It’s too often forgotten that, like healing, post-exercise recovery is something that the body does for itself. Recovery-boosting measures such as bodywork and cold baths work around the margins. Infinitely more powerful than such measures is simple rest, which allows the body to do what it does naturally.
Sleep is the most potent form of rest in relation to recovery. During sleep, hormonal, immunological and neurological changes occur that greatly enhance recovery. Sleep needs naturally increase with training loads. Athletes such as Tollakson, who exercises up to 30 hours per week, find that their bodies demand far more than the seven or eight hours that seem to suffice for the rest of us. To successfully handle those training loads, they must satisfy those demands.
“I’ve always been big on napping when I’m in heavy training,” said Tollakson, whose typical routine is eight hours of sleep at night and a two-hour nap in the afternoon. “If I don’t have time for a nap I’ll sleep 10 hours at night.”
Interestingly, a couple of years ago Tollakson briefly tried sleeping in an altitude tent, for the blood-boosting benefits, but had to give it up because it reduced his sleep quality and thereby compromised his recovery. While the tent significantly increased his hematocrit level, or the percentage of red blood cells in his blood, Tollakson discovered that recovery was more important than having richer blood.