If you are like me, you need to be told NOT to exercise, instead of TO exercise. Do you feel guilty, or perhaps even grumpy if you haven’t exercised in a couple of days? are you the one who on a holiday needs to exercise first thing in the morning so you can “tick that box” – and then dive into the breakfast buffet?! Is exercise one of those behaviours you have now just built into your life, like brushing your teeth, because it is good for you? yes, it makes you feel good, it helps to de-stress you, and its part of your health insurance, right?! But what if sometimes it works against you??
Some background to stress and recovery
This is a very practical blog, but a bit of background is important. Exercise works because it is a form of ‘stress’ for the body, that we need to physiologically adapt to. In the right doses, and with the right recovery, exercise makes us fitter, stronger, healthier and more resilient. But you know this. You feel it. intuitively.
Interestingly, the body doesn’t know where stress comes from. And it comes in many forms: yes, physical stress; but also in the form of the more commonly known emotional, or psychological stress; but also, toxic stress; inflammatory stress, etc. And these from many sources, such as the foods we eat; physical pain and injury; lack of sleep; toxic relationships; deadlines; financial pressures; public speaking; sick parents; our kids in trouble, etc, etc…. you know: life!
In the right doses, we can adapt to all those stresses. We can get more resilient, and develop a capacity to deal with all of them better, to lift the threshold line. As long as we actually adapt. And we do that by having the right balance between ‘stress’ (or strain) and recovery.
The balance between strain and recovery
Now, the word stress stresses me out. I much prefer, in this case, the word strain. Strain speaks to me of an overall tension; and overall load; that is useful. It achieves things.
Ok, one last bit of back ground, just to make sure we are on the same page. All that stress (strain!) can be positive if we actually benefit from it. If we get something out of it. If it leads to a positive outcome. And the crux of the argument here, is that we only adapt to strain when we recover. That’s right, you don’t get fitter while you exercise. You don’t get stronger while you lift weights. Those exercise bouts are the triggers for adaptation. but your body will only adapt while it recovers. And recovery comes in the form of the right nutrition, active recovery strategies such as massages and meditation, rest (knowing when NOT to exercise), and the all important SLEEP!
My new recovery coach
So let’s go back to your and my personality: the “I have to exercise today…”. We feel this way because we are convinced that today’s exercise bout will be good for us… but what if it’s not? what if our bodies (and minds) would actually do better having an easier day? can we bring ourselves to having an extra day off? or perhaps to just do some light stretching and foam rolling?
Since exercise is actually another form of stress, could that extra session actually tip us towards illness or injury, rather than away from it?? Well, there’s a plethora of evidence to suggest that the answer is unfortunately a resounding YES!
So what would it take to convince you to have an easier day? In my experience, hard objective data is typically what convinces me to change my mind… and sometimes someone to hold that data right in front of my eyes and force me to stare right at it!! does that resonate? I know that we have a LOT of clients at iNform like you and I. So over the last few months we have been doing some in depth research into existing tools that can measure how much strain our bodies are under and how well they recover, particularly while we sleep. We have looked at almost every activity tracker, exercise watch and smart watch in the market, and we feel we have found a winner.
Yep, my new recovery coach (with a little bit of accountability from my exercise physiology colleagues) is my new Whoop band. Funny name, but an incredibly powerful and smart tool to make sure we optimise our exercise, strain and recovery to get the most out of every day.
In a nutshell, it calculates the overall ‘physiological load’, or strain’ that your body underwent during the day. It then recommends how much one should sleep to recover from that strain. Based on how you actually slept, it rates your recovery and recommends the amount of strain you can get away with the following day. Very simple concept, supported by very smart technology! and it has helped me make some good decisions (against my initial intuitions) with the help of quality objective data displayed in easily understood displays.
I’ll tell you more about it in my next blog, unless you want more info earlier, in which case flick me a question in the comments below! I would encourage you to check it out at the link above, and keep an ear to the ground, as there’s a little offering coming up to iNform clients very soon!!