Ok. Here we go, rest and recovery.

We’re going to break this down into two sections: rest and recovery within a single workout and between workouts. One is definitely easier to talk about than the other.

Let’s start with the easy one:

Intra-workout rest and recovery.

If we were to step back and look at the bigger picture of how your workouts are structured, we actually begin each workout with recovery by doing five to ten cycles of your prescribed breathing exercise.

In general, life tends to find ways of adding stress (from a variety of sources) throughout the day and contribute to shifting your body into a more-stressed state (as compared to how your body and mind might feel if you were completely blissed out and relaxed). Now, what constitutes “more-stressed” varies from person to person. The key thing here is that it usually means carrying excess and unnecessary muscle tension—particularly in muscles that would interfere with optimal physical performance.

As a way of managing your body’s overall state in terms of more or less stress, the breathing exercise helps to begin shifting you closer to baseline. (And yes, even if you workout first thing in the morning, there is still a lot of room for this to be needed and beneficial).

The foam rolling that follows the breathing exercise continues this parasympathetic shift.

From there, it’s time for your movement prep sequence.

This sequence is typically designed to gradually progress you from floor-based exercises to standing exercises. After that, we have your dynamic warm-ups and power/plyometric circuit.

For your dynamic warm-ups, you are encouraged to perform one exercise right after the other with little-to-no rest between exercises or rounds of the superset. The aim here is to elevate your heartrate as part of the continued build towards the strength work.

Most of your strength work is set up in supersets (two or three or more exercises in a row) and to explain the recovery strategy here, it might be best for us to take a brief detour to talk about conditioning.

The Conditioning Detour

Circus arts performance is rarely about how well you can recover, it’s generally more a matter of endurance.

We (the fitness industry and the circus arts community) have, however, largely misunderstood endurance to mean “cardio”…where “cardio” means 30 minutes (or more!) of jogging or 45 minutes on the elliptical or something like that.

It’s worth noting that the relative intensity of jogging or time spent on the elliptical is way lower than that of most of the circus skills that tend to leave you feeling tired. Compare one jogging stride to one climb on fabric. Jogging, as a repeated movement, is just way less intense than just about every circus skill.

And, you don’t spend half an hour doing nothing but climbs on fabric (for example).

All of which is to say that what we’re really talking about is the ability to repeatedly perform higher relative intensity ‘strength’ moves without fatiguing (which in no way compares to jogging or doing the elliptical for 30 minutes).

Getting back to recovery

So: if you were to approach your strength supersets by doing one exercise right after the other with minimal rest, chances are you will elevate your heartrate quite a bit–assuming you’re challenging yourself sufficiently with the weight you’ve chosen for each exercise (never compromising on form, of course).

…which means your breathing should be elevated as well.

The key from there is to rest in between supersets only long enough for your heartrate to recover to about 60% of your maximum heartrate. If you happen to have a heartrate monitor, figuring that out is easy. If you don’t, you can guestimate it at somewhere between one and two minutes (you should feel mostly—but not quite—ready before moving on to the next round).

Note: not every superset is going to work out this way. Some exercises will be harder for you than others and they’ll be challenging in different ways. That means that sometimes you’ll be at the perfect challenge-level for you for that exercise at that moment and your heartrate won’t go up by much. That’s ok. There should normally be at least a few exercises in each workout that really do challenge you and get your heartrate up.

And then you have the option of finishing your workout with some conditioning (or you can save it for another day). When you choose the interval option, I’ve opted to include time-based rest periods because I’ve assumed most people don’t have a heartrate monitor. If you do, however, use the guideline of resting until your heartrate comes back to 60% of your max.

Immediately post-workout

After that, your workout is done for the day. This is where I recommend a bit of gentle stretching, foam rolling and/or breathing. I have left it open and up to you what you’d like to do because I know everyone may have their own favorites here and really, the key is that you can use the five to ten minutes post-workout to recover a bit more, bringing your system a bit closer to baseline. (Understanding, of course, that your metabolism will remain somewhat elevated for several hours after a workout, so you won’t get right back to your resting baseline…but the closer you can get, the better).

Next week, we’ll discuss the slightly-more-complicated topic of rest and recovery between workouts. Simple, really…just not necessarily easy.