Working Out vs. Working In

Working Out vs. Working In

I don't believe in rest days, I believe in recovery days.

This may sound like nothing more than semantics, but it isn't. Rest is passive. Plopping your ass down on the couch and doing nothing is rest, but that doesn't make you better in the slightest.

Recovery is active. It involves you taking steps to get your body right. It involves a conscious decision to take action and prepare for the next training.

This brings me to the concept of working out versus working in.

Working Out

We all know what working out is. 

It's the application of physical effort designed to produce a result. 

It can take many forms: strength training, running, swimming, climbing, sparring, etc.

Working out elevates the heart rate and puts strain on the muscles. In the short term, working out is a trauma, or more accurately, a micro-trauma, that forces your body to recover and then adapt.

Over a long enough timeline, the body gets better through that adaptation and you get stronger, faster, or increase in endurance.

Working In

I first heard the term working in from the great strength coach Paul Chek. He defines working in as exercises that, "increase the amount of energy in the body, rather than use up energy."

I would broaden the definition to be any activity which promotes recovery from training stimuli and leaves you more ready to train that when you started. 

From my definition, here are some activities that are working in activities:

  • Yoga
  • Breath work
  • Sauna
  • Vitamin drip
  • Compression therapy (such as compex)
  • Cryotherapy or ice bath
  • Meditation
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
  • Massage (most forms)
  • Isolation tank

This list is not comprehensive, but it's a very good start.

When To Work In

There is no one right way to know when to work in. 

Some people like to keep a schedule. For instance, you might workout out three days, work in one, work out two days, work in one, etc. This is very similar to the original Crossfit prescription by the way.

Some folks, like myself, will use heart rate variability as a guide. When my HRV is low, I know it's time to take steps to mitigate the damage and speed along recovery.

Still others will do a little something each day. A daily meditation and breath work practice for instance can be a great way to start your day.

And there is always a camp of people who will simply go on feel. This is fine for some, especially if you are very good at listening to your body. Personally, I am not. 

Left to my own devices I would lean toward pushing through just about anything, which is why I prefer the data driven approach of using HRV.

Stacking Recovery

Whatever method you choose for determining when to work in, you can exponentially compound the results by stacking methodologies.

For instance, you might start your day with breath work and meditation, and then end with a sauna session. 

One of my personal favorite stacks is to get a Myers cocktail drip, then head to the isolation tank for a 90 minute float. In the tank, I have some breathing protocols I like before slipping into meditation.

On your next recovery day, choose a few methods of working in from the list above and stack them throughout your day. You will not regret it.

Prioritize Working In

I hope I've convinced you to move from the passive rest day, to the active recovery day.

Make working in and recovering a priority weekly. Get some variety in there. Your body will thank you in the long term and you will perform so much better as well.


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