Why you need Restorative Exercise for Health & Strength

restorative exercise

Although strength training is about resistance exercise, it’s important to know when to incorporate restorative exercise. Restorative exercise allows you to recover from tough training sessions and “fill in the gaps” in your body.

Filling in the Gaps

There’s certain things you should do simply for the health of your body. Let’s remember that you are only as strong as your weakest link. That could be core strength, or grip strength, or it could be nothing relating to strength at all.

Lack of mobility could be a weak link. If you can’t perform a deep knee bend (aka full squat), that’s a problem.

Why you can’t perform a deep knee bend (or why you have any dysfunction) has always been a fascination to me as a trainer. As a corrective exercise specialist, it’s like a fun little puzzle for me to figure out.

That’s why I love exercises like turkish get ups, windmills, arm bars and brettzel stretches. They target those “nook and crannies” of your body to help us move better, be more resilient, etc.

These “fill in the gaps” exercises tend not to be the kind of lifts you go super heavy on, so they fit the bill when it comes to restorative exercise.

The Systems

Although I never used to think of it this way, the entire system could be the “weak link” as well. This is when it’s not a specific muscle or a movement that is not getting enough attention, but something about the entire body.

Consider when you’ve got a runny nose or maybe allergies have got your eyes and throat all itchy. It would be no problem to train through it, and more often than not you probably should. But what happens when you’ve trained through enough of those minor inconveniences? I think at some point, you’re going to be forced to take either a day off or a deload week.

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If you’re training hard, month after month, at some point you have to deload. You can do that voluntarily or be forced to by injury or overtraining.

Overtraining you will feel systemically. Lethargy, restlessness, irritability, decreased libido, high blood pressure or increased heart rate. These are the kinds of things you can expect when you are overtrained.

When does overtraining set it? It’s different for everyone and depends highly on your age, fitness and general health.

I’d say with kettlebell training you could train hard 3-5 days a week and never really need a deload. [That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cycle the intensity.] Assuming you’re not trying to powerlift with kettlebells, they’re relatively light and don’t stress you the same way a barbell does.

With barbell training (powerlifting or strongman), first I’d say you probably only want to train that 3 days a week. If you’re going at it hard you can probably keep that up for about 3 months without really deloading. However, if you throw in a deload week once a month (even when you feel you didn’t “need” it), you could make progress on the same program for at least a year.

Don’t over complicate deloading. It’s just a couple easy workouts over the course of a week or so. 50% effort, volume or weight. Or just take the week off. You could do some restorative exercise, something for active recovery or you could do nothing at all.

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Something I’ve been dealing with lately is poor sleep. The stress of moving the gym and the increased work hours, I’m starting to feel it…

As such, I’ve had to adjust my training accordingly.

It’s very important for me to maintain a regular routine (as it is anybody). However, because I can feel that my whole system is off, I’ve been choosing to do things that are very out of my routine.

Yes, that has meant taking some time off training.

It’s also meant doing light workouts, doing heavy full body workouts, and doing leisurely activities out in the sun instead of working out.

Here’s a couple of examples:

I typically train Friday late afternoon during a timeshare with Eric and Erin. After an long week last week, I felt like I really needed to “get after it”. So I did a heavy 3×5 with all 4 of the powerlifts (I consider the overhead press the 4th powerlift).

Earlier that week, I ran sprints.

Neither sprinting or powerlifting have been part of my training for at least all this year. But, I had a few nights good sleep, a couple days off in between, and I was able push the pace.

Contrast that with today, where I woke up at 3am, and instead of lifting or running I decided to spend it in my garden.

Sunlight, fresh air, getting my hands dirty; I took the path of least resistance today and chalked it up to restorative exercise.

Yoga probably would have been good today, too, but I doubt I could have gotten my wife & kids to do that with me. There’s something to be said for the time together as a family. That felt better than any kind of structured exercise could have.

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What it really comes down to is balance. There is restorative exercise to correct specific movement dysfunctions, balancing out pushing vs pulling, strength vs flexibility. Then there is restorative exercise that doesn’t seem like restoration or exercise at all!

Remember that not all exercise is physical nor is it difficult. Simply being aware is an exercise. Listening to your body is an exercise. Recognizing the changes in your life is an exercise.

Nobody can do these things for you.

Although it helps to have someone ask you about them. It helps to have someone to talk to about it or remind you.

That’s the point of this article and something I try to bring to everyone who trains with me.

If you’ve ever done a personal training session with me, you know that I always ask “how are you feeling today?”

I’m not just making small talk. I really want to know how you’re feeling. Did you get a good night sleep? Are you hungry, stressed, tired or fired up and ready to rock?!

As much as I spend time writing programs, I’m quick to make adjustments based on feel.

You should too.

Let me know if you need help with program design or figuring out which corrective / restorative exercises you should be doing. Although I’m not currently accepting new personal training clients, I am available for distance coaching.

In strength,

-Dan Cenidoza