Your time at the gym is important. You organize your workout. You give it your best and you expect to see results. Did you know that your time away from the gym is just as important? Rest and recovery are two key components to see changes in your body composition and to reach your fitness goals. Without adequate rest and a rest day, your body cannot repair the damage from the workouts and you return feeling weaker instead of stronger. As you strength training, you cause trauma to the muscle fibers. The fibers repair and rebuild and that is how strength gains are made. However, this repair occurs during rest and recovery time, not during the workout.
Take a Rest Day
Before you overlook this essential part of your training, it is important to understand exactly what recovery means and how it helps you return to your workouts feeling stronger than ever. Recovery factors include:
- regulating your body’s physiological functions such as heart rate and blood pressure
- returning cells to a normal status- optimal flow of nutrients in and waste products out
- glucose levels returning to pre-workout states- this includes muscle’s glycogen stores
- replenishing other cell processes such as energy stores and other enzymes
You do this by taking an active role in your recovery. Your body may need a rest day to walk after a few days of strength-training, or you may need complete rest. How do you tell if you need more time off?
You can identify inadequate rest by looking for these signs:
- delayed muscle soreness
- inability to sleep
- difficulty digesting
- poor workout performance
- increase in sickness
- not wanting to eat
If you experience any of these symptoms and continue to train, you may do more harm than good. Inadequate recovery sets you up for:
- decreased performance
- lack of energy
The good news is that you have control over inadequate rest. You can avoid over-training and potential injuries by scheduling in recovery time. This does not include the recovery time between sets which can be varied to enhance workout intensity. This recovery time is the hours and days following a heavy strength-training workout in which you completely fatigue a muscle. As a rule, muscles need one to two days of rest in between workouts. The larger muscle groups need more recovery than the smaller groups, and this all can vary based on your fitness level and your workout intensity. Proper hydration, nutrition and sleep are the best things you can do to help your body recover. Some studies show that massage is beneficial to the recovery process too.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning research says a return to pre-workout physiological status can take up to six days following heavy lifting. It is important to listen to your body and schedule in adequate recovery time. Pay attention to other factors in your life such as work or life stress, which may delay your body’s ability to repair the muscular damage from strength training. You can adjust your workout routine and perform split workouts in which you only exercise one or two muscle groups a day, or add more cardiovascular exercise into your program until you feel stronger.