The Three Pillars of Longevity Part 3: Recovery
In my last few blog posts I have introduced three pillars of optimal health that will allow us to remain healthy, vibrant and productive throughout our lives – and live longer than has been common in the past. Lifelong practice of these pillars is extremely rewarding and can radically alter the experience of life. The first pillar is proper fueling, which involves effective breathing, hydration, and nutrient intake. The second pillar, which I will cover in the next two posts, is recovery. The third pillar of integrated training will be covered in some detail in the final post, and is the subject of my best-selling book, Unbeatable Mind.
The word “recover” was music to the ears of my fellow SEAL trainees and I. After being dropped for endless rounds of push-ups, or the infamous 45 minute “leaning rest” (which looks surprisingly like a push-up without the down position), the word was an order to stop what we were doing and stand up. Just changing from the push-up to standing, or whatever came next, was a huge relief, and gave us crucial time to restore our bodies and minds to prepare for the next fight. Ever since SEAL training, I have gained more and more appreciation for the importance of recovery as a pillar of longevity.
Recovery is the yin to the yang of training. A training plan without a plan for recovery is a plan for failure. Effort expended depletes energy stores, which need to be re-charged through some form of recovery. There are many forms of recovery – some can be performed in an instant, others require minutes, hours, days or weeks. In this blog we will look at recovery from work, and in the next we will take a look at the ultimate recovery method: sleep.
Event Working Recovery
Many athletes will blaze through a workout, thinking of the pain and getting it over with. But they miss opportunities to recover mid-workout. Elite athletes will plan their work in a rhythm that allows for recovery of different systems or muscles during the work. In a workout, the primary tools of recovery are relaxation of the body, breath, and visualization. Pausing after a high-intensity interval with 5 deep tactical breaths, body completely relaxed, eyes closed while visualizing energy rushing into the body, is an example of event working recovery. An executive taking a minute of mindful awareness on her breath, while visualizing a positive outcome before an important meeting, is another. I call these “spot drills” in my book, The Way of the SEAL, and they are an important way to weave recovery and training into an integrated process. This level of nuanced recovery has a powerful effect on one’s overall energetic state, bringing balance and a positive charge to your internal batteries while you are in the fight.
There was a time when I would finish a grueling workout, take a shower and hit the next evolution with equal intensity. Since it usually didn’t involve physical work, I assumed all was ok. What I was missing was another opportunity to reset my nervous system, pull energy back into my body and recharge my mind. After the work, whether a single workout, a challenging event or a big project, it is natural to want some downtime. Don’t ignore that urge, plan and take the time to recover. You have given all that you have, pushed the limits, put out…now retreat, draw in and rest.
The methods for post-event recovery largely depend on the tools you have available or have been trained in. I personally like a recovery sequence from Kokoro Yoga™, but any stretching will do. Recovery breathing for at least twenty minutes after a demanding workout is also a must. After a 20 mile fast paced ruck or long ocean swim, time in an infrared sauna, or hot tub or bath, is nice. A deep tissue massage is even more of a benefit.
How much you put into post-event recovery depends on the intensity and duration of the event. I recommend ten minutes for every hour of training as a rule of thumb. A two-hour workout will require twenty minutes of focused recovery. An 8-hour ruck means an 80-minute session of breathing, massage, stretching, sauna or hot tub. 52 hours of Kokoro ™ – well you get the picture.
Training Cycle Recovery
We have discussed recovering from a workout and a focused event, but what about a training cycle or other cyclical period of focused work? Well-designed strength training will have a “de-load week” programmed after maximal efforts – an example of training cycle recovery. Often a training cycle will end in an event, so the post-event recovery can kick off a training cycle recovery. Changing up the training plan is a great way to recover from a cycle. The variety and newness will bring energy and momentum. If you finish a Wendler strength cycle, try Westside Barbell or German Volume Training. If you complete 3 months of Advanced Operator WODs, take a break and do shorter CrossFit WODs for a month or two. The lower work volume will allow you to increase your intensity and will help your body-mind system recover to a new level of “possible.”
For a busy entrepreneur or executive, pay attention to cycles in your work patterns. After the product launch, take a few days to nurture yourself on a retreat. If you feel burnout coming on, schedule time to go into nature and just do nothing. Doing nothing in nature is one of my favorite recovery tools, and it is free most of the time.
This last point is a good one to reinforce. There are a ton of recovery tools, methods, and hacks. Most are useful but if they don’t stand the test of time and simplicity I find they fall short. I was recently asked to test an electro-stimulation device, but find it cumbersome to use, so I don’t. And my infrared sauna was great until it broke. That hot tub I am installing is going to be sweet, but it must be maintained. And that hot yoga studio across the street is packed with grunting, sweating and nosy people.These are all effective methods, but I find that my best recovery comes from the free and simple tools such as a meditation session, a mindful walk on the beach while breathing deeply, spending quality time with family, or being in a natural setting without my phone. The bottom line is: have a plan to reset your nervous system, draw energy in after expending it, and take some time to recover homeostatic balance during and after hard work.
Next week, we will dive into the mother of all recovery methods – sleep. Until then, I encourage you to take a serious look at improving the balance between work, rest and play and to plan your recovery.