Physical Culture / Primal Nutrition

On Yin, Recovery, and Balance

In a recent article on T-Muscle, here, controversial fitness guru Paul Chek make some very interesting points about training holistically and integrating physical, mental, and spiritual wellness in order to best meet your fitness goals. The part that really caught my eye was his talking about balancing Yin and Yang in training. Yin (female, water principle) speaks to an anabolic, recovery state, and Yang (male, fire principle) speaks to a catabolic, working state. Paul speaks to the importance of making sure there is a balance between these two in order for an athlete to succeed. This type of talk tends to scare away those uninterested in Eastern philosophy, but if you take a good look at what is being said, its simply a repackaging of knowledge that most people who are involved in fitness take for granted. This is not to discredit or lessen what Paul is saying, just to point out that what he’s saying is absolutely true and that most fitness professionals agree with it, they only package the concepts a bit differently.

Reading materials by Doug McGuff, Scott Sonnon, and Jim Wendler all point to how recovery is every bit as important as the workout stimulus you are using. Your body supercompensates AFTER the stimulus, not in the midst of it. This is one of the concepts new trainees have trouble understanding because the initial instinct when someone finds that they enjoy working out (or the result from working out) is to work out A LOT. If a little gym time is good, it stands to reason that a LOT must be better, right? Well…not necessarily. Physical Culture is as much an art as a science. No one can tell YOU what you’re capable of recovering from, and as you progress in your fitness journey you’ll usually gain the ability to tell when you need to spend more time out of the gym. But in the beginning a good rule of thumb is to train on alternating days so you have a day of rest in between training and to make sure you train in a balanced manner without an over-emphasis on a particular muscle group or energy system.

The polar opposite of people who workout too hard are those that are overtraining-phobic. These are the individuals who don’t give their bodies enough credit. Too little workout stimulus and too much recovery leads to subpar or nonexistant results. Hard work and consistancy leads to results (in almost all things, not just training) so doing light exercise and resting most of the time is probably not going to get you the body you desire. You can see how tricky fitness can be…training too little or too much is counterproductive and how much is too much or too little varies from individual to individual! Furthermore, your individual capacity for productive work varies from day to day…stress, lack of sleep, non-workout manual labor, mental distraction, athletic activity etc…all of these result in a diminshed capacity to recover.

The effect of too much recovery time is simply a lack of results. The effect of too little recovery is a lack of progress towards your fitness goals, higher resting heart rate, actual fitness regression, illness, etc. It’s very important to give your recovery the same attention and intensity that you give your exercise program. Work the following into your week’s schedule the same way you make room for exercise:

  • Get adequate sleep – I won’t tell you what that means…I believe this too is individual. Seven hours works for me
  • Eat right – You have to put the high octane gasoline in a Ferrari for it to run right. Your body is the same.
  • Stress Management – Meditate, sit in silence, eliminate negative influences in your life, act like a kid sometimes, make good choices (proactive stress management)
  • Take a break – Schedule deload weeks every 3 to 4 weeks (again this is individual), and each week have one day where you do absolutely nothing physical. These are rules of thumb…I tend to use more of a “gut feeling” method to know when to take a break and when to keep on working. I know my body and know when to work and when its time to rest.

The reason for this post is that I had planned to take a deload week roughly four weeks ago and didn’t because mentally and physically I was eager to stay in the gym going hard. This week I definitely feel run down and I’m no longer excited to get into the gym and tear it up. I know myself and I know when its time to take a step back and re-assess and come back to the gym with a whole new routine, fresh and fully recovered. To that end I plan to take next week off, getting plenty of sleep, eating right, and engaging in light kettlebell and bodyweight work to keep the motor running. I’m looking forward to this deload almost as much as I look forward to a hard week in the gym, and I know that two weeks from now I’ll return to the gym with the same ferocity and excitement that I’m used to!


2 thoughts on “On Yin, Recovery, and Balance

  1. Greetings Dr. Irving!

    While I hesitate to ever say “THE best” for anything since almost every solution is situational, if I had to be pinned down to one KB exercise for full body stability and strength I would go with the kettlebell turkish get-up. The entire body (with the exception of pulling muscles) are worked in this movement and the core and shoulder-girdle stability can’t be beat.

    The best bang for your buck movement for KB strength and conditioning I’d say is the Long Cycle Clean and Jerk with two kettlebells.

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