Most people who train have a plan for strength training and a nutrition plan. But how many have a plan for recovery? I hear and say often that training is the easy part. If you’re like me, you can’t wait to get into the gym and move some weights. Who doesn’t like to feel the pump and endorphin rush of training? But knowing when to stay out of the gym is, in my opinion, the true key to long-term success and meeting your goals.
No one says they want to train so all of their joints will hurt, or they will constantly be irritable or tired. But this is exactly what many, if not most of the people in the gym are accomplishing by overtraining. Overtraining is when you tax your body’s recuperative abilities by training beyond their limit. When you are working out, you are actually getting weaker. Strenuous strength training breaks down and stresses every system in your body. After a workout, your body not only has to heal itself back to where it was prior to training but then it has to adapt to the increased workload it’s been given by getting stronger. This takes time or to be more precise, proper nutrition and rest. Most people jump back into the next workout as soon as their muscles are no longer sore, long before they have actually gotten stronger and then wonder why their gains have reached a plateau. Here are some tips to ensure that your strength gains come steadily and you remain injury free.
- Avoid overtraining in the first place. One simple way to recover faster is by limiting the volume of training you do. You are better off training briefly at a higher intensity than doing set after set with a low or medium intensity.
- Sleep. During sleep, your body produces Growth Hormone (HGH) which is largely responsible for tissue growth and repair. Getting as close to 7 or 8 hours a night is the key. Also, many bodybuilders incorporate naps into their daily schedule to get additional HGH release and the cool thing is that this happens when you first go to sleep so even a brief 20-minute nap will achieve an additional HGH spike for you.
- Adequate nutritional intake. This is key (especially if you are a “hard gainer” like me) to your strength gains since muscle is literally made out of food. In fact, I personally think of my muscles as bags that hold food and water. If I want them bigger I need to fill them up. Remember, you can’t build a mansion out of 2 bricks and a nail no matter how you put them together. You must have the raw materials available and in terms of muscle, these are calories and water.
- Water. Water is literally the key to life. Nothing on our planet lives without it. Your muscles are 60% water. Water also plays a vital role in metabolism which is really just moving calories around. Think “Water helps food bags get filled”.
- Light activity. Moving your blood around with some light activity helps flush out waste products and brings fresh nutrients and oxygen to recuperating muscles. It can also decrease muscle soreness which is a nice side benefit.
- Stretch. This is a simple and fast way to help your muscles recover as it promotes circulation through the muscle.
- Massage. You don’t have to pay someone for a massage in order to get the benefits. You can perform self-massage on sore muscles if you can reach them or use a stiff foam roller for hard to reach places. Much like stretching, massage also promotes circulation. If a muscle is really sore from strength training, start with light pressure and increase pressure as you can tolerate it.
A general rule I use to know when to train next is how I feel mentally and physically. If I am tired or not excited to train, I probably need some rest. If my joints, tendons, or muscles are sore I definitely need rest. I use my dog as a good example. When he wants to play, he can’t be stopped. When he is tired he can’t be roused. When I feel like training the way my dog wants to play, it’s time to train. If I don’t feel excited to train, I probably need another day or more. Too many people are afraid that if they go too long between workouts their muscles will atrophy but if you keep eating properly you will be surprised how long your muscles will continue to grow. J. NyQuist