How much recovery do muscles really need?
We all know that working out is important if you want to get fitter, lose weight, and build lean muscle tissue. But is more really more? How much rest do our muscles really need? Let's find out.
First of all, explore your goals. Are you working out to lose weight or decrease body fat? Or is your primary aim building muscle mass? Are you training for a specific sport, or for an endurance event? Or do you go to the gym to lift weights? All of these goals will demand a different approach to training, and to recovery.
If you train for a sport or event, you have a time-specific goal in mind, and your recovery between training sessions will need to take this into account. If you work out for health, body composition or weight loss, you can design your exercise routine around recovery for optimal holistic results.
So, what is the ideal amount of recovery for muscles?
Research is constantly being carried out into various aspects of muscular recovery, including training splits, training frequency, and the role of protein and sports supplements in the post-training window. Accepted thinking in the field of hypertrophy (muscle growth) is that muscles need 48 hours to fully recover between training sessions. Individual factors will of course affect your recovery: your age, your training age (for how much of your life you've been exercising), your stress levels, your nutrition and hydration, and any past injuries or physical imbalances.
It's not currently clear whether or not eating a protein-rich snack, or drinking a protein shake, after weight training has a big impact on muscular recovery. It's a good idea to eat a balanced snack or small meal within 60-90 minutes, but it's equally important to heed hydration directly after your workout. If you make sure you take on board enough water, with electrolytes if necessary, and pay attention to your over all daily diet of healthy foods, this will boost your body's recovery from exercise.
Larger muscle groups are likely to demand more recovery time than smaller ones, due to the amount of muscle fibres recruited during exercise and the amount of micro-damage which occurs. Training your legs (with squats, lunges or deadlifts) or back (with rows, pull downs or chin ups), for example, will leave you feeling more sore and tired than training your arms or abdominals. Don't train the same body part two days in a row, and consider leaving a day's recovery between high-impact endurance exercise (like running), too. Cross-training can help fill in the gaps. Just make sure you switch up the modality (intersperse swimming with running to give your lower body a break).
It's a good idea to leave 48 hours between weight training the same muscle group. But don't forget that certain muscles will get recruited in addition to the ones you're directly targeting: your shoulders will be worked when you train chest, and your back will be affected a little when you train your glutes (bum) and hamstrings. Programme design is a really important part of an effective exercise plan. An intelligent approach to training split and frequency will help ensure your entire body gets enough rest.
Finally, make sure that you rest as hard as you train. Take rest and recovery seriously: get enough good quality sleep, pay attention to aches and pains, consider foam rolling and stretching in addition to training. Your body will thank you for it.