Recover right and cut your body some slack
Even the toughest of athletes need to remember that God himself had a day of rest when creating the universe. And that’s because he recognized that taking a break to refocus and recharge energy stores was vital to making sure the end result was magnificent.
And while many of us work out in order to get our own magnificent results, the quickest way to injure yourself – putting you on the sidelines when you’d much rather be in the game – is to work muscles that are either too tired or too weak from being trained too hard.
That’s why recovery time is such a key aspect to training.
You don’t see the cyclists on the Tour de France pushing to the limit hard every day of the two-week race. Riders take two days off during the grueling ride, and this summer, riders like last year’s Tour winner Cadel Evens will likely spend his days of rest getting massages and other treatments to recharge his batteries and sooth muscles savaged during the tough mountain climbs.
Workouts, muscles, & mixed signals
No matter if you’re tackling a stage of the Tour de France or you’re hitting the gym for a weight-lighting session, after a while, a little bit of pain is likely to set in.
While we all consider that pain to be a normal part of any tough workout, it is caused from the tearing of muscle fibers, along with the resulting actions that come from what the body perceives as an injury.
That’s because a properly functioning body operates with the smoothness of a well-oiled machine, and like a car engine that roars to life when it receives signals from a key placed in the ignition, a body in peak condition will respond to such signals in a way that keeps everything working just like it should.
The anatomy of a muscle in training
A muscle fiber torn during a workout will experience a depletion of muscle energy stores, protein and carbohydrates, as well as a change in calcium levels, all of which serves as a signal to the rest of the body to help with any necessary repairs.
Almost immediately, fluid builds up around torn muscle fibers, forming a protective barrier to prevent further injury while creating a pathway for immune cells to move in and do repairs.
As that happens, you’ll experience a decreased range of motion, increased muscle soreness, muscle stiffness, muscle swelling and decreased strength. In fact, muscles will feel weaker than ever as nutrient levels replenish themselves and fibers begin to knit back together.
That is all part of a smartly planned recovery process, one essentially designed by our bodies to help us protect ourselves, and it can take a few days – depending on the levels of damage, for immune cells to do their work.
That’s why resting is such an important part of the process.
But after healing, the muscle fibers will be stronger than ever, because the work required to knit those fibers together is much like welding, and results in a stronger muscle that can lift more and work harder than ever before.
Speed up recovery time
To make your recovery time faster, take the right steps every day.
- Start and end the day with protein-rich foods. Eggs, goat milk, and lean turkey are great choices and will help fuel muscle recovery during waking AND sleeping hours.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is the best recovery, hands down, and getting those eight hours a night will help your body stay strong when it’s awake.
- Drink enough water. Muscles that are properly hydrated work harder and are less likely to rip, tear, or be sprained. Dehydration can lead to injury.
- Take advantage of a day of rest, and plan truly restful experiences like family movie night, massages, or meditation to fuel recovery.
- Relax when you can, whether it’s listening to soothing music to help keep blood pressure low or spending a few minutes in a hot tub after a fast-paced swim.
- Stretch regularly to keep muscles flexible. Or roll out.
- Cool down, literally. Icing muscles after a tough workout can be beneficial in speeding along recovery times. A cold bath or shower can also do the trick.
- Recovery workouts – a short ride after a fast-paced, 80-mile trek, or a short, lightweight routine using freshly worked muscles – have been linked to reduced muscle soreness, which will rev up recovery time.
Experts suggest working one muscle group one day, another the next, alternating upper and lower body workouts so the day of rest is automatically built into your workout plan, better ensuring successful results.
So on Monday, take on the upper body, with free weights, lifting or whatever you like as your workout of choice.
Then, on Tuesday you can focus on hips, thighs, glutes – whatever lower body work you want – without compromising the over-worked upper body. The same will hold true on Wednesday. Skip the lower body in favorite of upper body work, but maybe tackle shoulders rather than chest or biceps to continue the healing process.
Stubborn and don’t want to rest?
Don’t think that sheer will alone can help you find your own inner Lou Ferrigno.
That legend among body builders channeled a gig as Mr. Universe into his role as “The Incredible Hulk” — and, more recently, a stint on “The Celebrity Apprentice” — by knowing when to sit back and take a break, giving his muscles a chance to rest and recover.
Muscles that don’t get the opportunity for down time can only focus on repairing the damage done during a workout, and will have to forego the natural building of new muscle mass that can occur with proper rest.
And when you do hit the weights without resting, those tired muscles will always be weaker than ones allowed to properly recover, and will not be capable of the marathon workouts or record-breaking lifts that could be your potential.
There’s no way Lou Ferrigno got those arms by working them every day, and you should follow his lead to get his ripped look.
Is a day of rest enough?
As far as how much rest is necessary to see real results, your body will tell you when it is ready to head back into the gym.
A tough workout that results in sore, stiff muscles requires extra rest. The same goes for an 80-mile bike ride that leaves legs feeling like jelly.
If you hurt, don’t go back to the weights, and if you can’t lift as much weight as you did during your last workout, wait another day and try again. Unless you’re planning a light recovery lift – or a short ride just to prevent stiffness from setting in – put down the weights and sit it out.
Some days, you really should take it easy, enjoying a little couch time so the day after your day of rest has the potential to result in your best workout ever.
Less is sometimes more!
We are so damned busy running from one appointment, meeting, or obligation to the next that most of us are conditioned to think that more is better.
That might be the case; however I’d beg to differ with all of those that think more equals more especially when it comes to our bodies. In economics, there’s something known as diminishing returns – the point where more results in little or no increased productivity. This holds true with our bodies.
Your body needs to rest. In fact, most people don’t realize that providing their body rest and recovery is the most important part of helping it to grow stronger and healthier. All you couch potatoes keep in mind that this means you actually have to do something before you rest. Recovery only comes after activity. J But, I digress.
For those ladies and gents who go hard at the gym, during runs, or other activities, know that the physical work is only the catalyst. Your body and muscles grow while you’re resting, not while you’re working out – no matter how hard you go at it. That’s why having scheduled days off in your fitness plan is vital to keeping your body from injuries and sickness and also as vital to allowing your body to become stronger and more able.
Working out and being physically active everyday can be fun, however if you’re looking to increase muscle, improve stamina, boost results, and prevent injuries – a day off will do the trick.
For some people, simply getting 8 to 9 hours of rest every night is all the recovery they need. That’s because many people are so busy trying to squeeze every hour out of the day that they short-change themselves when it comes to sleep. Four to five hours of sleep each night is unfortunately typical for many folks. If you have trouble getting a full eight hours sleep each night, then try to squeeze in a nap into your days if possible.
It doesn’t’ matter how you get your rest and recovery. Whether at night or a combination of nighttime sleep and a nap – just get it. Your body will thank you and your results will soar.
Do you ever skimp on the rest? How many days are you training?