Recovery after a workout is an extremely important and often overlooked part of a complete exercise program. The workout session is when the physical work happens, but it is the rest and recovery period after the workout that determines how the body will adapt to the work. Training too hard and too often without the proper recovery can actually give your body the reverse effect of your goal such as weight gain, immune deficiencies and sleeplessness. Let’s examine the science, several important factors and guidelines for optimal recovery.


The Science

Performing any kind of exercise requires energy. The body maintains a continuous supply of energy by converting chemical energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. There are three energy systems which are responsible for the production energy (adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the ultimate source of energy for muscle contraction).


  • Phosphagen or short term energy system
  • Glycolytic or anaerobic energy system
  • Mitochondrial respiration, aerobic, or long term energy system


Depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise will depend on which combination of these systems are used. Optimal recovery entails restoring the capacity for each energy system to function once again at maximal levels.


How does your body recover?


In order for the body to recover, it must normalize and restore its physiological functions. Once a workout is over your body’s metabolism can continue to burn more calories. This physiological effect is called excess post- exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function called homeostasis.  A few things happen at the end of your workout for rest and recovery to begin.


  1. Immediately following the end of the workout, the body returns to a normal breathing and heart rate.
  2. Circulatory hormones come back to normal and core body temperature decreases.
  3. Energy stores need to be replenished.


What factors influences recovery?


The goal of the program has a large influence with how you should handle recovery.  The opportunity for muscle growth starts the moment you finish your workout and that growth can’t happen without the proper recovery protocol. A few key factors are:


  1. Stress of the workout – based on the workload of your program (sets x reps x weight)
  2. Overall muscle recruitment – based on the desired adaptation (strength, power, hypertropy (muscle building) or endurance)
  3. Potential for muscle damage and soreness – potential is a result of the previous two factors as well as exercise selection


What do these factors means actually?  Well for example, during resistance training, small microscopic tears occur in the muscle tissue (totally normal). During recovery, your muscles are repairing and increasing the size of these fibers allowing to build muscle over the course of time. The micro-tears are the cause of soreness post workout and the larger the tear, the longer you may feel sore . Your focus shouldn’t be on how fast the recovery is but instead how productive it is. The goal is to push yourself so that you feel challenged during each workout. You may try to do a little more each time, work a little bit longer or increase the heaviness in weights. However you don’t want to do too much that you are damaging the muscle rather than building it.


What can you do to positively effect your recovery?

  1. Dynamic Warmup – Also called movement prep, these exercises will help with strength, mobility, stability and balance.
  2. Cool down and Stretch – After your workout, it is important to . This allows the body to bring it back to its normal state.
  3. Foam rolling –  Can help increase circulation to the muscles and work through any small knots in the tissue.
  4. Post –workout Nutrition – After exercise the body needs to replenish energy with carbohydrates and repair tissue with protein. Having a post-workout snack or drink with both carbohydrates and protein can help meet both needs. The carbohydrates will refuel energy needs as well as increase insulin levels, which helps to promote the post-exercise utilization of protein for muscle repair.
  5. Hydrate – Guidelines include drinking 17-20 ounces of water two to three hours before the start of exercise, drinking 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes prior to exercise or during warm-up and drinking 7-10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise. Additionally it is important to drink 8 ounces of fluid 30 minutes after exercising.
  6. Rest – Rest days give your muscles a break. Doing some light cardio such as a bike ride or a walk in the park on these rest days is known as active recovery. This can promote blood flow and improved circulation to the muscles.
  7. Sleep – It’s a necessary down time for your body to repair itself. During sleep, the body produces the hormones responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, which is critical for repairing muscle tissue. Try to get at least 7 hours of rest per night.
  8. Periodize your exercise plan – This long term exercise program offers the variety needed to ensure that the body is continuously challenged permitting both progress and adequate recovery.


Understanding and following the appropriate recovery post workout will get you back to it feeling stronger, rested and ready to be challenged. If you need help with a rest and recovery plan, contact us.

Ask the Experts CTA



1. “Know your Recovery Strategies”. Accessed 17, March 2015. The American Counsel on Exercise.

2. “Training Recovery” The Most important Component to your Clients’ Exercise Program. Accessed 17, March 2015. The American Counsel on Exercise.

3. “ Recovery in Training: The Essential Ingredient”. Accessed 17, March 2015. The University of New Mexico.

4. “ Healthy Hydration”. Accessed 18, March 2015. The American Counsel on Exercise.

5. “Resistance Training and EPOC”. Accessed 18, March 2015. The University of New Mexico.




President, Personal Training Manager at Body By Brent LLC