Recovery: An Essential Part of the Growth Equation

Story by Mike O’Hearn
Written by Asha Belisle, CSCS, BPE, CEP

People always talk about how hard they go in the gym. They push so hard and so fast and it’s so intense. Don’t get me wrong - I love the warrior mentality. That’s how I’ve lived for the past four decades. But if you are 100% intent on only getting better and training smarter, then you have to put just as much effort into the recovery as you do the work.

I train like a warrior. I’m very intense. But I’ve spent my entire life learning my body, and I know how to correct whatever needs to be corrected in order to fix myself. I train like a savage, yes, but I know how critical it is to pull back sometimes. After 12 weeks of getting ready for anything – photo shoot, guest posing - I drop back to 60%, starting over with foundation work. I’ve done this my whole career.

Here’s the thing: You can only train as hard, as well as you can recover. It’s that simple. If you’re not recovering properly – and enough – you’ll do harm before you’ll see any progress. If you’re training so hard that you can hardly move the next day or two, you’re defeating the purpose. Training and tearing down the muscle is only 25% of the equation. Proper recovery nutrition and rest make up the other 75%.

There are five things that are essential to full recovery:

1. Sleep

I recommend aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Life is hectic. We need this time. I know it’s hard and I know you’re busy, but try your best. If your goal is to get a better body, or to compete, or simply to get active to get in better shape, then sleep is KEY.

2. Proper Nutrition

It’s all about taking in the right number – and type – of calories for the level of intensity at which you’re training. Everyone is different and responds differently to macronutrients but the bottom line is this: feed your body what it needs to do what you’re asking it to do.

3. Massage / Stretching

Flexibility is what has kept me injury-free over the last 40 years. Regular massage and stretching is very important, especially as we age. As we get older our bodies want to tighten up, which puts us at a higher risk of injury. Contracting the muscles is half the process. Make sure that you take the time to stretch and relax daily.

4. Supplementation

This could be an article of its own. But there are five supplements that I never go without because they are essential to recovery:

  • Glutamine
  • BCAAs
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin D3

5. Mental recovery

This is so often overlooked. It’s great to be focused and driven and to have heightened mental awareness when you’re in the gym. But your mind also needs to rest. You need to complete the whole process: train hard – physical recovery – mental recovery – repeat. Only then will you optimally succeed. Think about your workout: what you were happy with, what you’d change next time. Give yourself a mental pat on the back. Then put it out of your mind until it’s time to hit the weights again. Over-obsessing is like overtraining – it will stifle your results.

We are all only human. We need to back off sometimes. I recommend setting up your training in twelve- week periods. Go hard for that 12 weeks. Push hard. Then back off for the next four weeks. Pull back to about 60% intensity. Have fun. Take a couple extra minutes of rest to chat with your training partner. Goof around. Enjoy the decreased workload. But when that four weeks is up, it’s time to turn it on again for the next 12 weeks. You CAN’T go hard 100% of the time. And you shouldn’t. Look at NFL players. Sure, they train hard and play hard all season, but they take an offseason. Because they need it. And so do you.

If you train like this, you will keep progressing. You can do this forever. And taking that four-week break will increase your motivation and your passion to train, which will push you even harder.

So, train hard, warriors; but remember to recover just as hard. I want you to succeed and be healthy not only in the gym when you’re young, but in life – for the long haul.