So we all know the importance of staying active for overall health, and it is also the best way to build skeletal muscle. When we lift weights microscopic damage occurs within the muscle fibers. These microscopic tears activate the bodies repair response. The body starts to send nutrients to the muscle cells to repair the damage and to stimulate the fibers to grow. Muscle size increases when a person continually challenges the muscles to deal with higher levels of resistance.
We have to workout in order to create damage and stimulate the fibers to grow but how much importance is given to exercise recovery methods?, “Your muscles grow at rest”, how often have you heard this saying. We live in a society where people think more is better, but we don’t understand how vital it is to take time off to recuperate so that we allow the damage done to the body to heal, this makes us stronger and more productive for the next exercise session.
It is also important to do active recovery to speed up healing I will discuss this topic later. Another very important part of recovery is your nutrition, fluid intake and sleep I will cover all this in more depth. OK so now without further ado I will go on to give you my top five exercise recovery methods.
1) Rest days “your body will thank you for it”
A muscle needs anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild itself, working out too soon can have a negative affect and lead to muscle tissue breakdown instead of tissue growth, this is something we most definitely want to stay away from being hardgainers. So the general rule of thumb is not to work out the same muscle group two days in a row.
Not having adequate rest days from your workout can lead to over training. This is a very common term among gym goers and I am sure you have heard people talk about it. People will usually say “I am sore”, a little soreness is fine it means your workout challenged your muscles, it is a result of delayed onset muscle soreness known as DOMS.
DOMS occurs when you start a new exercise program, change your exercise routine or perhaps increase the duration of your workouts. It is important to recover from DOMS before your next exercise session. Typically, DOMS occurs around 24-48 hours after exercise (“hence delayed onset”) and can last 3 to 5 days.
Not recovering from DOMS could lead to over training, here are a few symptoms of over training:
- Declined performance
- Soreness, strain and pain
- Overuse injuries
- irritability and agitation
- reduced appetite and weight loss
- workouts become more challenging
- disturbed sleep
- decreased immunity (not a good thing during COVID)
- loss of motivation
It can be clearly seen that without enough rest in between our workouts the body will be impacted. So this is a very important part of the muscle building program.
2) Drink plenty of fluids
It is vital to stay hydrated meaning getting the right amount of water before, during and after exercise. About 60% of our bodies contain water! that is a lot, the brain and the most important muscle for life, “our heart” contains a massive 73% water, lungs about 83%, and our skin is composed of 64% water. The muscles and Kidneys are about 79% water even our bones have roughly 31%.
Water keeps your joints lubricated and flexible. Synovial fluid that lubricates your joints are made up of mostly water. The synovial fluid reduces friction between the joints and helps in maintaining healthy tissue and joints. It is important to consume a certain amount of water to survive, this varies according to age, gender, where someone lives and activity levels. An adult male needs roughly about 3 liters of water per day while a female adult needs 2.2 liters.
As we can see water is vital for our bodies so it makes sense to drink enough. Aim for about 2 to 3 liters per day and drink throughout your workout to stay hydrated and energized. Keeping hydrated will lead to greater productivity and muscle gains. Drink roughly about 1 liter per hour of exercise.
Water carries nutrients, electrolytes and virtually every other substance within your body to your muscles and organs. As you exercise your heart rate goes up which means your muscles can get a quick supply of blood and oxygen, however if you do not drink enough water this process becomes a lot less efficient. This results in muscle pain, spasms, cramps and slowed muscle growth.
Water plays a crucial role in both muscle repair (recovery process) and growth. When you work out you experience minor muscles injuries or tears. In order to fix these your body needs to synthesize protein, which is of course the building block of muscle. If these cells do not have enough protein in them, protein synthesis is delayed. The worst case scenario if you’re dehydrated your body may even start to break down muscle tissue, which can negatively affect our goals of building muscle and strength.
Benefits of water
- Increased muscle growth
- Better muscle recovery
- Reduced risk of injury
3) Foam rolling and stretching “Active recovery”
Active recovery simply means performing low impact intensity exercise following a workout or during your rest days. Simple examples of active recovery are walking, stretching, and foam rolling known as self myofacial release. Active recovery is considered much more beneficial in the recovery process then just inactivity, sitting and resting. Please do avoid active recovery if you are injured or in a lot of pain, always consult your doctor.
This method of recovery can help clear blood lactate in the body which accumulates after exercise. This results in an increase in hydrogen ions in the body, which lead to muscle fatigue and contraction. By performing active recovery this accumulation decreases, which makes your muscles feel less fatigued and keep you going strong. On the plus side you will feel better the next time you exercise.
Benefits of active recovery
- Gets rid of toxins in the body
- increases blood flow
- reduces lactic acid buildup in the muscles
- keeps your muscles much more flexible
- helps you maintain your exercise routine
Self myofascial release or short form SMR also known as foam rolling is a self massage technique used to help muscle and joint pain. It is a simple technique that requires you to self massage your muscles using a foam roller or a tennis ball to roll certain areas of the body which are tight or causing pain.
So what is fascia? It is a connective tissue that covers our muscles(myofasia), nerves, blood, organs and also our cells. Our organs are held together and in place by fascia tissue.
SMR is beneficial in that it is able to clear up restrictions and muscle knots, whilst breaking down scar tissue and adhesions. This will lead to an increase in flexibility of soft tissue which will lead to improvements in the range of joint motion resulting in reduced pain.
OK let me give you a simple example of how I use SMR. So after I perform squats what happens is I feel tightness in my quadriceps (frontal upper legs) the following day (DOMS). It gets so bad at times that I cannot walk, I am sure a lot of you can relate to this, especially if your workout was very intensive. To relieve this pain I use a foam roller to roll out my quadriceps. I lay over the roller with it touching the knees. Rolling slowly over the roller till it reaches my hip, I will find the area that is most painful and hold it for about 30 seconds. This method of rolling releases the quadriceps which are used a lot when squatting.
Stretching has a huge amount of benefits for not only your body but your mind as well. Implementing daily stretching into your daily life allows your muscles to be well circulated and healthier. Here are some benefits of stretching:
- Helps with injury prevention
- Increases nutrients to the muscles reducing soreness
- calmed mind
- increased energy
- Great for your posture
- Improves flexibility
There are two main types of stretching techniques and these are static stretching and dynamic stretching.
These are stretches in which you hold a single position while you sit, stand or lie still for up to 45 seconds. Regular static stretching on your days of may increase power and speed, also reduce injury risk. The best time to implement these stretches is when your muscles are warm and pliable. This could be after a gentle warm up such as jogging on the spot or after an exercise session.
Two examples of static stretches:
Standing quadriceps stretch
- Stand upright
- Raise one heel towards buttocks and hold the ankle with hand of the same side
- Knee of stretching leg points to the floor look forwards upright posture
- Hold position for an appropriate duration.
Standing triceps stretch
- Stand upright, feet hip width apart
- Raise one arm over head and place hand between shoulder blades (or as close as possible)
- Use other hand to press against upper arm and ease further into the stretch position
- Hold for 10 – 30 seconds
These type of stretches differ from static stretches in that they are movement based. Dynamic stretches involve active movements where the joints and the muscles go through a full range of motion. They can be used to prepare the body before exercise. These stretches are functional and are used to rehearse the movement of the activity or sport your about to undertake. The simplest example would be a swimmer who may decide to circle their arms before getting into the pool.
Dynamic exercises are a series of movements to get the body moving and well warmed up before any type of exercise. Examples of dynamic stretches could be doing walking lunges, body weight squats and trunk twists.
My favorite dynamic stretch before undertaking a gym workout is the jumping jack, this is a great exercise because it hits almost every major muscle group and elevates the heart rate. This means you hit two birds with one stone so to speak. You get your warm up cardiovascular exercise and also prime your body for the explosive training to follow.
4) Sleep “Sleep well grow healthy”
Sleep is vital in order to give your body time to repair and rebuild the muscles worked during exercise. Your energy is conserved during sleep so that it can focus on repairing and rebuilding. When we get adequate good quality sleep our body produces growth hormone. In children this is responsible for their growth and body development as the name suggests. In adults, it helps us to recover from the daily life, be it hard work at the gym or the daily mental stresses of life. Growth hormone in particular is responsible for helping us repair what we have torn during our workouts, it is essential for recovery and building muscle mass.
It is recommended that the average adult get at least seven hours of sleep per day, however if you are very active and a regular gym goer, you may need more sleep. If you find that you do not get enough sleep during the night if possible take short naps during the day if you can. I usually try to get a 20-minute nap during the day it works wonders for my energy levels.
5) Nutrition “Good quality fuel for the car….then why not for yourself”?
Healthy eating has become a huge trend and people are always cautious about the foods they eat, especially since COVID 19 entered our world. The food we consume plays a huge part in the way we look and feel. Some would argue that what we consume is even more important then exercise. Eating right can assist in reducing body fat, losing weight and also reduce the risk of illness. Eating right means getting in all the protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals in the right quantities. I will go onto discuss all the nutrients and the importance they play in optimizing health later. I just want you to realize at this stage that nutrition is a very important part in our recovery process.
Our goal being hardgainers is to fuel the body with the necessary nutrients to provide an anabolic environment, one which results in repairing and building muscle mass. We should eat a calorie surplus from good food sources and not fill ourselves with high fat, processed unnatural foods. I will look into nutrition in much more detail later, as it is a very important topic for those who want to build muscle mass and remain in great health. Nutrition requires a complete separate article as it is a big topic.
What you need to know at this stage is when your trying to build muscle do not make the mistake of restricting calories. Muscle is the fuel your body will turn to when your calories are low especially if you are a hard gainer. Remember when you do not eat enough to optimize muscle growth, your body will go into what is known as starvation mode and your body will actually increase rather then decrease fat stores. You will then appear a lot smaller but hold fat at the same time. What is known as skinny fat.
When exercising to build bigger stronger muscles we have no need to restrict calories as our muscles need all the nutrition from food in order to repair, grow and fuel our muscles. A balanced diet is important meaning getting the right quantity of nutrients from a variety of foods.
Protein is a very important macro nutrient as it provides us with essential amino acids for building new muscle tissue after rigorous exercise. Get protein from high quality foods and supplements.
To conclude I have given you my top 5 exercise recovery methods. These have been used by me to help in the recovery process. Meaning I can be more productive in the gym and continue to make progress. The message I want to send to you is to realize how important recovery is in the muscle building process. Not only does it help you to avoid the negative side effects, but when those micro tears heal your muscle grow. We can now understand that over training negatively impacts your performance.
If you use my recovery methods your chances of injury will be greatly reduced meaning you can continue to workout for longer without taking too much time off. An injury to a muscle can take a very long time to heal, anywhere from three to six weeks. Being away from the gym for that amount of time can result in loss of strength and size. This is something we want to avoid.
I hope you have found this article interesting, hopefully it has provided you with enough valuable information on recovery so that you can continue to recover from your exercise session and make progress towards achieving the body you desire.