RECOVERY (part 1) article
This may be a bit heavy, but it IS a good read for anyone who is serious about their weight training program ....
Muscle Recovery for Muscle Growth
The harder, the heavier and the more frequently you train, the faster you will grow—provided, that is, your body can recover.
Unfortunately, that last key element is often poorly understood. For example, if you check out a variety of weight training programs, you’ll find that very few include effective recovery strategies. Any discussion of recovery brings up two obvious questions:
(1) What is the optimal recovery period?
(2) When is the best time to retrain a body part?
4 TYPES OF RECOVERY
The main problem with trying to pin down the optimal recovery period is that the body doesn’t recover as a unit. There are actually 4 main parameters of recovery after a workout, and each recoups at a different rate. In the following sections, I’ll describe them, going from the fastest to the slowest.
(1) Energetic recovery. Working out uses up energy, energy stores that must be refilled before another intense training session can take place. There are two types of energy that are the main concern:
- ATP and phosphocreatine
Unless you are severely overtrained or on a very low calorie diet, the energetic recovery is a matter of hours. At most it should take a few days. Meals spread evenly throughout the day plus creatine and ribose will speed up energetic recovery. This is not the major rate-limiting factor of recuperation, although the energetic state of a muscle cell will aid anabolic compensation.
(2) Hormonal recovery. Intense training disturbs your endocrine system. After a workout your cortisol level can go down, or most likely, up and your testosterone level can temporarily increase before dropping for a few hours—or at worst a few days.
Most of the time, everything should be back in order 24 hours after normal training. A return to normal homeostasis—the body’s natural balance—may take more time than energy recovery, but it should not be a rate limiting factor either, provided that your training volume is reasonable.
If your hormonal system hasn’t recovered in 24 hours because of excessive training loads, it can be a problem. If anabolic hormone levels are still depressed from say your chest workout, then leg training performed a day later will further exacerbate the deterioration of hormonal homeostasis. Training on a third consecutive day will further worsen the situation.
By artificially altering their hormones, users of anabolic steroids can train more frequently than they could naturally.
(3) Contractile recovery. Things start to get complicated here. After a mild, non-traumatic workout the recovery of the contractile apparatus of the muscles—actin and myosin as well as other supporting components—should be quite rapid.
Professor Volkov of Russia notes that weightlifters need 16 to 28 hours to recover from a moderately intense workout (16 to 17 hours for a small muscle group and 24 to 28 hours for the larger muscle groups).
So, even among the muscles, recovery isn’t uniform. Volkov also makes an important point to keep in mind: Recovery of the contractile apparatus is a very uneven process. Recovery is very fast for 7.5 hours, and then it slows down.
When the training load is greater, recovery lengthens from 24 to 48 hours. Again, however, it is a very uneven recovery. After 24 hours, 87% of the weightlifter’s capacities are recovered. It takes another 24 hours for the last 13%.
Note that this is true for powerlifters, as opposed to bodybuilders. The negative, or eccentric, part of the lifter’s lifts aren’t especially elongated. Since most of the muscle trauma comes from the eccentric component, bodybuilders need far more rest than weightlifters after an intense, traumatic workout.
As it is with weightlifters, the fist phase of recovery is very rapid for bodybuilders. Eating protein supplements right after the workout further speeds up the anabolic response to training, so recovery should be quite fast.
Unfortunately, if you inflicted damage to muscle fibers, you’ll have created small intracellular calcium leaks. Despite ongoing muscle recovery, intracellular calcium keeps accumulating in the wrong places. Within a few hours the body reaches a critical calcium threshold. It starts triggering catabolic pathways that abort the recovery process.
That delayed aftereffect of training can persist for days because the anabolic pathways are neutralized as catabolism accelerates.
The concept of biphasal recovery is well illustrated in a 2000 study of strength athletes. The subjects’ strength recovery was fairly rapid during the first 11 hours after a heavy leg workout. Then, performance deteriorated again for another 11 hours. Force recovery was completed in 33 hours instead of 12. With a milder training protocol, one that was far less traumatic, the subject’s recovery was completed within 3 hours.
Therefore, complete contractile recovery is one of the factors limiting your ability to resume intense training for a muscle group.
Of course, contractile tissue repair depends on the full recovery of the energetic and endocrine systems, which brings us to another serious limitation to recovery.
(4) Nervous system recovery . The muscles contract because your brain sends them signals; so the nervous system is a critical parameter in determining your strength. Training fatigues your nervous system, which just as your muscles do, needs time to recover. The nervous system, however, needs an amazingly long time.
For example, research published in 2000 showed that, whereas leg soreness following intense training disappeared after 5 days, the nervous system needed more than 10 days to return to normal. That makes nervous system recovery a major limiting factor for training volume and strength gains, and as with the endocrine system, hard training on consecutive days can only postpone its full recovery.
Another study on this subject that has important implications for bodybuilders was performed by Professor Dietmar Schmidtbleicher on physical education students. It may have passed unnoticed, as it is written in German and for unknown reasons was published in two different sport science journals, two years apart.
The subjects in the test had to perform five sets of three reps on the bench press with maximum weights. One group only had to do the positive part of the press, while the other performed both the positive and the negative phases (a complete rep).
The researchers measured maximal isometric strength for up to three weeks. In the subjects that only performed the positive part of the lift, strength declined after 48 hours. On day 3 their strength increased by 21%, indicating that recovery was completed and gains started to occur. On day 7, strength was up by 24% over baseline, and after 10 days the subjects’ strength peaked at 27% over baseline.
Strength loss was more intense after 48 hours in the group that performed both positive and negative work. After 3 days, strength had increased by 20%. After 7 days, strength was 24% above baseline. After 10 days, it was up by 27.5%.
Things got more interesting after 3 weeks. While the first group completely lost the training effect, strength continued to rise in the second group and reached an all-time high of 29%.
The study’s effects are important for bodybuilders. A non-traumatic workout produces faster but milder benefits than a traumatic workout. Since the gains made will fade away faster, you need to train more frequently.
The trauma inflicted on muscles by the eccentric component of each rep translates into better gains, but to get the most out of a traumatic workout, you have to be patient—the full benefits will be greatly delayed.
To achieve the best gains, you have to reduce training frequency. In other words, you have to adjust the time needed to recover according to the amount of damage inflicted on the muscles. I’m talking about dynamic adjustments, a contradiction of what most bodybuilders do by following a very rigid schedule.
A scientific study, even if it attempts to replicate reality, never truly duplicates it. This one is no exception. None of the subjects were true bodybuilders, so a bench press workout was likely to cause them more trauma than it would seasoned athletes.
On the other hand, bodybuilders rarely perform only 5 sets for a chest workout, and the greater training load can only increase the length of time they need to recuperate.
Furthermore, bodybuilders train other muscle groups in the following days, postponing recovery even more. They need more time to recover and to grow. That point is also true for the results obtained by Raastad.
The fact that recovery time is specific for each body part is key. In an earlier study of strength-trained me, Schmidtbleicher had determined that legs need 72 hours to recover, while the chest needs only 48 hours after training. That’s true when you want a GROWTH response.
If you are looking for better muscle reactivity, leg recovery time can drop to 48 hours. When speed is your goal, it’s possible to re-train after only 24 hours rest. Those figures should be taken into consideration when you consider using training schedules designed by some strength coaches and powerlifters. They’re likely to be far different from what a bodybuilder needs.
Not only is recovery slower for bodybuilders, but it’s much slower than was previously thought. Recovery takes many forms and is different for each of your muscles. What’s more, it’s byphasal. You have to become familiar with all the pathways involved in the recovery processes and address each of the specifically to speed up recovery.
Only then can you plan an active recovery strategy for accelerating the hypertropic response.
Volkov, VM (1977). Vosstanovitelnyje Processy V Sporte. Fitzkulutruia I Sport . Moskva.
Raastad, T. (2000). Recovery of skeletal muscle contractility after high- and moderate-intensity strength exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol . 82:206.
Deschenes, M.R. (2000) Neuromuscular disturbance outlasts other symptoms of exercise induced damages. J Neurol Sci . 174:92
Schmidtbleicher, D. (1998) Zeitlich verzogerte effekte beim krafttraining. Leistungssport . 3:33
Schmidtbleicher, D. (2000) Anpassungen nach krafttraining mit maximalen lasten. Sportwissenchaft . 30:249.
Schmidtbleicher, D. (1999) Recovery following strength-training seesions with different training regimen—intramuscular coordination vs. muscle hypertrophy. Rome: Fourth annual Cong Eur Coll Sport Sci. 72.