Am I Letting My Body Recover?

Recovery is quite the buzz word these days. You can’t get on Facebook without being served an ad about the latest and greatest device meant to speed up recovery. Dr. Sarah Crawford explored the mechanisms behind muscle soreness and methods of recovery in a previous blog called “What Am I Sore After a Workout.” She discusses the 3 main theories of muscle soreness (mechanical hyperalgesia, lactic acid, and enzyme efflux) as well as the pros and cons of various methods of recovery. Bottom line: recovery tools only matter if they help you, there isn’t a ton of scientific support to affirm any one choice.

But why does this matter?

How do you know when you need to work on recovery?

Are other methods any better than simply giving it time?

Recovery from general exercise or even sport-specific training is different than recovery from macrotrauma or injury. With an injury, soft tissue healing times will dictate recovery. For example, a ligament tear can take anywhere from 4 days to a year to fully heal depending on the degree of the tear. This grid gives a good visual of the healing times for various soft tissue injuries. You can’t rush the biology there. In this case, time, along with a properly guided rehab, is the only true method of recovery.

For the average gym-goer or recreational athlete, recovery is essentially the body’s ability to return to its homeostatic state after the microtrauma that exercise produces.

Fact: exercise is good for us.

But there are some physical and mental signs that you could be over-doing it and not giving your body the rest it needs to return that homeostatic or balanced state. According to Kreher in the Journal of Sports Medicine 2016, this can range from overreaching, a temporary decrease in performance, to overtraining syndrome, a multisystem problem with more severe symptoms.

Here’s what to look for as symptoms of too much exercise and not enough recovery

  • Constant muscle soreness and stiffness. DOMS should subside within 48-72 hours after exercise. It should also gradually lessen with repeat performance of that workout.


  • Elevated resting heart rate. With proper training, your resting heart rate should typically decrease as the heart becomes a more efficient pump. However with overtraining, your sympathetic nervous system is overstimulated and can cause your heart rate to increase.


  • Decreased performance and increased fatigue. Again with proper training, exercises/activities that you are specifically training for should get easier over time. If they’re not, it’s a sign you could be over stressing your body and it can’t keep up with the demands.


  • Irritability, anxiety, decreased quality of sleep or difficulty falling asleep. These are other effects of increased sympathetic stimulation. In an optimal state of training, you should expect the opposite effect.

Bottom Line

If you’re exercising 5 days/week, varying your muscle groups or types of exercise, or taking a break between sports’ seasons, you’re not likely to experience these symptoms. Delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS) is a good indicator that a day of rest is needed.

If you do suspect you have the symptoms of overtraining, seek guidance from a physician or physical therapist.


About the Author:

Dr. Chelsea Walter is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with an emphasis on treatment of spinal conditions. She graduated from Saint Louis University in 2014 with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy and completed undergraduate work at the same institution. From 2018 to 2019, she was a post-graduate resident with the McKenzie Institute. There she achieved certification in the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) and board certification in orthopaedics (OCS). Chelsea enjoys working with clients who are active in the gym or with recreational sports. She has led an active lifestyle from early on in life and enjoys hiking, travel, and spending time with family.