Rest and recovery

Everyone understands of the importance of exercise training for overall health or optimal performance and improvement. However, what is commonly ignored or labelled as requiring too much effort is appropriate and adequate rest and recovery. This is not only the time that the body is allowed to repair and strengthen itself, but an important step to ensure both physical and psychological recovery – especially for athletes.

Let’s break it down…

What happens during activity?

Exercise is known as a stressor. Meaning that working out triggers the breakdown of energy for fuel. Creating microscopic damage to cells which results in an acute increase in inflammation. Or simply put for gym goers… when you do an intense strength training session, it causes microscopic tears in the fibres and connective tissues of your muscles. That’s why after a brutal session you can feel sore and tired, you may have muscle aches and your range of motion is reduced. If you continue to exercise, you struggle to generate as much force and your performance could begin to suffer. But this is only temporary.

What happens post activity?

As soon as your body senses damage from exercise, it begins to fix it. It shuttles fuel and materials to begin the repair job. You may even feel depleted or experience delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) but after a day or two, you feel energized and ready to train hard again. If sufficient recovery is incorporated into your routine you’ll find that you can perform a little bit better next session/game. So your body hasn’t just fixed the issue, it’s made you better, fitter, stronger, faster and more robust. This adaptive process called supercompensation.

The image above shows the flow of fitness levels at different stages of training. Although this example is only based on one day,  it can be applied on a larger scale. So what we see here is that during training your body will fatigue and performance will naturally dip. However, adequate recovery will bring you not only back to your base level but also improve your level due to the adaption response placed on the body. However, we can see that if you don’t continue training that you will lose the compensatory effect. Hence why progressive overload can assist in making these improvements. 

Now that there is a better understanding of what actually happens to the body during training, lets shift the focus on understanding how important recovery actually is in helping you see the results that you may be actually preventing.

Why is adequate recovery so important?

Adequate recovery is crucial to performance. Not only does it help your body repair and restore after exercise, it can also influence the degree and magnitude of your fitness gains. Without a doubt you have heard the terms short recovery or active recovery, but do we know what this is or why we do so?

This step occurs in the hours soon after intense exercise. Research shows that low-intensity exercise during the cool-down phase of your workout is associated with performance benefits. Active recovery increases blood circulation, which helps remove waste products from soft tissue that have been broken down by intense exercise. Fresh blood flow then delivers nutrients that help repair and rebuild muscles, tendons, and ligaments. During active recovery, athletes should engage in light physical activity that raises the heart rate above a resting rate. But they should avoid the same repetitive movements they performed during training or an event.

Examples of active recovery exercises:

  • Walking
  • light jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Yoga/stretching

Active recovery is an ideal time to incorporate stretching and massage because the muscles are already warm. This provides more effective stretches to increase range of motion. It also reduces the risk of injury.

But wait there’s more…

There are so many small details which we overlook and the major one everyone talks about but may not take quite so seriously is sleep. Now its fair to say that there is no better feeling than waking up from a good nights sleep; and here’s why:

  • The lack of sleep can have a significant impact on performance. Studies have shown that restricting to sleep to fewer than six hours per night for just a few consecutive nights will lead to a significant decline in cognition and mood.
  • It’s common for disturbances in sleep quality to occur after prolonged intense exercise and competition. Clinical tests on sleeping athletes has shown to have a drastic effect on physical and cognitive measures.
  • Poor sleep negatively impacts on appetite, immune function, glucose metabolism and all areas of athletic performance – strength, endurance, and power.
  • A good athlete will adopt good sleep practices to optimize recovery. A cool, dark room and a regular routine are essential. Limiting blue light technology and avoiding caffeine a good few hours prior to bedtime are also important.

Now here is the cherry on top for many of you! Napping is awesome for the body!!! Now you don’t have to feel guilty and lazy. You are actually improving alertness, mood, and for athletes this can improve function and performance as the body has been allowed a greater ‘repair’ time.


You already know this is important. But what you might not know is that hydration and recovery are inextricably linked. Water helps to lubricate your joints, encourages quality sleep, it carries nutrients to your cells, and it plays an important role in your heart’s ability to pump blood.


  • Make sure you get an adequate amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Your body demands all three to function properly.
  • Especially right after a workout, aim to get some protein and carbs in sooner rather than later. Your muscles are working their hardest and are hungry for that fuel. Many athletes keep it simple with a protein shake and a quick snack like a banana.
  • If in doubt, liaise with our Dietitian, Melissa: https://portmelbournephysio.com.au/dietetics/

Massage and recovery:

Over time, the understanding of the benefits of massage has increased and it is no long perceived as just a ‘luxury’. Massage improves performance, reduces pain, prevents injury, encourages focus and shortens recovery time.

How does massage help at a physiological level?

Treatment aids recovery by affecting the cardiovascular system. It does so by dilating blood vessels, promoting more efficient blood circulation. Manual therapy encourages the flow of blood to the heart and around the body, meaning the muscles receive fresh oxygen and nutrients whilst also removing waste products and toxins.

The increased and enhanced blood circulation helps to relieve muscle tension, reduce soreness and make for a faster recovery.  Massage therapy has also been known to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness, in addition to stiffness and fatigue after a game, practice or exercise of any kind. Relating back to the supercompensation mentioned earlier, this will boost that baseline level and decrease the time period of recovery but increase the training capacity. Furthermore, the relaxed muscles can experience an increase in range of motion and flexibility. Both of those benefits can lead to better athletic performance. In short, massage can help pain relief, build muscles and encourage their recovery as well.  Not only does massage feel good on the muscle tissues, it actually is good for them.

Massage and mood:

As a bonus, massage therapy has psychological affects too. These benefits include reducing stress and tension and anxiety while promoting relaxation by activating your parasympathetic nervous system.  So you get an increase in dopamine and serotonin levels and a reduction in cortisol levels, which are directly linked to stress. That relaxed, lowered-tension state encourages focus, a good thing to have before going into any sport, group exercise class or competition.  

~ Michael Martinovic
Remedial Massage Therapist

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