Recuperation is your body's ability to recover after exercise. The quicker recovery the quicker strength and mass gains will come. If you do not follow the nutritional rules - at specific times when necessary, if you neglect to listen to your body's warning signs of possible overtraining, and if you do not get enough rest (this not only includes sleep but also relaxation times when stress is at a minimum) then you will not grow. Strength and muscle gains (or fat losses!) abound during rest periods - outside the gym.
The problem with the role of recovery in exercise and understanding it is that it has not received much attention and nor has there been many articles in magazines or chapters in fitness books written on the subject to constitute any understanding on the full recuperative cycle. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to provide: (1) A basic understanding of the recuperative process and (2) Solutions to induce muscular growth (or fat losses) during the recuperative process.
HOW MUCH REST?
How much rest depends on six factors and includes recuperation, exercise intensity, frequency and duration, nutritional habits and stress itself.
These factors consist of
- How FAST your body recovers (recuperation)
- How HARD you exercise (intensity)
- How OFTEN you exercise per week (frequency)
- How OFTEN, MUCH, WHAT and WHEN you eat (nutrition)
- How LONG you exercise (duration)
- How MUCH stress you have or are able to manage in your daily life (stress).
WHAT KIND OF REST
- Days off
- Pleasurable activity
- Something other than previously mentioned that is both enjoyable and restful.
THREE PHASES OF RECUPERATION
Recuperation is the time it takes the body to recover from hard intense exercise. Endurance exercise for 30 minutes or more 3 times per week is great aerobic activity. However, gains can come to a halt should we be forgetting the third phase of and the actual window of opportunity for building muscle: recuperation. An endurance athlete who runs and cycles frequently can actually steal his/her energy away for making muscular gains that is solely based on the recovery process: rests between sets, immediately after your workout, and especially 48-to-72 hours after exercise. To keep making muscular gains cut back on aerobic activities and reserve that energy for the recovery process.
Recuperation is a process that is broken down into three phases
- 30-to-90 second rests between sets during exercises
- 2-to-4 hours immediately after exercise
- 48-to-72 hours after exercise
WHY IS RECUPERATION IMPORTANT?
There are reasons why you need rest.
To allow the nervous system to recuperate (neurological). The body first lifts the weight with its nervous system, secondly with the mind and thirdly with its muscles. A person when s/he lifts a weight for the first time the bar wavers, shakes and wobbles. The weight is all over the place except for where it should go.
To permit sufficient "supercompensation" to take place (physiological). Proper rest and over what is needed allows the body to enter a "supercompensation" state where the whole body can become stronger and fitter.
To build muscle (physiological). Muscle can only get stronger and bigger by stimulating it through hard exercise, helping it to recover with high performance nutrition and giving it rest.
To regenerate the whole body (mental, physical and psychological). Not only does each muscle exercised need rest, i.e., "specific rest", but also does the whole body, i.e., "general rest." If rest for the whole body is not taken seriously too much stress can build up and lead the body into an "over-trained" state, due to the accumulation of stress. NOT resting can slow down the body's recuperative ability and/or interrupt it; so it is IMPORTANT that the whole body rests so it can be renewed with energy and vigor and allow the stress to dissipate. This is how the body is kept strong and healthy and keeps growing.
To sustain motivation (psychological). Becoming discouraged because of a lack of progress and not having the motivation to continue training to be fit for life is largely due to a lack of rest (for both the mind and body). This can lead to a psychological "burn-out" and make you want to quit altogether and never come back to stay fit. Training is merely the stimulus needed to produce muscular growth. Traditional workouts call for 3 workouts per week as the minimum and split routines of 4, 5 or even 6 weight training sessions per week as the maximum. The advice is to train using 3-to-5 exercises per body part, up to 15-to-20 sets per body part, and up to 1 1/2 to 2-hour workout sessions per day.
If that sort of regimen consistently produced great results, there would be no argument against it. Unfortunately, reality sets in and that approach simply does not work for most people. A spiral of disappointment sets into a pit of frustration due to entering the overtraining syndrome. Overtraining is produced by excesses in three main areas: volume, frequency, and intensity. Few bodybuilders train too hard. Instead, most train too much and too often.
If you are truly following a high-intensity training regimen, volume (how long) and frequency (how often) must be reduced. Rest time is all about intensity - how much you can push yourself to your limits and allow enough time for the muscle to recover and get bigger. The more intense you are, the more rest you need. Rarely a beginner is too intense because they are still learning the motion and how to train hard. You cannot run first before you can walk. It's all about coordination and muscular contraction. Most beginners cannot grasp the intensity of advanced trainees because they lack the know-how and experience. Like anything else, intensity is a learning process. Since high-intensity is an area contributing to overtraining, cycle training can compensate for it.
OUTSIDE THE GYM
Your first priority outside the gym is to allow sufficient recovery time and to provide adequate high performance nutrition between workouts. The two are inseparable if you wish to reap the rewards from hard training and if your goal is to build muscle. If the allotted recovery time and performance nutrition is inadequate, then nothing else matters. That's right, not even your previous training session. You would have wasted your time, energy and effort in the gym. Muscles grow between workouts, but only if provided enough time and proper nutrition to generate growth.
Each one of us has a unique recovery time due to our own body's response to post-exercise stress and how efficient our body utilizes nutrition. Whereas some might benefit from a 2-ON, 1-OFF; 3-ON, 1-OFF; or even a 4-ON, 2-OFF split, others might benefit using a 5-ON, 2-OFF or a 6-ON, 1-OFF split routine. You must be responsible for monitoring your body's recuperative ability and doing or changing what is necessary to meet those demands.
When in Japan from 1989 to 1994 I experienced symptoms of overtraining in 1991. At that time I was working out 4 days per week, working each body part twice per week, and resting 2-to-3 days between body parts worked. Becoming aware that my body could no longer handle this stress load from this particular routine I had to literally go back to the lab and piece together a new routine to maximize the same goal and purpose: to build muscle. You must become aware of your body when it does not respond to a certain regimen and change things. When a particular routine does not work change it. If a particular routine gets the job done and you are reaping the rewards of that routine leave it be. Remember the motto: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Keep in mind that an extra day or two of rest is more beneficial to the body than an extra day or two of training sessions. When tired one day or in doubt of your recovery time take a day off! Listen to your body.
Supercompensation simply refers to your body's recuperative ability to recover after exercise by rebuilding muscles to make them stronger in order to meet the stress of future workouts. During a workout the stress applied results in the breakdown and damage of muscle fibers, which places the body in a weakened and vulnerable state. This damage manifests itself as muscle soreness. Following a workout, your body's priority is to recover from the systematic stress and fatigue incurred in training. The body's repair mechanism kicks into effect, a process which, if given sufficient time: Makes the damaged muscle fibers thicker and stronger than they were before a workout or from the previous workout. With the reward of high-intensity training, performance nutrition and sufficient rest the muscle fibers must surrender to a new level of growth. This phenomenon is called "Supercompensation" and in itself constitutes three phases: recuperation, restoration and supercompensation. It is based on a combination of high-performance nutrition, smart and hard training, and sufficient recovery time.
Resolving the overtraining syndrome is simple. Take a week or two off from training. This will allow the body to "catch-up" with itself for mending and healing. The outcome? The body inherently "bounces back."
There can be many reasons why supercompensation does not occur
- High-volume and frequency output
- Insufficient high-performance nutrition "round-the-clock"
- Ignoring complete rest days for the "whole body" to recuperate
- Insufficient recovery time
- Interrupting the supercompensation process by "rushing" into a workout session
- Too much external stress in one's life
- The build-up of internal stress in the body and the inability to rid it
- Not training hard enough, i.e., high-intensity quality training
- Not training smart enough, i.e., cycling training intensity.
OVERTRAINING AND "BOUNCING BACK"
Overtraining is sometimes used to get past plateau's or sticking points. Few trained professional athletes use overtraining as a systematic system to "bounce-back" if gains have come to a grinding halt. They will purposely go into an over-trained state and take a week or two off. I do not recommend or endorse using overtraining in this way. Overtraining is one of many advanced training techniques (like forced reps, training to failure, negatives, etc.) amateur and professional athletes alike use to push the body past its limit.