You can only lift so much weight when your body is in pain, constantly aching, under so much stress and breaking down day by day as you continuously push weight on an empty or near empty tank. You need to re-evaluate what the end goal of this fitness journey is for you. Do you want to be a 40 year old dad or uncle who is so beat up and out of shape they cant play with their kids or nephews? Do you want to be the 30 year old ex-meat head who looks back on his life and says “I could have lifted x amount of weight but I don’t care anymore” or “I used to look like that but I don’t care anymore”. Do you want to be that 35+ year-old person who talks to young kids (18-28 years-old) and tells them “son wait until you get to my age, everything falls apart”. The choice is yours now and you can choose to stay on your path, do whatever you want but when you get hurt or burnt out and are out of shape don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Or you can make the decision right now to refocus your goals, change your mindset, find a happy medium between weight lifting and longevity and be that 35+ year-old who is keeping up with all the 20-28 year olds in the gym. It is never too late. Don't be an idiot like I was, but luckily I was able to put my ego aside for a year and start over and realize less is more. Being strong at 40 years old is not going to be possible if I can't stay healthy at 23-years-old! CHOOSE SMARTER NOT HARDER!!