Rest days aren’t so bad. After a hard workout you deserve to take it easy the next day. Plus your body needs it. You secretly love it, I know.
Go on, admit it: You think of recovery as something other people do. You? You can go hard every day. You don’t need no stinkin’ rest. And no one’s going to tell you NOT to do what you love.
Ok, that’s all good. You can go on the way you have been…. little aches and pains, big injuries even. Plateaued progress. Burn out. Fatigue. You can still push hard so what’s the problem?
Simpy put, lifting weights (and any intense exercise) places stress on your muscles, connective tissues, and central nervous system. If you don’t give your body time to repair itself, it will continue to break down. You can’t build muscle, strength, or endurance when this is happening, but you can hurt yourself.
Of course we want to recover as quickly as possible so we can get the most out of our workouts. You can do this by adjusting variables that affect your recovery (listed below) and periodizing your training.
The concept of periodization doesn’t just apply to athletes who train at a low intensity most of the year and peak at competition time. Periodization (using training cycles to increase performance by varying the stimulus) should be a critical part of your lifting program too. For example, when I write programs for online clients, I integrate recovery with lower volume days or deload weeks. This prevents overtraining and ensures steady progress.
Even for myself, though, it’s taken a few hard knocks for me to appreciate recovery as a critical part of my training. I’ve always loved lifting much more than I wanted to rest. I also had an ego to protect, so I wasn’t too keen on backing off ever. But after a host of overuse injures, I finally figured out that rest is required, not optional.
Recovery should be part of your overall training cycle, not “if-I-think-of-it-have-time-get-injured.”
What Affects Recovery?
Listen to your body. If you’re tired and sore all the time, try backing off frequency, intensity, or adjusting any of these variables:
2. How HARD you exercise (intensity)
3. How OFTEN you exercise per week (frequency)
4. How OFTEN, MUCH, WHAT and WHEN you eat (nutrition)
5. How LONG you exercise (duration)
6. How MUCH stress you have or are able to manage in your daily life (stress)
I’d add that how fast you recover is impacted by your AGE. Those over forty generally notice slower recovery, but obviously this can vary.
Are You Making These Mistakes?
You can see from the list above that eating junk, not managing your stress, and sleeping poorly can slow down recovery. So let’s look at a few other specifics that negatively your recovery from strength-training workouts:
- You lift heavy year round. If you never have low-to-moderate sessions, your body is under constant siege. You need to work in low-volume days to avoid injury and see muscle and strength gains.
- You do intense cardio more than 2-3 times a week. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and endurance cardio sessions take energy and recuperation away from your strength-training recovery. You can build some muscle and strength while you’re also hitting cardio hard, but you can’t have it all – you may end up burned out or injured if you overdo it.
- You don’t take rest days. Everyone needs at least one day a week to do only low-intensity exercise such as walking, yoga, or stretching/foam rolling.
- You frequently lift to muscular failure. Not lifting to failure takes practice, but you must master leaving a few reps in the tank. Read more here about why.
What Constitutes Recovery?
- Short-term recovery occurs within 48-72 hours of an intense lifting session. In this window you need healthy nutrition to replace glycogen stores. You also need to rest the muscles you just trained so they can repair themselves and grow, so doing an intense leg session Monday and hills on the treadmill Tuesday doesn’t qualify as rest.
- Long-term recovery spans the length of a training program (weeks, months, or a year). If you are not incorporating low-volume days, you should map out six- to eight-week cycles that allow you to deload.
So we’re not talking rest between sets here, which impacts how much you can lift.
Don’t wait until you’re plateaued, injured, or burned out to integrate proper rest. Cycle it into your workouts for renewed zest and sweet results.
This article originally appeared on workoutnirvana.com.