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Rest and Recuperation Leads to Muscle Growth!

April 7th, 2009 · No Comments

“I cannot provide an exact formula for success, but I can furnish a formula for failure. Give bodybuilders what they want: Easier, longer, more frequent…exercise. Instead, I supply bodybuilders with what they need: harder, briefer, more infrequent… exercise.”
—Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus equipment.

Evan Centopani, Phil Heath and Erik Fankhouser all did one thing in common to put on size…they took some time off to grow. I was recently watching MD TV’s “Flex Wheeler Super Star Seminar” on the MD website. This video is a must-see for all bodybuilders and can be found by using the MD search engine; type in Super Star Seminar. The video features four bodybuilders— the most honest and knowledgeable veterans in the sport: Dave Palumbo, Flex Wheeler, Kevin Levrone and Shawn Ray. The interview covers supplements, training, nutrition and muscle growth; one of the questions in the seminar that was asked to the entire panel was:

“What is the most effective program you follow for putting on mass?”

Kevin Levrone: “Taking time off is always good. As professionals, we work out every day, sometimes twice a day. After the competition, I would take three or four months off— that would work for me. I needed to take a break to recuperate…”

Shawn Ray: “I was pretty much the same way; I would take some time off. Time off means light cardio and light weights. Doing what we do 10 months out of the year, bodybuilders need rest.”

Flex Wheeler: “As a natural bodybuilder now, I need more recuperation as I have gotten older. I find that my body does not recuperate the same as it used to. I understand how much harder it is to recuperate as you get older.”

As a writer for MD, I am always trying to bring you the cutting-edge research on what you can do to put on muscle size. I decided to investigate the literature and see exactly what the science says about taking time off and muscle growth. To be honest, it seems that taking a week or two off may be more important for muscle growth than you realized.

The Science of Taking Time Off and Muscle Growth
Most bodybuilders are “addicted” to the gym and taking time off is not a common practice. “TRAIN HEAVY OR GO HOME!” Bodybuilders often push themselves too hard for too long, which can lead to neuromuscular fatigue and blunted muscle growth. Bodybuilders never taper their routines; they have the “balls-to-the-wall” mentality year-round. Contrary to the practices of bodybuilders, a common strategy used during periodization routines for strength and power routines is to reduce the training load a few weeks before the competition. After a competition, many strength-trained athletes (powerlifters and Olympic athletes) know that taking time off leads to greater strength gains the next training cycle. This is referred to as tapering and can lead to increases in strength, power and performance.
Taking time off is not something bodybuilders like to do, but most bodybuilders would benefit from a little rest and recuperation. In a previous study, when power athletes took two weeks off, there were no significant changes in free-weight bench press (-1.7 percent), parallel squat (-0.9 percent), isometric (-7 percent) and concentric knee extension force (-2.3 percent), however they had a small increase in vertical jumping (1.2 percent) performance after the two-week rest period. Interestingly, several anabolic hormones were increased in the two-week rest period, levels of plasma growth hormone (58.3 percent), testosterone (19.2 percent) and the testosterone to cortisol ratio (67.6 percent) increased, whereas plasma cortisol (-21.5 percent) and Creatine kinase enzyme levels (-82.3 percent) decreased.
Clearly, there is a restoration of anabolic hormones from the intense training. What would happen if you decided to take some time off? Wouldn’t you lose all your size and strength? In a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers took well-trained shot-putters and tracked their performance at the completion of 14 weeks of training; additionally they investigated changes in muscle size after four weeks off. No training at all…complete rest and recuperation.

They Lost Everything, Right?
At the end of study, after four weeks of not training, their shot-put performance was not altered; additionally, there was no change in maximal muscle strength after detraining. What about muscle size? The shot-putters had a small decrease in Type II fibers (this was not a big decrease; it was relatively small), but they had an increase in Type IIx muscle fibers in their legs.2 Fast-twitch muscle fibers are divided into two types: Type IIa and Type IIx. Type IIa fibers have a moderate resistance to fatigue and represent a transition between the two extremes of the slow-twitch and Type IIx fibers. Functionally, they are used for prolonged anaerobic activities with a relatively high-force output, such as racing 400 meters. Type IIx fibers are the most explosive, powerful fibers humans posses. Type IIx fibers exhibit the fast rate of contraction, and are very large in diameter, have low oxidative capacities and low mitochondria, but contain the highest glycolytic content. These fibers are recruited for heavy resistance training protocols with maximal or near-maximal loads, in addition to other activities or sports requiring a fast rate of contraction such as sprinting, Olympic lifting or plyometric work. Type IIx muscle fibers contract approximately twice as fast as Type IIa and 9- to 10-fold faster than Type I (aerobic) muscle fibers.4, 5 The researchers concluded that although there was a small decrease in Type IIa fibers, the increase in Type IIx fibers maintained strength, which coincides with no reductions in performance. Additionally, during this period of rest and recuperation they had an increase in Type IIx fibers.

Fast-Twitch Type IIa Fast-Twitch Type IIx

Contraction time Fast Very fast
Size of motor neuron Large Very large
Resistance to fatigue Intermediate Low
Activity used for Long-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic
Force production High Very high

Myosin IIX Overshoot
Ever notice that after a vacation, something strange happens when you go back to the gym…you’re stronger! Interestingly, it has been reported that after three months of continuous training followed by a muscle being rested, the amount of Type IIx fibers will be greater than its previous resting levels.6 This overshoot of Type IIx fibers may be the very reason why many athletes who take some time off can indeed put on substantial increases in muscle size and power from a brief rest/recuperation period. Many strength and power coaches will have their athletes train for six to eight weeks of an intense training period followed by a week of complete rest to take advantage of this myosin IIx overshoot process. This is a valuable tip that all bodybuilders can learn from.

Ellington Darden’s: Philosophy
Dr. Darden, who has adopted the training philosophy of the late Arthur Jones, truly believes that a majority of the bodybuilders are overtraining. In one of Dr. Darden’s Books, he spoke of a young bodybuilder who had reached a plateau in his career and wanted to put on mass and agreed to follow Dr. Darden’s training philosophy exactly as it was written…no questions! The younger bodybuilder excitedly opened his training manual only to see the following: WEEK 1— NO TRAINING, FULL WEEK OF REST AND RECUPERATION. The bodybuilder freaked out; he was training with Dr. Darden to get bigger, so why did he need a week off? Later in the book, the bodybuilder admitted that he had never taken time off from the gym and admitted it was the best gains in size he had made in years. This may be due to an increase in Type IIx fibers and an increase in anabolic hormones from the recuperation period.
Many Olympic and powerlifting athletes will train hard for several weeks leading to a competition, then take some time off for recuperation. Obviously, there is a diminishing time effect where taking too much time off will decrease muscle strength and muscle mass, however taking time off is good. Based on the advice of Dave Palumbo, Shawn Ray, Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone, they emphasized the importance of rest and recuperation for muscle growth. If you feel that you just can’t take time off, then try doing a week of no weights and just low-intensity cardio or some other form of exercise that does not stress the nervous system. The research has suggested that taking time off leads to a restoration of anabolic hormones and an increase in type IIx muscle fibers. Sometimes, given the choice to TRAIN HEAVY OR GO HOME, going home may be the best choice!

References:

1. Hortobaygi, T, Houmard, JA, Stevenson, JR, Fraser, DD, Johns, RA, and Israel, RG. The effects of detraining on power athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 25: 929–935, 1993.
2. Terzis G, Stratakos G, Manta P, Georgiadis G. Throwing performance after resistance training and detraining. J Strength Cond Res, 2008 Jul;22(4):1198-204.
3. Andersen, LL, Andersen, JL, Magnussin, SP, Suetta, C, Madsen, JL, Christensen, R, and Aagaard, P. Changes in the human force velocity relationship in response to resistance training and subsequent detraining. J Appl Physiol, 99: 87–94, 2005.
4. Bottinelli R, Canepari M, Pellegrino MA, and Reggiani C. Force-velocity properties of human skeletal muscle fibres: myosin heavy chain isoform and temperature dependence. J Physiol, 495: 573–586, 1996.
5. Bottinelli R, Pellegrino MA, Canepari M, Rossi R, and Reggiani C. Specific contributions of various muscle fibre types to human muscle performance: an in vitro study. J Electromyogr Kinesiol, 9: 87–95, 1999.
6. Andersen JL, Aagaard P. Myosin heavy chain IIX overshoot in human skeletal muscle. Muscle Nerve, 2000 Jul;23(7):1095-104.

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