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Hell Week? You’ve got this, with one secret ingredient: Recovery

By Leslie Barker

As you contemplate Orangetheory Hell Week, which takes place from October 24 to 31, you’re probably counting your weekly workouts, daring yourself to add a few more. You’re calculating your running and rowing speeds. You’re concentrating on what tricks may await you on the floor during those death-defying eight days of five workouts.

You may not be thinking about an aspect that is just as important as any of those:

Recovery.

“When you’re pushing your body like you do with any Orangetheory workout,” says Brittany Masteller, Ph.D. and Orangetheory research scientist, “you’re pushing yourself to the brink of what you can do by training at an elevated heart rate off and on for 60 minutes. Your body is depleting your energy sources. Recovery allows us to replenish those stores of energy, to rebuild and replenish muscle tissue.”

But, she acknowledges, much of the time, and especially during Hell Week, “allowing your body to recover isn’t something you’ll necessarily be thinking of. You think more is better, but that’s not always true. If you’re consistently tapping out and don’t give the body a chance to refresh and replenish, you’re starting with a gas tank a quarter full.”

How does that carry over into Hell Week? Because as tough as any Orangetheory class is, those held as part of Hell Week are notoriously even tougher, physically and mentally. Plus, you’re doing even more of them — going from the recommended two or three workouts in seven days to five workouts in eight. That’s asking a lot of your body, with little down time to offset it.

Orangetheory traditionally doesn’t recommend such a high frequency of workouts in such a short period of time. Which, she adds, “makes recovery during Hell Week especially important.”

Stretching is definitely important, of course. Here are four tenets Orangetheory experts recommend.

    1. PLANNING. First, sign up. Then get out your calendar and look ahead. As October 24 draws near, Dr. Masteller says, “Make sure you’ve scheduled your workouts so it’s not the end of Hell Week and you still have three workouts to do in four days.”

    2. FUELING UP. Nutrition preparation is imperative, says registered dietitian Kimberly Plessel, a member of the Orangetheory Medical Advisory Board. “Hell Week requires strategic hydration and nutrition strategies leading up to and throughout the week of these grueling yet exhilarating workouts.”

The short time between workouts necessitates crushing the three Rs of nutrition-focused recovery: refueling, rebuilding, rehydrating, she says.

“Fuel your Hell Week with quality carbohydrates,” she says, “which are the body’s preferred energy source for intense exercise. Hell Week isn't the time to cut yourself short from the primary fuel source for your Pushes and All Outs in the studio.”

Plan a light carbohydrate and protein snack 30 to 60 minutes before class. After the workout, she says, be sure to eat enough calories, using a carb-to-protein ratio of ~2:1 for generally active adults, ~3:1 for more intense, frequent training or ~4:1 for endurance athletes. For more tips and suggested meals, click here.

    3. HYDRATING. Prioritizing hydration throughout Hell Week, Plessel says, helps moderate cardiovascular strain and perceived effort, maintains mental sharpness and reaction time, and is critical for muscle recovery.

Yet the National Institutes of Health reports that 75 percent of American adults are dehydrated.

“Sipping water throughout the day will keep thirst at bay and help ensure you are well hydrated,” Plessel says. “You’re already dehydrated when you first notice you’re thirsty, which can make your workout suffer.”

The National Athletic Training Association recommends drinking 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before your workout and seven to 10 ounces 20 minutes before class. Keep hydrating during class, drinking six to 12 ounces every 15 minutes.

“Maximize your recovery by continuing to rehydrate,” she says. “It’s important to replace the fluids you’ve lost.”

    4. SLEEPING. Aim for seven to nine hours a night, Dr. Masteller says. “Make it a priority.”

Without adequate sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation, the brain cannot function properly. And how can you have a successful Hell Week if your brain isn’t functioning properly?

Here are a few final tips to ensure your recovery continues even after Hell Week is over.

Keep resting. Just because you were able to consistently do five workouts in eight days doesn’t mean you should continue to do so. “If you don’t allow time for deeper replenishment, you won’t be performing your best,” says Dr. Masteller. “Yes, you can do it, but are you doing it at the same level as when you are fully recovered?”

Listen to your body. Soreness is fine, but if it doesn’t go away and is especially painful, that’s a sign you need more recovery, she says. “If you don’t recover adequately and you attempt to do a class, know that your performance will be affected.”

Take what you learned with you. You did five classes in eight days! That shows you have the power to push yourself further than maybe you thought you could.

“We want you to have fun with Hell Week and do it in a way that is as healthy as possible,” Dr. Masteller says. “That’s super important for progressing.”