But there is one final piece of the puzzle (often forgotten about or totally ignored) that is so damn vital, that if you neglect this basic fundamental you can say goodbye to any chance of success you ever thought you had.
It doesn't matter how you train, what you eat or what you supplement with, unless you let your body adequately recover form your time spent in the gym, then you will be going nowhere fast!
What I will do now is give you the low-down on the different forms of recovery and also dispel a few myths and ways you can get adequate recovery in the real world.
Lets take it to the gym.
When you are training hard in the gym, the fuel to power through your workout comes from your ATP-CP energy system.
I don't want to go into too much detail here as this is a separate beast all together, but what you need to remember is that this is the primary energy system required for all muscular contractions.
Additionally, you will need to have the energy tanks full for every set, as this is what leads to an effective training session.
When hitting the weights hard in a good overload fashion, you will exhaust your energy reserves in a good 10-20 seconds. From there it can take up to a full 3 minutes to fully recover.
Basically, the minimum time you should take to recover between sets is 3 minutes because anything less and you simply will not have the available energy reserves for another effective set.
If you rest for only 60 seconds (that seems to be a popular time for some) and start again, I guarantee you that whilst you will be busting your butt, you won't make the same number of reps, generate the same amount of muscular stimulus and simply short-change yourself of any possible progress.
Take advantage of the down time, let your system re-build to optimal levels and then you can hit it hard again.
Ever heard the myth that after 72 hours of not training a specific muscle group that they will start to atrophy?
In other words, if you train biceps on Monday and you don't hit them again on Thursday, they will literally start shrinking on your arm there and then.
I can tell you that if you train with significant intensity and follow the basic rules of recovery, you WILL NOT start shrinking after 3 days. Why will you start to atrophy when you haven't even fully recovered?
Training and recovery go together as a cycle. First you train to stimulate muscle growth, and then you recover!
As you know, you don't grow in the gym. Training itself is the catalyst for change and is actually taking 1 step backwards. When you are training with significant intensity, you are actually breaking down existing muscle.
The recovery process will start the moment you start your training session and picks up into high gear once the session is over.
Recovery starts by bringing you back up to your original level of development (size/strength), and then you grow a little larger and stronger due to over-compensation.
This is your body's way to be able to effectively handle that same level of stress again the following training session.
For individual muscle groups this process can take up to a week, hence why most knowledgeable bodybuilders will train each muscle group once every 7 days. The harder you train, the longer you need between specific body-part training sessions.
When first starting out, you might be able to get away with training the same muscle group 2 - 3 times a week, but once you can generate any type of intensity, I suggest stretching it out to a full 7 days.
Full Body Recovery
No matter how structured your overall training plan is, you cannot train indefinitely. Sooner or later, your body is going to say 'enough' and you are going to need a decent rest. At this stage, I would recommend taking at least a week off from all training.
You can put this down to letting your central nervous system (CNS) adequately recover from the stress of training. Simply put, your CNS is responsible for ALL contractions that your muscles make.
The signal is fired from the brain, travels through the nerves and into your muscles instructing them to contract against the resistance. A signal is then returned to the brain stating that the contraction has occurred and this process repeats itself a few million times.
The harder you train (intensity level) and the duration of your program, the more beneficial this time off will be. There is simply no point training at 90% when it takes a 100% commitment to change your physique.
For that week off, kick back and do as little as humanly possible. Let your body take advantage of this time-out period; your results will be better for it.
Many people fear that taking a week off from the gym every couple of months will lead them to shrink almost over-night. Well you might lose a little 'weight' if you cease taking Creatine during that week, but that's mostly water weight.
As soon as you start training and supplementing right, it will come back almost instantly. Plus, you usually come back a little stronger too.
Mentally Though, I'm Still Pumped!
You might be convinced that everything is running perfectly, but these things can creep up on you when you don't expect it.
You simply will not see your intensity slipping away if it happens very slowly over a matter of weeks. Every session you still believe that you are giving your all - and in most cases you are - it's just that the body cannot keep up.
Additionally, what better way to increase your motivation for training then by stepping away for a week? Mental recovery is an essential part of the entire recovery process. If your motivation is lagging in the gym, your workouts will be sub-par at best.
Nutrition, Supplementation & Recovery
We all know the important role nutrition plays in regards to our training (ie: carbohydrates to fuel our workouts, proteins for growth etc), but don't under-estimate the effect they will also have on recovery.
Your recovery abilities can and will be directly related (and greatly enhanced) by the quality of nutritional choices you make and how you implement them into your daily lifestyle.
For example, do you feel that you would get better results FASTER if you followed your intense training sessions with a high quality protein, fast acting carbohydrate shake with added essential co-factors such as creatine and glutamine, compared to grabbing a pre-made shake from the gym fridge?
It's simple - the better your nutrition the better your results. So the trick here is to always try and focus on the best quality foods you can find.
I myself am no saint and I love my burgers just as much as anyone, but if this is an exception rather than the rule (once a week on a non-training day is ok), then you will be giving your body the quality nutrients needed to optimize recovery and growth.
With supplements, there are many varieties on the market targeted to enhance recovery.
Your staples should always be L-glutamine and a good quality multi-vitamin formula, but if you feel that you are simply not recovering fast enough then there are many other products you can try.
Just remember though that your supplements are only ever meant to 'supplement' a good nutrition plan and not a way to fill any gaps, so take care of the basics first.
It's often touted that sleep is the ULTIMATE form of recovery. There is nothing better then waking from a deep, solid sleep. You feel both physically and mentally refreshed when you get a good night's sleep.
Additionally for bodybuilders, sleep is also a great way to boost results. During sleep our body will secret hormones for growth and repair and during the first 2 hours of sleep, our bodies secrete the greatest amount of growth hormone compared to other times of the day.
By getting insufficient amounts of sleep, not only will you be tired, lethargic and cranky in the gym the following morning, but you will also be failing to take advantage of sleeps powerful anabolic benefits.
The million dollar question though has always been what is the optimal amount of sleep needed to recover from a heavy days lifting.
Current belief is that you need a full, un-interrupted 8 hours, but again this is a personal thing. Additionally, I have found that the better your nutrition and supplementation programs are, the less actual sleep you need.
I personally have found that I can still function in the gym and still generate gains with as little as 5 hours sleep a night. I must mention though that this is a personal thing.
The only 'what ifs' that arise when it comes to sleep is what happens when you go a full night without adequate nutrition.
Un-interrupted sleep is good, but you can only go so long without food. We eat like clockwork during the day, yet we are prepared to go the night with nothing!
I have found that if I deliberately interrupt my sleep with a quick trip to the kitchen during the night, then I can keep the muscle building process pumping along and not stress out as much about missed nutritional opportunities.
What I do is before hitting the sack I have a large protein shake, and I will also pre-measure a second serve but leave it in a dry shaker on my kitchen bench.
Having a shake before bed is naturally going to wake me to go to the toilet. As soon as that is taken care of, I'll pop into the kitchen, mix the shake and drink.
Total time awake is about 5 minutes but the additional results from the extra nutrients are incredible.
So if you feel as though your recovery abilities are sadly lagging behind your effort and determination that you display in the gym put these points into action and you will bust out of that plateau in no time.