Everyone wants to get stronger and bigger in a short space of time. The logical thing to do here seems to be simple; train more. Usually when we want to progress in something, we practise as often as possible.
Practise makes perfect, right? Maybe, but overdoing it may be your biggest downfall when it comes to training. If you really want to reach your potential make sure you programme in one of the most important factors; recovery.
Why do we need to recover?
When we train or work out we are actually tearing our muscle fibres. This is one of the reasons we feel pain during those last few reps. Anyone who’s suffered with the dreaded delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after leg day understands this pain (the struggle for quads of steel is a painful one!). This is okay, though – we want this to happen.
Because this muscle damage prompts the body to repair the muscle fibres to be BIGGER and STRONGER in order to prevent further damage and to be prepared the next time you pop 200kg on the bar. Well, to be fair – I don’t think anyone’s body can actually prepare for 200kg.
But you get my point.
This process of breaking muscle down (scientifically termed “catabolism”) can only result in muscle GAIN (termed “anabolism”) if you allow your body to recover and physically rebuild those muscle fibres.
It’s not just your muscle tissue that needs recovery though – remember your brain is in charge of your muscles and that needs a break too! Ever find yourself yawning during a heavy lift? This is why – your brain feels the burn, too!
Training is physically and mentally draining and if you do not allow yourself to recover you will eventually suffer the consequences. Don’t allow your eagerness to progress hinder your potential.
So, what is recovery?
Recovery is an essential part of training – it is required in order to progress. When those muscle fibres are broken down during your session the damaged muscle fibres need to be cleared out so that new muscle fibres can grow to repair and replace the damaged muscle fibres.
Think about recovery as a fine balance between how much muscle your break down during your session and how much you repair it. If this balance lies too far on the side of damage you will not only stall progress but also damage your body in the process.
So in order to train effectively you need to provide both a stimulus to promote muscle growth (E.g. training where you break down muscle tissue) and the opportunity to recover (E.g. rest days).
Simple steps to recover faster
Progress is not linear and your training shouldn’t be, either.
I’ve spoken about this in my article on “the science of strength training” (which if you haven’t read – you should!) but basically this means scheduling in a “deload” week into your training every month or so. A “deload” is where you reduce the weight back to about 65% of what you would normally lift to give your body a bit of a break so that you’re ready to hit it hard the next month.
Be sure to programme this in every 4-6 weeks especially if you regularly lift high loads such as 80%+ of your 1RM.
Your brain will thank you!
As I’ve mentioned – training involves breaking your muscle tissue down and recovery involved building it back up to be bigger and stronger than before. In order to actually build that muscle back up again you need to give it the raw materials to build it with.
Obviously, protein is key when it comes to building muscle but do not forget the importance of fats and carbohydrates. The protein you consume is used to make new muscle but the carbohydrates and fats are involved in the actual building process so they’re vital, too!
More reasons for you to eat peanut butter and bananas (because that’s just what we needed, right?).
Protein synthesis (the process of building muscle) and most aspects of recovery occur when you are sleeping. This is the body’s “me time” and if your training is anything like mine, it’s much required “me time!”.
If you really want to give your body it’s best chance to recover be sure to get at least 5 hours sleep. I know this is genuinely difficult for my fellow busy bees but if you’re serious about training you need to be serious about recovery, too.
Sleep is essential; not just for your muscles but for your mind.
Sweet dreams, strength fiends!
4.) Stretch it out
Stretching is not just for yogis!
Foam rolling is…okay, I’ll admit it: It’s painful! The good kind of pain though (or is that just me?).
Foam rolling works the same way a deep tissue massage does. It helps break up muscle knots and scar tissue, aids in the clearance of lactic acid (which contributes to DOMS) and even lengthens muscles fibres out allowing for improved range of motion and flexibility.
Lifting weights involves a lot of muscle contractions or “tightening” such as the peak of a bicep curl or coming out of a squat. When we repeatedly do this without loosening them back out again they can become “locked” in a contracted position causing pain, reduced mobility and even muscle spasms.
Don’t be that person who laughs at the thought of stretching and claims that it’s “only for girls” (yes, I hear this too often!). Toughen up and touch your toes!
Magnesium & Potassium
Magnesium is an essential mineral of the human body which becomes even more important when you throw lifting weights into the mix. Magnesium levels in the body are rapidly reduced when we work out and if not replenished can lead to muscle spasm, nerve pain and even anxiety! If you find yourself sore after every workout despite your best down-dog attempts, magnesium could be your knight in shining armour. Made of magnesium.
I tried to crack a magnesium joke there and it epically failed… Hey, I try!
If that isn’t cutting it then you may find an electrolyte powder more beneficial as these combine magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride into one, muscle-loving hydration drink! Electrolytes are essential for normal functioning of not only your muscles but you’re entire body. We lose electrolytes through sweat so if you’re hitting it hard in the gym make sure you top those levels up before you get hit with a quad spasm (possibly the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced – and I’ve 18 piercings!!).
Take home message
We all know the importance of smart training in order to make steady progress, reach your potential and be the best beast you can be. What most of us tend to neglect is the recovery of such hard-core training. It’s pointless to give it all you’ve got without allowing your body to recoup! This can result in overtraining, strength loss and possible muscle atrophy.
Recovery is easily implemented into any training plan so if you want my recommendations I would suggest adding one deload week every five weeks, a weekly foam rolling or “stretch” session, plenty of good food, sleep and lots and lots of peanut butter.
Because peanut butter really does make everything better.
About the Author
Michelle is a scientist, an athlete and a writer and she’s proud to have faced her demons head on and she’s beating them. In weight lifting she found an outlet to help change her life – and she’s loving it! Follow her journey with BULK POWDERS®.