recovery

Deloads and Recovery Methods You Can Use

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Recovery is a buzz topic of late in fitness and sports performance, and for good reason. However, I get concerned that without enough actionable steps and an echo chamber of “you need to sleep more” and “experts” who try to hack their way out of skill development and health, that the real recovery message will get lost. 

What is the “real message” of recovery anyway?

I had good mentors and people intervene with me at a young age to help me with recovery methods and ways to minimize injury; probably more than most in my age group, or more than most in general. These methods probably dominated most of what I did in the earliest part of my training career. Conversely, about five years ago, I got the opposite bug— I wanted to really push to the point some of the most extreme performers in the world did. I wanted to learn the limits of my body and understand the far extremes of the most extreme performance. This was in part, to not waste a generally healthy male body that was given some pre-disposition to do well in a variety of physical pursuits, but also to understand the mindset and preparation even more deeply that goes into the athletes and people I deal with day-to-day. 

In the time since ~2013, I’m happy to say I’ve been traveling that road with minimal injury roadblocks, precisely because I was able to utilize the lessons I had learned on recovery early on (and using my network).

Which leads me to now, where I feel quite comfortable saying I have learned two major lessons in the process:

  1. Schedules will help you avoid burnout and manage your fatigue

  2. Deloading makes you bigger and stronger.

I’ll address the schedules point in next week’s piece in detail. I want to touch today on the topic of deloading.

We all know in theory that de-loading is necessary and is built into any good program, as it offers a reprieve from the hard stress of the micro-cycle you just trained through, preparing you for the next upcoming training cycle. Physiologically, it’s where the super compensation and acute adaptation happens to ultimately give you the results you were looking for in your training.  Without a well-timed deload phase, you often find yourself a step behind. It’s the equivalent to not tapering off your jiu jitsu training before a tournament; or going for PR’s within days of competition.

Funny enough, it’s the deload and management of training cycles that I believe is one of the top reason I’ve been able to build up and maintain great athletes and clients for years running now. If you aren’t used to a periodized program, this type of organization is a game-changer. Among the benefits are being able to predict when you’ll be peaking and managing your fatigue and continuing to improve in what seems like and endless manner (if you’re used to the old train hard and burnout cycles).

However, I personally didn’t see the “magic” of the deload until I was forced to. I can remember coming off a hard month-long German Volume Training cycle that was written by Charles Poliquin and had drastically increased my sets per week for weeks leading up to it. When the deload week was finally just a few days away, I could feel my body starting to get run down with a cold-type of illness. This wasn’t unexpected and I took it as a cue to rest and start the deload early. What followed was a little alarming to me, as I ended up feeling weaker than I anticipated in that deload period, for much longer. I physically wasn’t able to go give my best at the gym or on the mats for about 2.5 weeks. I was concerned I had over-trained. And you know, I may have. 

But what happened next felt like magic or some weird voodoo— I shot up in weight, size and measurements in the next month that followed that illness and sluggish time. I even hit PR’s the whole next month in training. This all with very minimal/maintenance type training from me during that time.

If I had to break it down in somewhat simplistic terms: I was basically overreaching for about 6 weeks (and a few more training cycles on top of that) and had an extended “cool off” period in which I could literally grow and adapt to the training stimulus I aggressively put myself through in the preceding months.

The Mental Component

My big lesson? You have to ask yourself if your compulsion to not deload properly comes from your desire to win/get stronger at all costs, or if it’s a compulsive nervous response. An anxiety about something.  

If you think it’s your desire for strength, and that you can train through anything, then please believe me and any coach worth their salt out there, that you’ll get stronger from those well-timed deloads. 

If you want to get stronger, want to win the big one, but can’t seem to have mental peace with the deload, and struggle with the downtime, I very much encourage you to meditate on the matter and dig into what’s not letting you take a step that will actually help you. Learn why you have difficulty letting go.  

It’s high on my list of things to work on with athletes, so if you struggle with this, you aren’t alone. It also comes with no judgment, as it took some failure and real-time learning on my part to learn one of the best lessons of my career on this topic. I’ve seen too many people underperform on game day after 8 week camps and years of training, all because they pushed it compulsively until the big dance. Worse yet, I’ve seen injuries that I believe could have been possibly mitigated had some care been taken in respect to scheduling and deload.

I hope this gives you some things to think about in applying these concepts to your training.

Be well, be strong,

Mark DiSalvo

How to Deal with Injuries

*Note: The scope of injuries I am discussing in this article are not ones that you’d classify as life threatening or permanently altering. Exercise common sense and always seek emergency medical attention in cases of obvious significant injury or if your health/life is in doubt.      The types of injury I am referring to include, but aren’t limited to orthopedic: ligament/tendon, bone or safely treated skin abrasions and sutures.

*Note: The scope of injuries I am discussing in this article are not ones that you’d classify as life threatening or permanently altering. Exercise common sense and always seek emergency medical attention in cases of obvious significant injury or if your health/life is in doubt.

The types of injury I am referring to include, but aren’t limited to orthopedic: ligament/tendon, bone or safely treated skin abrasions and sutures.

You can do everything right, but if you’re involved in a sport of any kind, you can still get injured.  An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, and you may be doing more good than you know by your meticulous mobility, nutrition and recovery rituals— however, a freak accident or misstep can lead to some forced time off from the mats (rink, field, etc). When you participate in contact sports, you also must expect that something could happen at any time. 

The tendency for most is to completely shut it down and wait it out. While this is a good approach at first, there is a great deal of value in getting back to a movement ritual you can handle as soon as you’re able. Between potentially helping you heal faster and keeping you mentally and physically sharp, having a plan maintains a goal oriented approach in your life. That keeps your confidence high and goals met. It seems twisted, but there is great value in the injury process, but only for those willing to be diligent in their recovery.

With that said, here’s a few things to consider when you go down for the count…

Don't do ‘nothing’

There is a time for rest and shutting it down. That time is usually the immediate phase right after you get injured and the immediate days that follow. However, rehabbing an injury that’s more significant than a bruise is going to take more than a few days. After those immediate rest days, it’s best to get moving again— just not directly on the injured area. 

The “do nothing” approach is usually where I see things go badly for people: they get depressed, they get angsty and all manner of unpleasant thoughts because they focus so intently on what they can’t do and how different their movement ritual has become.

Whatever you can do, go and do it. This usually should start in the form of getting help.

Get the right diagnosis 


You may find this surprising, but you won't always need the MRI or expensive medical consult. Over the years, I found this out the hard way: hearing stories of clients (and even myself) going to emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and the like, only to find the clinicians being inconclusive or unsure. There is great value in ruling out significant breaks or damage in these settings, but there are many times where a more carefully chosen medical consultant would have been far more beneficial to your sanity, time, and wallet. 

Instead, find a physical therapist with a background in high impact or strength sports, and get them to diagnose you soon after you suffer an injury on the scale we are discussing (refer to the disclaimer above). If you aren't able to get a confident diagnosis from them, they'll refer you out, and that's when you should pursue the MRI's of the world. Again, please use common sense with this: if you are obviously dealing with a severely broken bone, significant head trauma, or anything like that: you should seek immediate medical attention. 

Outside of some really bad injuries, most physical therapists are willing and able to give you confident diagnoses on the basis of what they see and how you're moving. More importantly, they can give you actionable steps that day to help you begin to heal properly. This is why I recommend any injuries in the scope mentioned above be diagnosed and looked at by a physical therapist (if possible) first.

Find your point person. 

For those who are on a training program and keep records of it: you already understand the value of that program to your improvement and progression. Coming out of an injury is no different: you put yourself in the best position by assembling the same plan for your rehab. 

After you know what you’re dealing with: use that PT from above or find a physical therapist, athletic trainer, massage therapist or qualified trainer to be the person to guide you through the journey. Come up with a plan together and mostly importantly, be sure you are clear on what you need to be doing day to day, and week to week. No ambiguities.

This is an important step because it eliminates the potential negatives at both sides of the personality spectrum: for someone who is a bit gun shy about their rehab and return, you may need the input of the point-person to push you in the right direction when you’re feeling unsure. For the “full speed ahead!” type of folks, you will benefit from handing over the reigns to a knowledgeable neutral party so you don’t do too much too soon.

If you can't afford the regular treatments of a professional, try to find room in your budget and time to do whatever you can afford. You will need the regular contact and an objective (i.e. not you) viewpoint to help guide your progression. I feel comfortable saying the money you do spend will be the best you ever spent because it's an investment in you and your expedited return to something you love.  

Push the other non-injured body parts hard

When I tore my MCL in the fall- I hobbled and took an Uber to the gym the next day (forgoing my customary 20 minute walk for obvious reasons). I did the longest, highest volume workout I could come up with on my upper body. I made a plan to bring up my bench press in the weeks that followed, and to work on my arms secondarily for size. Leg workouts and jiu jitsu were obviously out of the question. 

Now you may not share my extremism or desire to be that into it, but I suggest you get to the gym as soon as you can safely move there. Moving and being active in other places while you heal is one way to actually speed up the healing process. Moreover, it can really keep your confidence high.

Set goals you can achieve while injured

It’s easy for time to get away from you in the best of times, but in times of injury, that luxury is no longer in your hands: you’ll heal as fast as your body is able. Instead of waiting around for that to happen, set humble goals that you can achieve in roughly 4 week timeframes. Is your knee injured? Work on a pull-up PR. Is your elbow injured? Work on squatting a weight or # of reps you never thought previously achievable for yourself. Are both sets of limbs injured? I bet you can train yourself to do a 5-minute hollow-body hold! 

For those in jiu jitsu: practice something as small as hand-fighting, or basic mechanics of back control or whatever position doesn’t cause pain. Going through the reps and improving a smaller aspect of your game is a great way to keep your mind sharp and invest in your future skills post-injury.

I think you see where I am going. The value here is that as you keep achieving goals, you stay confident. Confidence breeds a fertile mind for success, and that will make your day to day much nicer.  

The Takeaway


There’s always something you can do when you get injured; so don’t let yourself be pulled too far from your goals in the time it takes to get back to 100%. Injuries are a reflective time, and if you’re prone to negativity, the above steps will help you keep a positive outlook on what otherwise can be a frustrating time.

A parting tip: if you’re reading this and are currently 100% healthy, I recommend bookmarking it for that rainy day— when you get injured, we often aren’t thinking with as sound of mind and having a guide on hand is a good idea.

Sleep is Sometimes a Logistical Difficulty

Every place you live has realities to it that make living optimally a little less… optimal.

Being far removed from an urban center makes certain training methods impossible because no one in the area has a gym. Try training jiu jitsu in the far reaches of a town 3 hours from the nearest semi-urban center. Maybe there’s no real gym within a few hours drive either.

Cold, far northern climates may have issues with diversity in food crop and livestock.

NYC’s issue is sleep. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise for a city whose catchphrase is “the city that never sleeps.” The same goes for any large, first-tier city’s population: they’re under-slept.

I’ve been having this conversation with people for the past 8 years: I would deem the chronic lack of sleep that happens here (or doesn’t happen here) as the number one barrier to living a healthy, high-performing life in NYC 

I am no stranger to this. I dole out sleep advice regularly, and practice much of it, but if I had to pinpoint the number one thing I would change about my health and performance, it would be sleep.

One slightly disturbing image I often heard as a young 20-something who had just moved to NYC was the reports of people who had once lived here, but left. “It chews you up and spits you out” they would say. They were usually talking about rent, work and life though.

But I think that if they just slept a little better, they may still be here.

Let’s explore:

This whole conversation starts and ends with circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm refers to your body’s ability to pick up on the time of day wherever you find yourself. This is important because it helps your body produce the right hormones at the right time, and ultimately regulate when you’re awake and when you get tired for the evening.

Little things like light pollution, low-hum (or loud) noise disturbance, and a lack of time in nature, can all contribute to you being kicked out a little farther from your natural circadian rhythm.

The one thing that cities, and even larger suburbs, have in common is excess light. It comes from light poles, buildings, shopping centers, traffic, and anything that emits light. That’s why it’s such stark contrast when you go to certain states or countries that have light ordinances or are just simply more secluded, and you can actually see the light that comes from the stars in the sky.

Regardless, the artificial light, especially if it’s of the blue variety, has a powerful effect on you. It can make you more sensitive to detecting the time of day, and thus, your body has a difficult time going through it’s normal hormonal rounds during the day.

I also believe that low level noise that isn’t therapeutic has an effect on us. If you understand the science and theory behind binaural beats, you could quickly surmise that there’s probably negative frequencies of sound that can have an effect on us. I often call the low level noise of traffic or street noise in the background of life in NYC/big cities the "negative binaural beat-" that even when you’re not paying attention to it or actively bothered by it, it is still causing a slight disturbance in your body’s ability to chill and find itself a little more parasympathetic dominant (which ultimately aids recovery).

If you care about your body and its performance, like I do, then you need to be serious about having healthy sleep hygiene. Otherwise you are literally digging a recovery hole that will be harder and harder to emerge from. Specifically, you're very likely to undermine the very mechanism in the body that helps you develop a healthy circadian rhythm. 

I don’t like to take things lying down. It became enough of an issue for me that losing an hour of sleep here and there (and also already having the deck stacked against me for every reason I outlined above), was enough to start actively working on it and make a list of solutions for the urban city-dweller who needs more sleep.

Here's what I am doing to change it:

Set a timer to go to bed.

I’m not starting with the ideal of 9:20PM or earlier. I’m simply starting to wind it back by 1 hour and will add 15-20 minutes to wind back more each week. Habits take time to build and you must make your environment conducive to accepting these new habits (more on that in future blogs).

It’s easy to lose track of time in the evening, so I have an alert set for 9:45PM each night to tell me to go to bed.

 

Ritual

I make sure my next day’s equipment/gear is packed earlier in the day, and not before I go to bed.  When I am sleepy, I don’t want to do anything. The act of preparing for the next day will wake me up.

 

Sleep Mask

I have always found sleep/eye masks remarkably useful on road trips and plane rides for sleeping. Before using them, I never was able to sleep anywhere besides my bed. However, when I use those things, I turn the lights out-- literally and figuratively

 

Black out shades

I grew up with these as a kid- they work, and you won't want to return to sleeping without them. Sleep masks are unnecessary if you have true blackout shades.

 

Airplane Mode on the phone.

Buy into it or don’t: but you should put your phone on airplane mode at night (and preferably out of the bedroom) to help kill some of the vibrations and sounds you’ll inevitably forget to silence. You’ll also be less likely to be on your phone and exposing your eyes to blue-light. There's also the whole electro-magnetic wave thing that may or may not be true, but I certainly notice a difference.

Perhaps most importantly, talk to your spouse or partner about your plans

I didn’t expect my girlfriend to buy into everything I was doing wholeheartedly (as we are on different schedules), but it’s important that the people closest to you support you. She did, and is now even more on board than me in some ways! 

I started drafting this blog about 2 weeks ago, and can say that after 2 weeks of these changes, I am doing much better already. Try them out and feel free to share any of your own in the comments. 

 

Be well, be strong,

Mark

How Do You Know if You're Over-Training?

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Overtraining is a funny topic, because it’s so profoundly misunderstood. It’s misunderstood at levels that get people feeling like they’re lazy if they don’t train that day; or on the other end of the spectrum: feeling like their workout allows them to sit the rest of the week out in hopes that they "hit it hard enough already."  Neither are correct. That's more neurosis than simple objective feedback from your body.

I sometimes even hesitate to dwell on this topic in any sensationalist way because, while it's incredibly important, I never want to come off as the "told ya-so" disciplinarian parent, nor do I want to coddle and excuse what could simply be a lack of effort and discipline on the part of the trainee. Both outcomes are negative and lead to the athlete simply tuning out to what could be good advice.  So for the athletes and coaches reading this alike, I encourage you to be very aware of how to deal with overtraining in athletes and the signs of it, but trust that you have the knowledge, education and intuition when the problem arises. Don't stress; the stress is much worse.

Overtraining quite simply is the state you find yourself in after chronically overreaching in your training effort. Much can be mitigated by recovery efforts, but even the best laid recovery practices can’t outrun a body that can’t recover, adapt, and come back stronger.

I made mention a few weeks ago in my article on The Athlete of Over 30 Best Practices, that you should alter your training plans for the day if you’re feeling over-trained. But how do you know if you’re overtrained? Let’s discuss…

 

Did you over-reach in the past 2 days?

 

Overreaching in strength and conditioning circles refers to the temporary over-exertion of yourself to reach a certain short-term goal. Maybe it was you going the extra round in jiu jitsu (past your normal capacity), or having multiple consecutive two-a-days.

In the gym, it may mean that you went for your PR in a squat or deadlift in the past 48 hours. Maybe you had a two-a-day: sprints in the morning, strength training in the evening. The actual practice of this isn't "bad," but the chronic repeating of it can get you in trouble (why do you think so many programs have "de-load" weeks and times where you alter your volume and intensity?)

You can conceivably overreach for a number of sessions in a row to produce a desired training effect, but you’ll be in slippery territory if you do this unsupervised or chronically. Sometimes, high level athletes will overreach to achieve a certain goal. 

Whatever the case, you've dealt a slightly larger than normal blow to your nervous system that your body is recovering from and adapting to in order to come back stronger.  While this is happening, you’d be wise to move, but somewhere in the 60-70% total exertion/effort range max for the immediate 48-72 hours after. This could include longer duration cardio/running/biking, practicing your technique for your lifts by doing higher volume and low weight sets, drilling in jiu jitsu, etc.

To be clear, you are not overtrained at this point. However, if you chronically trained in this fashion, you’d probably be pushing into over-training territory. Precisely how much is a personal approximation and number, and is in part, measured by some of the small giveaways listed below. To figure it out first though, you must take an inventory of your body.

 

reflect, but don't get too "heady"

There are many reasons a mental malaise and brain fog can onset that are not a result of physical fatigue. Stress, distractions from work, life, family or otherwise, and simply not being present can easily disrupt your focus, and have physical manifestations. You’ll feel tired, cranky, or just physically drained.  Should you train on those days? That depends…

It’s hard to distinguish between this “attitude fatigue” and actual physical over-training.  A quick way to tell which is which is by thinking to your last 4 training sessions. Are you usually happy and enthusiastic to go and knock it out of the park? Then you may be actually in need of that extra rest day if you're feeling sludgy. Conversely, if you’re always hemming and hawing the whole way to the gym and don’t really get focused until your first set, then you’re probably simply psyching yourself out… in the bad way. In this case, training would probably be a good idea.

It simply comes down to being disciplined. You won’t always feel like training, but you should. Compliance and how much you show up and complete what’s outlined is what’s most important.

So if you’re certain it’s not an attitude fatigue incident, let’s explore these four clues:

 

Find a “benchmark exercise”

Everyone has an exercise they’re good at and simply have a higher aptitude in relation to other exercises. My personal one is the Farmer’s Walk. Besides simply being a strength and strength capacity building exercise, the Farmer’s Walk gives me a good indication to my balance that day, basic coordination, and how tense or tight I am feeling.  On most days, if I pick up a heavy kettle bell, dumbbell, or any thick-gripped implement, I feel ready to move with it. However, there’s some days where I am simply off and even grabbing a 16kg or 20kg kettle bell to do a simple warm-up is asking a lot. Moving is tough, coordination of my legs while walking is off (more on that below), and everything just feels heavier than it should.

Simply put, if an exercise is hard that you know should be easy, you may want to reconsider training that day. Take a longer warm-up, get into some harder working sets to see what happens, but don’t be surprised if you need to alter your workouts.

The same goes for combat sports, particularly grappling. If you’re feeling really sluggish and a lack of sharpness after 10-15 minutes of warming up and a few times through your favorite pass or sweep, you may want to stick to drilling that day.

Check your breathing

If you are sore, tight, stressed, or simply not having a good day, the chances that you are dysfunctionally breathing are quite high. You're probably breathing through your mouth, and/or possibly infrequently, and sighing and grunting a lot. If that's you, simply take a few deep diaphragmatic breaths and see what happens. I wager you'll find a lot more calm.

On the bright side of this practice, you'll have focused and altered your state in a very positive way for your training session. The relaxed demeanor and increased mobility of your tissue will allow you to fully utilize everything you have for the training session.

On the other side of the coin, if this still reveals some fatigue, you'll have taken the first step to putting your body in a "healing" state by blunting your sympathetic nervous system, and moving yourself into the parasympathetic realm, allowing your body to start healing better.

Grip strength

I notice amongst athletes and avid gym-goers alike, that grip strength is one of the first things to go as they approach overtraining and chronic overreaching territory. This observation is only valid of course, if people have a standard warm-up or some exercise that they’re used to using a heavy gripping effort for that we can compare it to session-to-session.  

We usually notice this at the beginning of a workout when someone is going to pick up a dumbbell or kettle bell they’re used to handling for warm-up purposes, or if they go to hang from a bar. Invariably, when they’re a little overly fatigued, it feels heavier to them than it should.  This has a lot to do with your nervous system readiness, that is, how quickly your body and brain are communicating to execute what you’re asking of it. The physical therapists I work with often equate grip strength issues to core issues as well; so if you're overly sore and damaged through the torso, and your grip isn't up to snuff, then we may have a reduced training load on our hands.

I particularly like to do a shoulder warm-up series with kettle bells to warmup before workouts. On the days in which I am a little over-trained, I find myself a little slower to process the grip of the thick handles, and it simply feels more difficult than it should to work with 12 or 16kg. 

Balance

Tripping on the mats? Doing a farmers walk and having issues staying under center? Not unlike grip strength feeling weak, your balance and all the systems that dictate it (vestibular, etc) can be the first to go when your body is shuttling its resources elsewhere. Often times, it takes a set or two to get your body and balance in sync, but if it’s going past the initial warm-up, you’d benefit from scaling back that day.

 

PROGRESSION AND PERIODIZATION ARE REAL THINGS

I find there’s two ends of this spectrum: people who very obviously have a lot on their training plate and are feeling burned out, and people who train much less frequently, but still feel burned out.  Both individuals are making mistakes of programming and periodization.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re feeling a bit over-trained and it’s coming from just a few workouts per week. You should already be logging your exercise (if you take it seriously), so go back and see what your total number of workouts was in 1 month. Increase that number by roughly 10-15% the next month to help build your capacity. Secondly, heed the next bullet point (more on that below. Spoiler alert: improve your recovery habits).

However, maybe you’re the opposite; maybe you’re burning out and it’s because you’re training TOO much. Remember, give yourself 48 hours if necessary between strength training bouts, and don’t expect to be king of the ring/mats the day after a hard strength training session either.

 

Identify Your Recovery Errors

The best laid plans can be easily laid to waste if your recovery efforts are tainted. The tried and true advice of proper sleep, diet and stress management go a long way. If you feel like you do everything perfect, but are chronically stressed and subsequently, under-slept, you WILL suffer. There is no way around this and I see it ALL the time. Stress management can derail all your training efforts and increase your chance for injury, blunt your progress, and make you retain unwanted weight. This is not an exaggeration and it's something I deal with almost weekly with clients and athletes (I live and train in NYC, after all...).

 

don't worry...

The worst thing you can do is worry. Remember, all these markers and symptoms are objective feedback from your body that something is off. They aren't a statement of judgement about you as an athlete.

Start becoming more mindful of everything above and you'll give yourself a much deeper window into your recovery habits. If you are indeed overtrained, you will be able to diagnose and appropriately respond to keep yourself healthy. It bears repeating that the majority of people reading this article may not need this advice now, but being mindful of these things can actually enhance and help you train harder and smarter later, as you can proceed full speed ahead if you are covering the spread and having no ill effects. We didn't cover everything, because that could be a book in itself, but I hope this got you all thinking about the topic.

Be well,

Mark

 

ps- If you have any rituals or signs you notice in recognizing overtraining, leave a comment below.

 

My Nightly Rituals for Better Sleep, Recovery, Mood and Health

About a year ago, I wrote about something that really resonated with a lot of people on my morning rituals. In many ways, it was years in the making and continues to be my practice to this day.

What about the end of my day, though (or the end of your day)? It’s equally important, as it sets you up for what is hopefully restful sleep, which is profoundly important in recovering from your training, the stress of the day, and keeping you healthy.

I believe that “winding down” is very personal, that is to say, things that relax me, may agitate you, which will create a lousy type of alertness. Thus, you should use this as a guide to give you ideas and a “jumping off” point in which you can create your own.

Here are my night time rituals, or how I end every day:

Stop working on anything 2 hours before bed (minimum)

Admittedly, it took a while for me to do this, but it is of note because I love my work and how I spend my days and professional life. For me, it’s not a stressor to be working on training programs, but if I take myself too deep into the evening doing so, I will have a very hard time shutting off my “problem-solving brain” and be very alert and awake. I won’t be unhappy, just not in a restful state, so to avoid it, I make sure I stop all real work around 2 hours before I go to sleep. I fill the rest of my evening with things that tune me down a bit: reading, laying down/relaxing, talking with my girlfriend, and watching old re-runs of the Office. ;-)

Imagine for a moment that you are the opposite: you’re stressed by work, angry you have to do the task you need to, and that it’s taking you so long. Now you have to go to sleep. Not a great state of mind...

A light-to-moderate movement ritual

I like walks in the evening, but a few nights a week, I’ll get a little more aggressive and go to a local rock climbing wall in the traditional “dinner hours" and do some climbing. It has a relaxing effect on me. It’s the opposite of traditional working out, jiu jitsu or anything full-contact, so it’s a nice reprise. Moving at the end of the day like this feels right in a way that's hard for me to quantify. I find I need it before I shut down for the day. Sometimes I’ll do yoga during these hours as well.

Walking during sunset is a powerful way to reset your circadian rhythm- the colors in the evening sunset help signal to your body that the end of the day is near, and you can start "shutting down" for the day. I highly recommend when you travel, that you spend as much time in the evenings outdoors as possible. 

For many years, I always went back and forth with how I advise clients and athletes to treat their movement at the end of the day. I’m not the biggest fan of late night workouts, because of the cortisol dump happening at a time when you typically want it gone, but I do believe that you should move around a little in the hours before you sleep. As I said, I'm sometimes at a rock climbing gym in the evening, so it's a bit of a double-edged sword. I’d cut it off 2 hours before sleep, regardless.

A Warm Shower

At different times of year, and at different times of the day, I find warm or cold exposure to be equally relaxing. In general however, a warm shower at the end of the day will help relax me a bit, loosening my muscles up, and generally just feels good. 

Aroma or Sound Therapy

I have a recent preference and fondness of aromatherapy- something about the right scent will change my mood immediately, and helps me relax, if it’s the right scent. Often times, I find we aren’t so conscious of our sense of smell unless we’re smelling something awful, so it’s nice to get a refreshing blast of something pleasant.

You may find that a white-noise machine, or some ambient sounds help you relax all the same. If you live in a noisy area, or are around droning, awful sound all day, some nice music may do the trick. There’s also a number of apps that have hundreds of sounds to choose from. 

f.lux on your phone/laptop. Better yet, ditch it all 90 minutes before sleep.

There’s a number of apps out these days that kill the blue-light and overall brightness of all the “screens” in your life. I find too much screen-time to be way too alerting to the senses. In fact, if I'm really drowsy in the morning, I'll read a few Instagram posts to wake me up, it always does the trick. So the opposite holds- don't be getting in text conversations too late in the day or scrolling compulsively through social media before you sleep.

Set your alarm for the next morning ahead of time. Do whatever you need to do to cut the phone or laptop off 90 minutes before bed.

 

Making Your Own Nightly Rituals

It's really all about finding what relaxes you and turns off what I call "the problem solving brain." That "brain" will always keep you awake and alert, and while important, also needs its rest. 

Experiment, and like anything, evolve what you currently do. Naturally, we tend to evolve things anyway, but bring some mindfulness to it, and you'll be sleeping like a baby in no time.

 

If you have any great nightly rituals, leave a comment below, I'd love to hear it!

-Mark