Exercise can be a great way to relieve mental stress through the release of dopamine and endorphins. Despite the mental relief, it is important to remember that exercise is actually the application of physical stress on our bodies.
Specific stress elicits specific adaptations. (SAID Principle) Simply put, lift weights and you will get stronger; Go for a run and you will improve endurance. However, it is not the application of stress alone that makes us get better. Rather it is the combination of exercise and proper recovery that helps us to become stronger and more fit.
For years I tried to stress (no pun intended) the importance of recovery with my college athletes. I would say "after your workout is when you really need to get to work". I emphasized the importance of cooling down, followed by, proper nutrition, sleep, cold baths, foam rolling, etc. Making the most of their recovery meant getting the maximum benefit from their previous workout.
To put it bluntly, if you do a hard workout and follow it up with a bag of chips, an energy drink and 5 hours of sleep, you may have been better off just skipping the workout in the first place.
"A workout is only as good as the adaptations it produces" -Lou Schuler, New Rules of Lifting
So next time you hit up the gym or head out on a run, just remember when your workout is over is when it is time to "get to work."
Since we don't all have training rooms complete with cold baths and electric stimulation machines, here are a couple of ideas to help with your exercise recovery:
- Protein shake and/or meal within an hour after working out
- Foam Rolling and Stretching
- Cold or Contrast Showers (most peoples tap water is cold enough; 50-60degrees)
- 8-10 hours of sleep. Seriously.
- Active Recovery (light activity within 4-24 hours of workout)
- Proper, Healthy Nutrition including ample Water
- Restorative Breathing/Meditation
One final thing to consider is how much stress can one person's body can handle? If a person has a lot of stress in there job, or life, and they couple it with high intensity (high stress) workouts it may be a recipe for disaster. If you function all day in your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) you may be better off with a low intensity forms of exercise that will allow your body to shift back into parasympathetic (rest and restore).