5 Tips to Optimize Rest & Recovery

Shannon Miller

October 29, 2021

Feeling the need to jump back into a fast-paced, active, and productive lifestyle after being cooped up for a year? We get it. However, too much bouncing back can leave little time for necessary processes the body needs to stay healthy: rest and recovery. And it’s not just about sleeping. Learn how to optimize the body’s natural means of rest and recovery with 5 tips from our experts.

A culture of hustle: we’re in the thick of it. Especially as the world “opens up” again after the COVID-19 pandemic, it can feel like a race to reestablish routines that we think will optimize our physical health. Hours at the gym, late nights working, stacking weekend plans to make up for a year of isolation. It makes sense we’re moving towards a “pedal-to-the-medal” mentality. What is typically the first to fall off from our list of priorities? Rest. However, the body requires intentional rest to function properly and repair from daily stress from the inside-out, and a few hours of sleep a night or a quick afternoon nap may not be enough. Optimize your rest and recovery by considering the following habits to gain more from your hours awake and improve your overall health.

Ditch the alarm

It is no surprise sleep comes first on the list when it comes to recovery. Getting enough quality sleep is one of the only health behaviors explicitly linked to a reduction in all-cause mortality. Meaning, the longer and better you sleep, the longer and better you’ll live. When the brain and body experience proper sleep cycles each night, important repairing processes occur that help boost the immune system, strengthen the heart, prevent weight gain, enhance memory, and increase exercise performance. Allowing the body to naturally move through proper sleep cycles may mean ditching the alarm clock to avoid abrupt interruptions in a cycle. Luckily, by leaning into your body’s natural circadian rhythm, you will generate a consistent time falling asleep each night and waking up each morning – sans alarm.

Find the right tool

While it is important to establish a habit of stretching the muscles, certain products and tools can bring muscle tissue recovery to a new level. Foam rollers, percussion massaging devices, cupping and myofascial scraping products, for instance, are used frequently by physical therapists and trainers to optimize muscle recovery. They are also beneficial in preventing injury and warding off soreness related to physical activity. Other more invasive techniques, like acupuncture and dry needling, can even further enhance recovery more than stretching or static tools can alone by accessing muscle tissue and trigger points directly. Like anything, consistency is key to reap the biggest benefit from a chosen product or technique, and professional guidance is often necessary to learn what is best for your body.

Hydrate correctly

The body is made mostly of water. Making sure it is properly hydrated can optimize recovery by reducing muscle soreness and balancing electrolytes. For some, clear, filtered water is enough to rehydrate adequately. However, for extremely active individuals or those located in particularly hot climates, enhancing water with sodium can provide better hydration. The kidneys work to balance the body’s salt and water proportion, and too much water without a balanced supply of salt can actually throw off hydration. Adding mineral drops or an electrolyte tablet to a clean source of water helps to keep these levels balanced, which optimizes hydration, and in-turn optimizes recovery.

Skip your workout

How dare we utter the words. But yes, for the very active individual, taking a break from intense workouts is necessary to give the body enough time to rest and recover. Muscle repair occurs within 24-48 hours of a workout, so your body may still be repairing muscle tissue 1-2 days after a period of activity. Many athletes who weight train choose to rotate days where they exercise certain body regions, allowing enough time to recover one region while they focus on another. Most fitness experts, however, will recommend at least one day per week of total body recovery, with time spent stretching or using a mix of foam rollers and other recovery tools.

Just breathe

Sounds simple, but resting the nervous system is a fundamental part of optimal recovery which can be accomplished through the use of the breath. Many of us live a fast-paced lifestyle, often relying on our sympathetic nervous system (i.e. fight or flight) to control much of our daily actions. Continuously operating in this mode can drive up cortisol levels (stress) and slow down any efforts to rest or recover the body, as blood is redirected to the heart and muscles for quick action, and away from the digestive system or repair mechanisms. Practicing breathing techniques can help turn down the body’s fight or flight mode and switch on the parasympathetic nervous system that focuses on rest and recovery. In fact, just five deep breaths can help bring the body back into rest and recovery mode.

Health is dependent on rest. Muscles need time to recover through tissue repair. The brain needs to process through sleep cycles to repair itself and the body. The only way to ensure these fundamental biological needs are met is to allow yourself to slow down, get enough sleep, take time off from the gym, hydrate, and breathe. Focusing on resting and recovering the body will lead to more focus and energy throughout the day, more productive workouts, and ultimately, better long-term health.

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