As an industry, fitness and wellness has moved forward a great deal in the past decade. Various movements throughout the world have brought fitness into mainstream culture, where working out is seen as a basic part of everyday life.
This is great news in the trends for fitness. The only problem here is that, whereas popular focus has pushed boundaries on exercise and diet, not nearly enough has gone into post-workout recovery.
There has been a lot put out there in terms of professional fitness circles, but surprisingly little has made it to the mainstream. It’s our job as personal trainers to educate our clients. In many instances, you probably need to spend more time with them teaching about recovery.
It’s a great starting point for discussing the most common post-workout mistakes when it comes to recovery with your clients. Let’s dig in!
Exercise doesn’t build muscle—recovery does! Exercise places stress on the muscle, creating microscopic tears in the tissue. During recovery, your body works to repair those tears, and builds them back stronger.
This is a great way to really illustrate the importance of working out the correct amount. Too much exercise will break you eventually, especially if the body doesn’t have enough time to recover. Too little and there’s nothing to fix.
Not recovering at best will cause a plateau in your client’s progress. At worst, it will injure them severely. Neither outcome is good, both are effectively failures in a program.
But, let’s talk away from the extremes for a moment. One obvious indicator that you need more recovery is excessive soreness. There is a difference between being lightly sore after two days and being so sore you have trouble getting around the house.
If you are lightly sore, meaning your muscles are fully functioning, have full range of motion, and zero pain (there’s a difference between discomfort and pain!), you are probably ready for a workout. But if your soreness impedes full function, range of motion, or includes pain, you have not recovered enough to work out again.
Doing so dramatically increases your risk of injury and impedes muscle growth. And if you are impeding muscle growth, then why work out to begin with?
It is possible to reduce recovery over time, as you see with triathletes and the like. But for these athletes, recovery is never a thing to be skipped. Success or failure can be based on recovery alone!
So, with this in mind, here are some of the common mistakes people make. Discussing these with your clients will ensure that they get the absolute best results from your work.
When your clients haven’t done recovery properly, these are some of the common signs:
Excessively sore muscles
Plateauing on fitness goals
More is better...right? Well, no, not always.
There is a specific threshold in which your body will optimally perform. This is the threshold that we wish every client would reach, but it is a different point and a different balance for everyone, based on both body type and experience.
A client who is more physically fit and has been training more consistently can, under the right circumstances, recover more quickly from workouts. But even still, there must be a minimum level of recovery, even for the best athletes in the world. In fact, for the greatest athletes in the world, rest and recovery are equally as important as time in the gym and diet.
One way to be more proactive in getting in recovery is to reframe our mindsets on recovery. The key is to bump the priority of recovery to being equal to a workout. If someone is stacking their workouts one on top of the other without a proper recovery plan, this should be seen as a weak and inefficient program.
Think of missing recovery like missing an entire workout—because that can be exactly what you’re doing, or worse if you’re injured. Injury is a huge concern for a lack of recovery. Safety is your priority, and the only way to train safely is to include adequate rest and recovery in your programming.
Often, especially with strength training or HIIT, the first thirty minutes after the workout is the moment where your metabolism is operating at its highest efficiency.
This can lead some people to think it’s an ideal time to get in a cheat meal or snack. Whereas something like chocolate or a cheeseburger might be tempting, this time is very precious in terms of your body’s recovery.
The body prioritizes caloric burn in this state in order to feed necessary proteins and amino acids to your muscles. Your body starts to repair those micro-tears that occur during muscle exertion almost immediately. This is what results in muscle growth.
Immediately after your workout, the quality of what you eat has an effect on how your body recovers. We’ve all heard the term “garbage in, garbage out.” Well, it’s actually worse. Imagine that the food your body eats is re-formed in your body through digestion into the proteins that eventually build up your muscles.
With post-workout snacks or post-workout meals, you want to choose whole foods—especially fruits and vegetables—that will replenish your body. Add in some protein. This is a place where you can have something that’s very starchy, like a sweet potato, some lean chicken in a salad, or even something like a higher-sugar fresh fruit that you might otherwise not choose. These types of things are fine. Processed, sugary foods, however, are not going to help with your recovery.
Foam rollers, balls, static stretching, balance work—all of these things affect the quality of your recovery.
When muscle groups have a lot of lactic acid built up, knots, or other similar issues, foam rollers and balls can be incredibly helpful for really getting in and massaging these problems out. But that isn’t all—they also increase the effectiveness and range of motion in your various muscle fibers.
This is especially important after a tough workout. Foam rolling can feel very uncomfortable at first. But once you feel the benefits, you will understand why it’s such an important part of the gym.
But remember—in order for your clients to know how to properly do these things, you must first teach them how and why.
You can’t be around them all the time, and it’s unlikely that your clients want to pay for additional sessions to focus on recovery specifically, but you should still teach them to do this on their own.
For your most motivated clients, you will likely be able to incorporate recovery sessions into your regular plan. This would mean that they show up for the gym, but they don’t do an exercise session. Instead, they focus on stretching and mobility work.
This can be a hard sell, but continue to stress the importance of recovery work at home.
The newer a client is to exercise, the longer they need to properly recover so they don’t get injured. Over the course of a year or so, they can start reducing this until they are used to understanding the cues from their bodies.
In this, it’s essential with new clients that you plan recovery into their programming—then make sure they stick to it! It can be helpful to add recovery reports to meal plans. You are their accountability, so let them lean on you!
Making sure muscles get adequate rest is so important to success.
One great way to educate your clients and increase their engagement is to offer group recovery classes at certain times. For instance, let’s say that you have ten clients, and they aren’t all doing great with recovery.
You could have a group session on, say, Saturday afternoons at 3pm, where they can come and get a free 30-minute recovery session.
This way, you’re only giving away 30 minutes, but it provides a significant value-add to your training.
Furthermore, this free recovery session is a great way to get your clients to bring friends which could lead to new clients! Just remember that this is a service you are providing so that they can get the most out of their workouts. From these sessions, they can either learn how to properly recover for themselves or use the session as a time to make absolutely sure they get in recovery movements they need.
All clients want to perform their best. But intense exercise and other factors can break down this potential over time. Personal trainers who use exercise recovery techniques in their sessions build the most holistic health and fitness programs available on the market today. Get certified in recovery with ISSA so you can deliver a unified approach with clients to get them feeling, looking, and performing their best.
ISSA's Exercise Recovery Specialization unlocks the science behind recovery techniques. As a Certified Exercise Recovery Specialist, personal trainers can apply this information to their exercise prescription and programs, helping athletes and general fitness clients alike.