PART 1: Training and Recovery
I don’t know how many posts this will take or how far into the rabbit hole we will go but I’m going to talk about something that probably never crosses anyones mind.
Even though it affects us all on a daily basis and specifically those of us who train hard and have health and fitness on our daily agenda.
Our body is made up of systems, one of them being the nervous system. The nervous system is made up of two parts, the CNS (Central Nervous System), which is the brain and spinal cord. And the PNS (Peripheral Nervous System) which is everything else including the the part I want to talk about, the ANS (Autonomic Nervous System).
As you can see in the diagram, the ANS (bottom centre) has two parts to it, the Sympathetic Division (SD) and the Parasympathetic Division (PD). The SD is active when you are in action (fight or flight) which for us today means you are training. The PD is active when you are resting (rest and digest) which for us today means you are recovering.
If you do not understand what is written above please do not proceed. Read it again, look at the picture, and try your best to understand what has been said.
How is this relevant to you? There are LOTS of reasons…
The SD and PD come into play when they are required to assist you with what you are doing on a daily basis. Sometimes the SD will be dominant (training) and sometimes the PD will be dominant (sleeping). But that is not always the case and some people are SD dominant, and some are PD dominant and that should have a big effect on how you train and recover.
Have you ever noticed that some people are just slow and sluggish in the gym where others are go go go at 100 miles an hour. Usually the people that are go go go are like that out of the gym too, the are the A type personality, they love adventure and are usually the leaders. They are the SD dominant people. Opposite to that are our ‘hippies’ (no offence meant), who seem to cruise, not have a worry in the world, generally live at a slower pace. They are the PD dominant people. Yes you are both, and to varying degrees but you will more than likely have a bias.
Even before modern technology the world had methods for showing your metabolic type. You only have to look at Indian Ayurvedic (Ayurveda = science of life) methods to see how there are different types of people with different metabolic types. With Ayurvedic medicine people eat to their type and it has worked for thousands of years to help people become healthy. It is almost a lost art in modern nutrition but luckily it is making a comeback in the western world thanks to new age health coaches.
Anyway, Ayurvedic practices place you into a mixture of three groups and different people will have a bias to one or two groups and thus your type is found. The three groups are Vata, Kapha and Pitta. Feel free to do the online test and find out your life type by clicking this link: http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/prakriti-quiz/
In the modern day and age fancy computers can also tell you what sort of person you are, but I think your own intuition will be enough. It worked for them and it will work for you!! How that method relates to you is that it mainly involves nutrition and lifestyle choices to keep your body in an optimal state, something that everybody, including athletes should seek to obtain. I honestly believe that nutrition and lifestyle choices are the key to recovery outside of the gym.
Now, back to how this all relates specifically to training and recovery. Let’s look at how getting fitter is achieved and the stages the body goes through. With training we try and push the stress on the body just enough so that it doesn’t break (stage 1) and then we rest (stage 2), when the body is resting it pulls us into a Parasympathetic state where the bodies systems over compensate (stage 3) to make sure next time the stress comes along our body is more than capable of dealing with it. That is called ‘getting fitter’. Our bodies get stresses applied all the time so the SD gets called in to action. If those stresses continue then the body would start to break down and eventually shut down (stage 5). When the stress has subsided or the body says enough is enough the PD kicks in and we can rest and recover to get us back to a balanced state (stage 6).
You will notice I didn’t mention stage 4 which I will talk about in a second. Below is an easy to understand sequence of events. HR = Herat Rate, HRV = Heart Rate Variability (taken at rest).
Stage 1: Training (stress) SD in action, high HR, high output
Stage 2: Recovery (rest) PD in action, low HR, medium HRV, medium output
Stage 3: Overcompensation (peak) SD in action, high HR, high HRV, high output
Stage 4: Taper (this is where we should taper otherwise overtraining is likely to take place) Balanced ANS, low HR, high HRV
Stage 5: Sympathetic overtraining (stress, breaking down) high HR, low HRV, low output
Stage 6: Parasympathetic overtraining (broken down), low HR, low HRV, low output
For sever overtraining, athletes can hit plateaus and be out of action for over a year which is devastating for any pro athletes. Thats is why stage 4 is so important. Knowing when to taper your training is crucial, without it you are heading to a world of hurt! Tapering is ultimately balancing rest and training so that you don’t go backwards with gains you have made but you are also not pushing the envelope and going back into a highly Sympathetic state.
There are pro’s and con’s to being either a SD dominant person or an PD dominant person. The SD dominant person will more than likely rip sh*t and bust with high intensity high power output training but struggle to rest and recover which can result in overtraining as we have just discussed. On the other hand the PD dominant person will likely prefer and adapt better to longer endurance based training and have little problem getting into recovery mode. So whats best? Well it depends on your sport but for CrossFit a mixture of both is best. Especially if you have the capacity to control your ANS and can train with your SD and then rest with your PD. Have you ever noticed the more relaxed, less stress, more fun people do really well even though it seems like they don’t care. Well those people are recovering like a boss and can hit each training session consistently! Then you get those people that live and breath it, they kill it, they hit PR’s like nobodies business, they live the fast life, then without warning they go flat, get injured and move on.
Ultimately balance is the key, or more like knowing your type and how to switch on the PD state when it is rest time and when to turn on the SD state when it is time to crush a workout.
All of this is one of the many reasons I track HR and HRV with my athletes. To be the best you have to withstand the test of time. Avoiding overtraining by knowing a persons Metabolic type and the best ways to keep the stress/rest balance in place is the key to a long rewarding athletic life.
In Part 2 we will look at how different metabolic types require hugely different foods. It might just save your life!