Three Rs Of Safe Exercise For Better Health


We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching, Translation by Steven Mitchell

Hi folks,

Recovery from a single heavy workout or an extended severe training load require rest, during which time bodily repair takes place, achieved by the magic of Biology.

Recovery from a single heavy workout or an extended severe training load require rest, during which time bodily repair takes place, achieved by the magic of Biology.

Recovery, repair, and rest are not synonymous. You recover from a heavy workout, repair an injury, and rest when you are tired. That said, these activities, and activities they are, overlap considerably and they are all part of your exercise recovery toolbox. It is critical that you, or your coach, build recovery into your exercise program, if you desire optimal results and a minimum of injury. Many a book and article has been written on this subject, and there is no need to repeat it all here, so I’ll give you my synopsis based on personal experience. I have experienced burnout due to insufficient rest periods and serious injuries as a result of doing risky activity when I really needed some recovery time. Clearly, one learns from one’s mistakes.

Recovery (restoration or return to any former and better state or condition): I know of only one detailed review of the recovery process for athletes, that being by Sage Rountree, entitled, “The Athlete’s Guide To Recovery.” This book is well constructed and readable. There are two main types of recovery, active (you do some non-stressful exercise) and passive (you just don’t exercise). People talk about recovery runs, but I believe in them, for me personally. I don’t think running is amenable to recovery, for most of us at least. My favorite active recovery from running or cycling consists of a good long walk or an easy spin on the bike. We can swim almost every day, but even then a tough swim will leave you drained, for which I either don’t swim the next day, or I do an easy swim focused on relaxed technique exploration. Recovery is built into my coach’s workouts every third week, with a much-decreased training load. If this does not feel sufficient then let your coach know. As I approach my annual Ironman race I pass through a phase of long workouts, that leave me tired much of the time, this being essential for a race where you start a marathon already somewhat exhausted. At the end of the day you have to learn to read your body and know when to back off, and thus increase your recovery time.

Repair (The action of fixing or mending something): during recovery time you have a chance to repair strained muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia (yes, I do think fascia needs a rest). Strenuous workouts are known to induce small muscle tears that take time for your body to rebuild. Much of this rebuilding occurs early during your nightly sleep, but also throughout the day. If you don’t allocate enough time for complete repair of minor damage, they will build slowly over time to become a full-scale injury. Injuries are a whole different arena. I will make no attempt to address injury repair in detail, as there are hundreds of different injuries, each requiring a specific approach. The key to injury repair is a correct diagnosis, and then an appropriate repair strategy. This can take days to years – for instance, take a look at my story about how Feldenkrais fixed my knee pain, as an example of a problem that took years to fix due to a delay in finding the correct diagnosis.

Rest (Cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength): True rest comes in the form of sleep. So make sure that you sleep.

The best guide to your recovery level, in my opinion, is (a) how you feel, and (b) your morning resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate may be increased by sickness or other stressors, but otherwise it is a great way to determine whether you may need more rest or are becoming burned out.

Awareness, followed by appropriate modification of your training, is the key!

-k @FitOldDog

Today’s workouts:

Workout PLAN Coach: Chris Hauth
Duration: 03:00:00
social, non focused preseason ride


  1. Brigitte Ganter says

    I love your blog – nice article!

    After years of extensive training and a major sport event in 2011, I seem not to be able to recover from a nagging shoulder issue. I am a runner, but lately mainly an active swimmer (pool and open water) and it seems the shoulder pain with lots of targeted exercising does not want to go away. Not sure whether related, but now since about 4 month I have also a neck issue on the same side as the shoulder. Any specific thoughts about shoulder and neck issues? What is your experience?

    • Hi Brigitte,

      Shoulders and necks sure are related, and they can be devilish to fix. The real trick, as always, is to identify the nature of the problem – muscle, tendon, ligament, joint, fascia, nerve – and develop a strategy to fix it. It is possible that you are guarding the shoulder, which will lead to tightness in any location, even your knees, amazingly enough. Everything is connected. Here are some questions, to see if we can get to the bottom of this.

      1. Have you tried Feldenkrais or Kinesiology for a diagnosis of your biomechanics.
      2. Have you had the shoulder imaged?
      3. When you say shoulder pain, what do you mean, as your statement is too non-specific? Please send picture with an arrow pointing at the spot.
      4. Does the pain radiate down your arm?
      5. In the weight room, which exercises make it hurt – military press, bench press, incline bench, fly, what?
      6. Does it ache after running or swimming, and if so could you send a video of you running or swimming, whichever makes it ache?
      7. Which health professionals have you seen for the problem? – MD, PT, Yoga Instructor, Acupuncturist, veterinarian, …
      8. Have you written a detailed history of the problem (see my blog post at –, and if so please send?

      That’s a start, anyway.

      It’s a bummer, but when you fix it you’ll be so happy.


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.