Ashleigh VanHouten’s Muscle Maven Radio interview with Andy Galpin had a really useful tidbit that has changed my mental framework for approaching training and recovery.

I already knew that adaptation follows stress, but depends on recovery. What Galpin said that surprised me was: You need to ask, “Will spending more resources on recovery allow you to train more?”

I’d never thought of it that way before. I had generally focused on how to train more—how to find the time, how to find the motivation. But I have a history of “getting serious” about my running or my lifting and then getting injured, which clearly means that more and better recovery would be key to being more successful.

I have dealt with this in the past from the training side: figuring that I need to find the sweet spot where I’m training enough to stimulate an adaptation, but not so much that I injure myself. I have not previous tried to deal with it by figuring that I could devote more resources to recovery, and thereby enable doing the amount of training that I want to do.

Galpin mentions the various obvious things that help recovery—better sleep, better diet, massage, etc. but skims over them to emphasize what he thinks is the important thing: Down-regulating. “The folks who can down-regulate post-workout the fastest get the best adaptations.”

Again, I had not thought of it this way before, but this makes perfect sense. Your workout should be up-regulating—putting your nervous system strongly into a sympathetic (flight-or-flight) state. But remaining in a sympathetic state once the workout is over is doing you no favors. The sooner you can get yourself back into a parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) state, the sooner you can start your recovery.

This is potentially huge. Getting into a proper resting state right after your workout has the potential to add hours a day to your recovery time, compared with remaining in a highly sympathetic state until later.

Galpin mentions breathwork as the most effective tool for down-regulating, and he didn’t seem to think it made much difference what you did (what breathing patterns you used, etc.). Or maybe he just thought that once you started a breathwork practice you’d quickly learn what worked for you. He mentioned Brian MacKenzie as a good place to start for learning about breathwork. I poked around there and found this free introductory course to breath work, which I’ve started watching.

The whole interview is good: Dr. Andy Galpin | MMA training, hydration, and taking ownership over your health. This stuff on recovery and down-regulating is mostly from about the 30-minute point through about the 45-minute point. Highly recommended.

When I was a kid or a teenager, my skin would heal from minor scratches almost immediately. A scratch (like from walking through brambles, which I did all the time) would heal up in maybe a day and a half or two days. Then, sort of all at once, when I was about 24 or 25, suddenly it took twice as long. I noticed it when I was living in Utah and hiked a lot in the mountains and deserts, and would get similar scratches, which would now take three or four days to heal.

I figured I was just getting old, and it would just keep getting worse. But it did not. Instead, it stayed like that for thirty-five years. However, just in the past year or two—since I reached my 60s—I’ve observed a fresh doubling in wound-healing times. Now a minor scratch takes a week to heal.

The surprise here is not that the speed of healing declines as one gets older, but the weird stepwise nature of the change—stability for decades, and then an abrupt doubling in time to heal.

I don’t know if that will continue. Maybe I’ll continue to heal at this rate until I’m 105 or so?

I’ve documented this largely for my brother, who once expressed appreciation for the fact that having an older brother gave him a four-year heads-up for this sort of age-related change. (I’m not sure he appreciates it as much now as he did in his 30s and 40s.)

I looked for some research studies as to whether my observation points to a more general phenomenon, but wasn’t able to find much. My brother found a study, which says in part:

The rate of epithelialisation appears to be different in older persons, but the magnitude of the delay may not be clinically important.

THOMAS, D. R. Age-Related Changes in Wound Healing. Drugs & Aging, [s. l.], v. 18, n. 8, p. 607–620, 2001. DOI 10.2165/00002512-200118080-00005.

I guess, as long as you do eventually heal up, the length of time it takes is “not clinically important,” but it’s still kind of a drag to be wounded for week(s).

The sort of scrapes that are now taking longer to heal than they used to.