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The importance of muscle recovery

July 13th, 2009 · No Comments

The importance of muscle recovery

The term “recovery” is bandied about gyms and internet forums with great frequency. The purpose of this article will be to examine recovery and its importance to your bodybuilding efforts in the gym.

What Happens When We Train?
When one trains with weights a stress is placed upon the body. Both the skeletal muscle and nervous systems are stressed by the imposed demand of lifting heavy loads. The nature of this stress and how it affects the body from a physiological perspective is open to discussion and not universally agreed upon by the scientific community. For the purposes of this article we will not delve too excessively into the science of the issue but rather focus on some generally accepted ideas regarding training induced stress and how the body reacts to it.


What is Recovery?
The skeletal muscle cells incur damage from heavy weight training. The body’s response is referred to as recovery. Without recovery the only consequence of training would be harm to the body.

Most training systems advocate 1-7 days worth of rest from weight training for a particular muscle or muscle group in order to allow for recovery and hopefully for the adaptation of increased size, strength, or both.

Recovery Possibilities

There are essentially 3 recovery-specific results that can occur after training:

1) Recovery is not fully realized between sessions and no progress is made at best and regression or atrophy of the skeletal muscles can occur at worst.
2) Recovery occurs, but only to return the musculature back to the same state it was in prior to the training session.
3) Supercompensation occurs with hypertrophy as one result.

Ideally, the skeletal muscle system will supercompensate via several mechanisms the most important of which (to the bodybuilder) is hypertrophy of the contractile myofibrils. These myofibrils contain myofilaments known as “actin” and “myosin” and it is theorized that they are the mechanisms by which our skeletal muscles are able to contract and produce force (see the sliding filament theory of contraction). The thickening of the myofibrils contributes greatly to the overall size of the muscle (very important to not only bodybuilders but recreational lifters as well as some athletes) and to an increased ability to produce force.

How Can I Achieve Supercompensation?
How can the ideal situation of supercompensation be achieved? Nutrition, with respect to the ingestion of the proper amounts and ratios of micro and macronutrients is important to recovery and possible supercompensation but not as important as rest. This is where the issue gets a bit complicated (as are all things relative to the human body). The amount of rest required will depend upon the training volume, intensity of effort with respect to how close to failure one trains, intensity as a percentage of your 1RM (1 repetition maximum), and frequency of training. There are other variables but we will stick to those directly related to training for the purposes of this article.

It gets a bit more complicated in that the term “rest” can be a bit of a misnomer. Compete abstinence from training is not necessarily best for recovery. The notion of “active recovery” is one used by many trainers and coaches for their athletes. The theory being that light work of the musculature facilitates recovery via increased blood flow. Whatever the physiological processes upon which this principle relies it has been proven to be quite effective. It is also a fundamental component of the concept of training periodization.

Periodization of weight training involves varying the load, intensity of effort, volume of work, and frequency of training in order to allow the body to slowly and cyclically adapt and progress to ever higher levels of size and strength. Those who utilize periodization realize that the body simply cannot lift near maximal loads using near maximal to maximal effort on a chronic basis and produce the desired results.

In direct opposition to those who believe in periodization are the HIT (High Intensity Training) advocates whom espouse brief and infrequent training which is taken to the limit of one’s ability, or “failure” as it is commonly called. These folks understand the importance of recovery but promote a routine which will ultimately not allow for it.

The Failure of Training to Failure Consistently
Skeletal muscles can recover from weight training in a reasonably short period of time (24-48 hours for most trainees). This can vary substantially depending upon the intensity (as a percentage of one’s momentary ability) and volume of work performed. HIT style routines advocate always training to failure (and beyond). As mentioned at the beginning of this article, training with weights affects both the muscular and the nervous systems. When training to failure a relatively greater stress seems to be placed upon the nervous system especially when heavy loads are used. As time goes on those who train to failure see this gap get greater and greater to the point that the rest periods required by the nervous system become so prolonged as to inhibit the training effect on the skeletal muscles.

Extended recovery time is counterproductive to hypertrophy and thus to the possibility of net supercompensation. In order to quicken recovery one should stop the vast majority of their sets short of failure by 1-3 repetitions. The difference in recovery time required between stopping 1-3 reps short of failure and going to complete failure can be dramatic. This difference allows for a much greater frequency of training and thus a greater stimulus to the skeletal muscles per a given period of time.

Does Training to Failure Have Any Value?
Training to failure can be incorporated into one’s routine but it must be the exception as opposed to the rule. Training to one’s limits appears to provide a slightly better stimulus for hypertrophy on a volume for volume basis when compared to stopping short of failure. Infrequently incorporating it into your routine will allow you to experience the benefits of both forms of training.


How Should I train?
Even if the trainee stops 1-3 reps short of failure consistently and only infrequently trains to failure they are not guaranteed supercompensation on a regular basis. The complexity of the human body and experience preclude it. The savvy trainee must find the proper blend of volume, intensity, and frequency for them. This blend will be one which works consistently and may change over time. This is why rigid cookie-cutter routines should not be followed.

To find the right blend of training which will optimize your recovery and give you the best chance of supercompensation you will need to experiment. This experimentation should not be general but rather specific by body part. Start with low volume and relatively high frequency such as 3 working sets every other day by body part (with each set stopped 1-3 reps short of failure).

If you find you are progressing nicely then add a set and see how that affects matters. If you feel that you are not able to sufficiently recuperate between sessions add a day of rest and/or reduce your volume by a set (only if you are performing more than 3 sets per body part) and then monitor the results. Adjustments should only be made once every 4-5 training sessions by body part. Continue this process of tweaking both volume and rest indefinitely as the body will constantly be in a state of flux and what works today may not work well next month.

You will find it necessary to scale-back your training efforts from time to time. This can be accomplished by reducing the loads used dramatically (as much as 50%) and performing the same number of sets with 10-20 repetitions. With each subsequent session increase the load and reduce the rep count until you have once again reached your previous bests and then resume your normal training. This will allow the joints and connective tissues a much needed rest and keep the musculature from atrophying as it would with a prolonged complete break from training (this is a form of active rest).

What Supplements Can Help Recovery?
Supplementation is the final part of the recovery equation. There are few legal supplements which can have real impact upon your recovery from training. The best, most proven are listed below:

Creatine: in all of its various forms has been shown to improve recovery from anaerobic strength training. You are bombarded daily with all of the latest variations of creatine but the most proven and least expensive form called creatine monohydrate is still the best. AtLarge Nutrition offers a Creapure ™ micronized creatine monohydrate which is of the highest quality.

Protein: is one of the cornerstones of bodybuilding nutrition and for good reason. Aside from water, protein is the number one constituent of muscle. A sufficient intake of protein is required to facilitate not only optimal health but also optimal recovery from intense weight training sessions. AtLarge Nutrition offers 2 protein products one of which is a 24g per serving protein-only powder called Nitrean and one which is a meal replacement powder called Opticen with 52g of protein per serving as well as carbohydrates and various vitamins and minerals. Both products offer nearly fat-free protein supplementation of the highest quality.

ETS: is a revolutionary product unique to AtLarge Nutrition. It is the single most potent legal recovery aid on the sports supplement market today. The primary active ingredient in ETS is both amazingly effective and SAFE! ETS will aid your recovery by both dramatically reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness) and greatly reducing the overall rest time required for recovery. ETS will greatly enhance your chances to enjoy the benefits of supercompensation from your efforts in the gym. For more information on ETS see the ETS product page


As you can see recovery is an all-important factor in the results you get from your efforts in the gym. Do everything you can to maximize it and you will soon reach your physical goals!


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