Recovery: Isn’t It the Same for Everyone?

The last five months I have been living in a state of fatigue…my five month old twin newborns have been a huge blessing to my wife and I.  They have also provide a great opportunity for spiritual endurance training.  They suffer from a host of food intolerances.  So imagine being up every 1 to 1.5 hours trying to comfort a baby with serious intestinal distress and you can’t stop the crying (for any of us;) .  Not only does this impact the stress level in the house, but it also impacts our body’s ability to deal with the added stress and allow time for the necessary recovery.

Why is recovery important? Recovery represents one necessary facet of our physical, mental, and emotional needs. A happy, fulfilled life takes into account many different facets.  Here is a quote from Adam Bornstein’s 4 Pillars of Good Health.

For many people, the physical aspect is what’s lacking. We convince ourselves that being social, working, and spending time with the family supersedes the need to exercise or make smart dietary choices; but if you don’t have a healthy body, you are limiting the life you can have. It’s that simple. Everything starts with your body—but that’s not where it ends. If you spend all your time focusing on your body, you miss out on all the other aspects of life that make your time worthwhile. 

Recovery: Pro vs. Joe


Recovery is the body’s ability to deal with the external and internal stresses being placed on it.  Why does a pro athlete seem to recover so much faster than the average person?  I like to think about it as the cumulative stress load placed on us.  The biggest obstacle for the average person recovering from exercise or an injury is that you have the stress from therapy plus the cumulative life stress from work, finances, and…family.  This cumulative stress steals from your stress resistance and lowering your adaptive reserve.  Also, I don’t want to take away from the fact that no two people will tolerate the same stress in the same way so there are unique recovery speeds to each person.

A quick caveat, professional athletes do deal with additional stress outside of their sport. The difference is that they are paid to recover from an injury and or spending the off season to heal.

The pro can show up, get treatment or train, go home and recover and then, if need be, come back and get more treatment or train. Often, professional athletes are in much better shape than the normal person and can tolerate greater volumes of therapy and treatment because their higher level of fitness allows them to resist a greater amount of stress.  Basically, though the majority of their day is either recovery or training.  The normal person doesn’t have that time to dedicate. 

Interesting idea, so how does that impact me, you may ask? Well the inspiration for this post came from Patrick Ward’s article Recovery: Athlete vs. Average Joe. So I will let him explain the idea of recovery.

How Important Is Life Stress Really?

A 2010 study by Slivka and colleagues evaluated 21 days of intense training on markers of overtraining in eight elite cyclists. The training had increases of volume and intensity over the 21 day cycle and the researchers looked at testosterone, cortisol, salivary IgA, time trial performance, heart rate response and a profile of mood states. Interestingly, even though the subjects were symptomatic for markers of overtraining there was no decline in 1-hour time trial performance.

So wait….the subjects were pushed into an overtrained (probably overreached would be a more appropriate term) state but performance didn’t suffer?

A similar study was conducted eight years earlier in 2002 by Halson and colleagues, again looking at eight cyclists over a six week training program – 2 weeks of normal training, 2 weeks of intensified training (which looked like a brutal two weeks!), and 2 weeks of recovery training. What the researchers found in this study was that the subjects had decreased power output during a max cycle ergometer test, increases in their time trial performance, a decrease in max heart rate, and an increase in ratings of perceived exertion (RPE). Interestingly, the subjects were showing signs of overtraining after only one week of the intensified training phase (I told you it was brutal!).

So what happened? Two studies. Very similar in design. Both show the athletes to be overtrained. In one study there was no decrease in overall performance and in the other the subjects performance went down the drain.

What happened was LIFE! What I failed to tell you about the first study I mentioned was that in the study they controlled the subjects’ life stressors. They did so by taking them out to the mountains in Western America where they would be removed from their everyday lives to train for 21 days. They had their sleeping arrangements and meals planned for them as well. Basically, the athletes woke up, trained, and recovered. Thus, even when overtrained a little bit, their body’s were able to adapt and still perform at a high level because their stress resistance was low. In the second study, these individuals were asked to go about their normal daily lives and were given training journals to complete. They woke up, trained, went to work, had to deal with the stress of their jobs, didn’t have their meals planned out for them, and didn’t have their sleep as regulated as those in the other study. Thus, when overtrained a little bit, their bodies broke down and weren’t able to keep up. Their stress resistance was compromised by non-training stressors.


It is important to remember when your progress slows that stress may be impacting your recovery ability.  If you have stalled on your journey to a leaner, stronger self take a moment to look at how much cumulative stress you are experiencing.  Just as I led into this post with the huge added stress I am facing and serious lack of sleep, I can’t expect to kill it each time I train.  Right now is probably not the best time for hardcore met con style workouts.  Stepping back to look at all the things happening in your life can help you see all the stressors placed on you.  This allows you to know which ones are in your control and deal with them.  Which in turn sets the stage for the necessary amount of recovery needed for progress. 

As Adam’s quote stated above the ability to have a worthwhile life includes working on many things.  I don’t want you to forget the importance of recovery from both the physical stresses and emotional stresses.  But I don’t want you to give up exercise when your stress gets high.  Instead let your training blend more into skill acquisition like Monkey Bar Gym or Gold Medal Bodies style.  Training  can be play and we all know that recovery from playing is a lot easier.

To your success,


References – from the studies in Patrick’s quote.

Slivka DR, Walther SH, Cuddy JS, Ruby BC. Effects of 21 days of intensified training on markers of overtraining. J Strength Cond Res 2010; 24(10): 2604-2612.

Halson SL, Bridge MW, Meeusen R, Busschaert B, Gleeson M, Jones DA, Jeukendrup AE, Time course of performance changes and fatigue markers during intensified training in trained cyclists. J Applied Physiol 2002; 93: 947-956.

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