Whether you're logging extra miles to prep for an upcoming race or upping the intensity at the gym, the recovery period after you exercise is a critical component of a successful workout. Adhering to a recovery period can help boost both strength and cardiovascular performance.
What Affects Your Recovery Time
The recovery period after exercise is considered the time from the end of your workout until your subsequent return to a recovered state, according to an April 2017 review in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
One way to monitor recovery time after exercise is to use a heart rate monitor. According to the journal review, this monitor allows you to observe the heart rate variability that can occur after your heart rate is elevated during exercise and while it drops to a pre-exercise state during recovery.
In addition to your heart rate after a bout of exercise, the review authors suggest using other recovery markers as well, such as fatigue, irritability and an inability to attain higher heart rates during future training. As to how long this takes, the authors point out that recovery for the cardiovascular system can take minutes to hours.
Jodi Rund, a certified trainer for Fit Body Boot Camp in West Palm Beach, Florida, says several factors affect your recovery time, such as genetic predispositions, age, stress, current health (are you fighting an infection?) and your overall physical condition. However, the biggest factors, she says, are sleep, nutrition, exercise frequency and exercise intensity.
How Long It Takes to Recover
The quality of your recovery period after exercise can be just as important, if not more important, than the workout itself. To maximize performance, boost strength and cardiovascular gains and improve your overall health, you need to allow your body rest time between training sessions.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), for muscle recovery you should allow at least 48 hours between high-intensity exercise of the same muscle groups. That would include, for instance, strength or power training where you're lifting heavier weights with lighter repetitions, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) points out. This typically means you're only able to do five to eight repetitions before fatigue sets in.
Less intense sessions, such as strength-endurance workouts, require 24 to 36 hours of recovery time. ACE says an example of these training sessions would be resistance training with lower weight and higher repetitions — for example, being able to perform a squat for 15 repetitions before your muscles become fatigued.
Adhering to these guidelines helps you avoid training the same muscle groups back-to-back, which could jeopardize your recovery time. When you work the same muscle groups daily, the body is not able to recover and rebuild.
How to Maximize Recovery Time
Though the length of a recovery period varies from person-to-person, there are things you can do to speed up this process. For instance, consider what you're eating. "Certain foods promote inflammation, while others have an anti-inflammatory effect," says Rund.
If you want to speed up the recovery process, she says, avoid pro-inflammatory foods such as nightshade vegetables, processed vegetable/seed oils, white processed flour, deep-fried foods and sugar. Instead, she suggests eating a diet rich in healthy proteins, healthy fats, veggies, nuts, seeds and berries to quicken your recovery.
ACE's suggestion for accelerating the recovery process is to ingest a meal with carbohydrates and protein 30 to 45 minutes post-workout. Also, make sure you're drinking enough water before, during and after exercise.
The amount of sleep you get each night also affects your recovery because sleep time is when your body heals and repairs. In addition to reducing injuries, repairing muscle and boosting your immune system, the Cleveland Clinic also says that getting proper rest controls your body's production of cortisol, a stress hormone.
- American Council on Exercise: “Know Your Recovery Strategies”
- Journal of Applied Physiology: “The Cardiovascular System After Exercise”
- Jodi Rund, NASM, certified trainer, Fit Body Boot Camp, West Palm Beach, Florida
- American College of Sports Medicine: “A Road Map to Effective Muscle Recovery”
- American Council on Exercise: “How to Select the Right Intervals and Post-Training Recovery Time for Your Clients”
- Cleveland Clinic: "How to Reduce Cortisol and Turn Down the Dial on Stress"