I recently ran the London Marathon for Alzheimer’s Research. I’ve trained several clients for a marathon, and the same thing happens every time; panic sets in a few weeks before and I refocus them on the importance of prioritising recovery and rest.

The importance of recovery

Understanding the fine line between a healthy training volume and over-training is vital. Generally, we put too much emphasis on training, instead of balancing our efforts with rest and recovery.

What are the signs of poor recovery?

Tuning into your body is a powerful way of reconnecting with yourself. The human body is extremely adept at sending us signals, but we’ve become good at ignoring them. There are typically six areas where you might have issues:

  • Sleep
  • Mental health
  • Body composition
  • Energy
  • Digestion
  • Fitness

Sympathetic versus parasympathetic dominance

The body is a complex system of nerves and impulses. The autonomic nervous system is comprised of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous systems. Sympathetic relates to the fight / flight reactions. When the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, adrenaline is released by the adrenal glands, your heart rate is elevated ready for action, and blood flows to the parts of the body that need to mobilise and away from areas like the stomach.

Parasympathetic relates to the classic rest / digest functions. This is a good state to be in most of the time, although too much time in this state will also result in health issues. A good balance is to spend most of your time in a parasympathetic state, with occasional peaks into sympathetic due to exercise and occasional and inevitable periods of moderate stress.

How can I measure sympathetic versus parasympathetic dominance?

You can monitor your heart rate variability. I do this using a Polar H7 heart rate monitor and an app called Elite HRV. Every morning before I get up I take a morning readiness test which takes 2.5 minutes. The results of that test tell me how well recovered I am and whether I am in a sympathetic or parasympathetic state.

The value of a good night’s sleep

The body will do its job of healing if you have some good lifestyle habits in place. The main one is sleep. Having a good pre-bedtime routine is essential.

Active recovery

Recovery isn’t all about resting, putting your feet up or sleeping. Active recovery is also very valuable, and that can be as simple as walking. Recovery includes your mind and body, so anything that relaxes your brain is important.

Put yourself in flight mode!

When you’re on a plane, you have no choice but to sit still, watch a movie, listen to a podcast or read a book, or chat to your travelling companion. You can’t use your phone, and you can’t busy yourself around the house or office doing jobs. Every now and again, put yourself into flight mode and enjoy some time at home or outside doing very little.

leanne spencer

Leanne Spencer

This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of SE22 magazine.