The Workout-Recovery Cycle

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You do not get stronger from working out, you get stronger from recovering from your workouts. This might sound like semantics, but when we examine it there are two important lessons:

1. A really hard workout, without proper recovery, is actually doing more harm than good
2. If you are not seeing results, do not assume you need to put in more work

Bear with me for a second here. Let’s say every day you had to dig a ditch and then every night you had to fill that ditch back in. When you refill the ditch you’re always left with an extra pile of dirt because, while digging, you have loosened up the packed soil and now it won’t fit neatly back into the hole.

We can think about our own fitness and recovery by using this idea of digging and filling a ditch. The digging represents our fitness routine and then filling the hole represents our recovery. Our leftover mound of dirt represents our fitness progress.

So you set out to dig your first ditch (your first workout) and then after digging, you fill your hole back up (your recovery) and, as predicted, you are left with your pile of dirt (fitness progress). After day one you are feeling confident and ready to start again tomorrow.

After a few successful days of digging, you realize the deeper the hole you dig (the harder the workout) the larger the mound of dirt left over (more gains after recovery). The harder you work, the more results you’ll see, however, deeper ditches also take more time to refill. The harder the workout, the more time it takes to recover.

In pursuit of more progress, you dig deeper and deeper, working harder to try and get more results. At first, you are amazed by your piles of dirt and you’re feeling like the key to amazing results is just to work harder. It feels pretty simple, so you dig deeper and deeper and your confidence grows.

Until you have one especially amazing day of digging and you spend all night trying to refill your hole, but by the time the next day rolls around you still haven’t filled in the ditch. Then the same thing happens in the next few digs. After a week, or so, you are feeling fatigued and your progress has come to a halt.

You think, ‘what the heck, in the past I just needed to work harder to get more results,’ so now, more determined than ever you set out with your trusty shovel—a fitness plan consisting of nothing but working harder for more results—and dig deeper than ever.

After less than a week, you realize that instead of sitting on top of a mountain of perfectly molded dirt, you are sitting in a very deep hole. You’re actually losing ground, as your results start to dissipate. You’re closer to injury and exhaustion than a six-pack of perfection.

The solution is not always to dig deeper, more often than not it is to spend more time filling our holes back in. You need to manage your own recovery in order to see consistent progress, otherwise, you’ll wind up at the bottom of the hole you dug for yourself.

Thanks for reading,

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