Recovery - overlooked and under performed
4 min read
August 7, 2022
If you’re serious about getting better, your first priority shouldn’t be new and exciting training methods or programs – it should be proper recovery.
If you put more time into deliberate recovery.. you’ll be better at training.
If you put more time into training.. you’ll have less for recovery.
You’re not hardcore for putting in 3-hour gym shifts if you’re not actually doing anything productive with the time. Ogling the ‘talent’ or mindlessly scrolling the IG waiting for for an invitation to do your next set is not productive training time. Nor is re-watching that video of your previous set for the 5th time.
Stop pretending. When you’re training, you need to be doing exactly that. Come in, do what needs to be done, then sign out when you leave. If you dedicate 100% effort to the session when in the gym, you leave no scope for doubt if you trained as hard as you could. In the long run, that’s the difference between looking back at your career with the satisfaction of knowing you did everything you could.. and staying up at night wondering what could have been.
If you’re serious. Get-in, get-out, and focus on preparing for the next session by optimising your recovery.
Why Is Recovery Important For Weightlifting?
Recovery is the thing that most weightlifters – and gym goers in general – are missing out on. Strength training results live and die by the amount of time and effort you put into recovery. Two athletes with identical technique, backgrounds, and strength levels – performing the same program – have wildly different results based on recovery.
Weightlifting is incredibly ‘thirsty’ for recovery;
- (it’s a) Strength sport: Olympic weightlifting has a lot of muscular demand, and thus muscle damage to recover from.
- (it includes a LOT of) Variety: weightlifting and its training will work every energy system and full ranges.
- (It's high impact on your) Tendons: recovery for non-contractile tissues is important, especially with the impact in cleans, e.g.
- (it requires high production of) Power: the ability to move quickly with weight disappears quickly as you get more tired and start overreaching
- (it relies on maintaining optimal) Technique: weightlifting technique is very fine and also heavily loaded, and that requires both a fresh mind and fresh body – which requires hefty recovery.
If you improve any of the areas of recovery – food, sleep, hydration, active recovery, or stress management – you will perform better.
This is most obviously over months at a time and it makes the difference between an elite athlete and a “lifetime intermediate”.
What Is Recovery For Weightlifting?
Recovery is basically everything you do outside of the gym. Every bit of your lifestyle outside of the gym is a factor in recovery. That includes all the favourites: diet, sleep, mobility, low-intensity recovery exercise, and other methods all add up for recovery.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind: a 2 hour workout is only 8% of your day, and the other 92% makes just as much difference.
Your training is necessary to get you better, but it’s not enough by itself. Deficit in other areas, i.e. recovery, are enough to completely undermine your training efforts.
If you’re not eating and sleeping enough, it doesn’t matter how hard you train, you’re going to get frustrated at the complete lack of progress.
Recovery is how you make your training cause change. Sleep is the time for recovery. Food is where the resources for recovery and growth come from and low-stress times are there to recover the brain and the neuromuscular system.
Recovery and Lifestyle Are The Hard Part of Olympic Weightlifting
The average weightlifter doesn’t really pay attention to recovery factors at play. While we always joke about over-caffeinated, underfed, and poorly-rested max out Fridays.. that’s a joke. Good sessions and good periods of training proceed from consistently good rest and recovery, from diets that make recovery easier, and from a lifestyle that lets you walk into the gym feeling ready to sling some big tin.
Under-recovery isn’t just the immediate struggle of feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus. It’s the overall number of good vs bad days, the amount of muscular and tendon strengthening you achieve per session, and the risk of injury.
Being under-slept, for example, is a direct injury risk. Wonder why you keep getting that knee tweak or a back issue? Consider that you’re constantly burning the candle at both ends and not refilling those “recovery resources” with the surplus of nutrients and/or sleep required.
These are the most common oversights, blind spots, and weak links in the lifestyle of weightlifters and weightlifting.
Lifestyle For Weightlifting: Priorities and Potential
Make no mistake; the lifestyle is what makes you a great weightlifter. You can’t train hard if you don’t recover. You can’t train twice a day for weightlifting without a fantastic lifestyle, support system, and outstanding logistics.
It reminds me of the great Omar Bradley quote:
“Amateurs focus on tactics; professionals study logistics”
You’re not immune to that notion just because you’re doing snatch and clean and jerk, (instead of leading a war). The amount of energy, physical resources, and time you have for weightlifting depend on your lifestyle.
Recovery is the one, big, easy thing to put in the right place to get better. It takes out a lot of the hard work of slogging uphill through disgusting fatigue and slowness. You need that skillset, too, but you can’t just slog 24/7.
You need to be in a good place to mount excellent high-volume training, or handle big intensities (or both). That all comes from stepping foot in the gym with a body that is in one piece, and both fuelled and rested appropriately for what you want to achieve.
Recovery Basics: 5 Changes You Can Make Right Now
Here’s the absolute, ground-zero, basic bitch guide to recovery for weightlifting. It’s not super complex because I don’t want to give you lots of information. What I want to give you is a 5-point checklist for your focus that you can implement.
- Nutrition: eat more protein – protein + carb + veg is your basic eating template!
- Sleep: get an evening routine, cut out screens 1hr before bed, and read.
- Active recovery: morning and evening mobility – even for 5-10 minutes, make it stick.
- Mobility: sliders and band-resisted ‘overspeeding’ are perfect for stiff or problem joints.
- Supplementation: 3mg creatine and 2 tabs of (Lidl) magnesium every day.
If you go away and apply each of these foci with some actual effort, you’ll be able to perform better relatively quickly. Building routines around the basics is all it takes to improve your recovery and progress.
That’s how the model works:
If you take out recovery, there’s no adaptation. There’s no stress-capacity changes, and your ability to perform doesn’t grow with the effort you’re putting in.
We don’t make the rules. If we did, the way you get better would be drinking coffee and maxing out power jerks or something niche. As it happens, you have to recover to be a better weightlifter.
Even the best in the world can’t just hammer at it every day. There’s a reason Bulgarian weightlifters aren’t a healthy or plentiful group. Weightlifting is hard and even the juiciest, dirtiest, doping-est countries (like China or Russia) have to integrate recovery protocols.
If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. The recovery work is a key part of the mental and physical preparedness you bring to your next session. At the very least, stop shitting the bed in prep and having (avoidable) bad days!