You've probably been there before, or maybe you're there flow: You just aren't into your training. The
weights feel heavy you don't get a pump the way you used to, you can't seem to focus on your workout
and do more talking than training. You might even start asking yourself why the heck you keep pumping
iron. These symptoms could mean you're in a slump, signaling an imbalance in either your training,
daily life or both.
A performance slump can be particularly frustrating; this seemingly unexplainable drop in
performance-related variables lasts for an extended period. In nearly every case, though, a source can
be found. Slumps are often traced to a lack of recovery from stressful situations, and improving your
recovery mechanisms could be the difference between muscle hugedom and training burnout.
Before we introduce the primary recovery mechanisms, let's discuss a couple of key concepts. First,
recovery need not be a passive event. It can be an active process requiring mental, physical and
emotional involvement. Second, sitting still isn't recovery; sit long enough and it becomes a form of
stress. Movement, then, provides relief. The point to remember is that in most cases, you can have too
much of a good thing, including bodybuilding. If you work at it too hard and for too long, you'll be
in dire need of recovery. That's what usually leads to performance slumps.
In his book, Stress for Success, sport psychologist Jim Loehr, edD, outlines several mechanisms of
recovery that we believe can help you avoid bodybuilding slumps.
Rest: Active & Passive
When we say rest, we don't mean lying on the couch watching television. Even too much of that can end
up being a source of negative stress.
Active rest refers to recovery methods that involve movement. For example, walking, fishing, stretching
(you can never get enough of this), yoga, golf and more are all types of active rest that can help you
recharge your batteries. If you simply can't stay out of the gym, at least incorporate a significant
period of low-key training. You'll be amazed how you'll grow once you resume more intense training
Examples of passive rest include prayer, meditation, napping, sitting in a park, talking quietly
reading and listening to music. Passive rest is particularly useful right after an intense workout or
if you're frustrated for some reason.
Understanding how food and liquids affect your body and serve as recovery mechanisms is critical to
pursuing your passion for bodybuilding. Many experts in sport and exercise science believe nutrition
is the single most important factor in successful training.
In his most recent book, The Anti-Diet Book, Jack Groppel, PhD, also offers some suggestions that we
believe apply to bodybuilding:
» Eat your meals at consistent times throughout the day. Create rituals that protect these times. This
is especially important in terms of supplementation.
» Eat light and often. Consuming small meals every 2-3 hours raises your metabolic rate and stabilizes
blood sugar and energy levels.
» Unless you have a specific training purpose for skipping it, always eat breakfast, even a light one.
Your body needs fuel after having no food for eight hours or more.
» Keep a nutrition log to ensure that you're getting enough of the foods and liquids you need.
» Drink water, water and more water. Most athletes don't drink enough to stay hydrated.
The dedication necessary to excel at bodybuilding is substantial, and it requires tremendous focus and
intensity. When you're in a slump, you're often frustrated and negative about your drop in performance.
A good laugh, though, is a powerful biochemical event. Physiological changes associated with positive
emotions occur that directly oppose the chemicals that accompany negativity and frustration.
Look for opportunities to laugh throughout the day. Listening to a humorous cassette or watching a
videotape for just five minutes can sometimes do the trick, helping to trigger the biochemical response
associated with fun. Resist negative humor, however; laughing at another's expense reflects your own
insecurity or insensitivity.
Because it's often written specifically to cause an emotional reaction, music is a fantastic form of
recovery. If you want to feel a certain way before a workout or performance, listen to your favorite
songs that create those feelings. Music can lighten a frustrating workout or help you focus when your
mind is racing. The key is to have the right type of music available at the right time.
We often create Ideal Performance State (IPS) tapes for our clients to use in performance situations,
combining music that stimulates positive energy, excitement and the feeling of challenge with music that
summons feelings of confidence, calmness and peace. This forms a cycle or wave of stress and recovery
that mirrors everyday life and is necessary for effective recovery.
Music from motion-picture soundtracks, designed to elicit emotion on cue, can be ideal for this purpose.
Try making a relaxation or "chill-out" tape in addition to an IPS tape. They can be powerful weapons
in your fight against performance slumps.
A good night's rest is by far the most natural and essential recovery activity. In his book, Sleep
Thieves, psychologist Stanley Coreo, PhD, likens depriving yourself of sleep to depriving yourself of
food. In fact, a sleep debt of as little as three hours has been shown to significantly reduce physical
strength in weightlifters. Sound familiar?
Any athlete should get a consistent amount of sleep each night with as few interruptions as possible.
How much sleep you need is highly individual and depends on a variety of factors such as age, activity
level and current life circumstances. Pay attention to the days when you feel the best. Determine how
long and under what conditions you slept, then try to recreate those variables.
We also recommend that you develop specific rituals to prepare yourself to sleep, particularly during
stressful times. Keep your bedroom cool, well-ventilated and as dark as possible. Avoid working out
right before bedtime; the chemicals produced in the brain during exercise cause feelings of arousal.
As you can see, quality recovery doesn't happen automatically it takes planning and effort. Remember,
recovery in your training and everyday life is just as important as the stress in your workouts and at
your job. In fact, the better you become at recovery, the more easily you'll he able to withstand daily
challenges, including performance slumps. So get serious and have some fun!