Now it’s time to take a closer look at the proper workout program structure to be using to optimize your recovery. If you design your workout well, you will naturally have better recovery because you will be working the muscle groups at the right frequency level, performing a good level of volume each workout session (that doesn’t hammer your body deep into the muscular damage hole), and you will be giving your body the down time it needs each week.
Let’s look at the set-up points to take into account.
The very first absolute must is that you have some full rest days each week. At bare minimum, everyone should have at least one day each week off any planned forms of exercise.
Leisure exercise – take a walk to get the mail, shopping for groceries, doing some light house cleaning, and so on is fine. However, please keep in mind that you should not be going out of your way to purposely exercise (increased intensity) as that will cause an increased stress load to occur, which has a negative effect on workouts.
One day per week total rest is a strict requirement of any workout protocol.
Next, you might also want to consider incorporating in some easier and harder days each week. This builds on the rest day concept. While you aren’t resting entirely, having those easier days in the schedule will help to ensure that you are able to maintain the intensity of the hard days.
Too many hard days in a row is going to be especially problematic, so it’s a good idea to consider stacking a harder day with an easier day between so that you aren’t pushing the barrier in terms of recovery.
Ronnie Coleman (multi Mr. Olympia winner) is a strong practitioner of this method which cuts down on potential injuries and vastly improves performance in the gym. From what I read, Mr. Coleman will train his shoulders super heavy on Monday and on the following Thursday have a light shoulder workout using different exercises.
Adding 1-2 easier days into your workout schedule allows you to still be active so you don’t have to go to complete rest, but yet, still helps you maintain good levels of recovery.
This particular training method focuses on the specific action needed to work one muscle or muscle groups that push away from the body (ie: triceps that push away from the chest) to muscles that pull toward the body (ie: biceps required to pull the weight into the body such as a row).
This potentially allows one to cut down on recovery times and to hit the gym more frequently. For more information on push pull workouts, please click here.
Speaking of lighter days, active recovery sessions are another option. These are slightly different than a light day in the fact that a lighter training day is still focused on improving your fitness – it’s just not as intense as the hard day is.
The active recovery day however is a day that is active but is designed to foster better recovery.
For instance, after a heavy leg workout, you might be experiencing some lower body soreness and muscle tension due to the stress load that was placed on the body.
The next day, it can be very helpful to go for a light walk. This gets the blood flowing throughout the muscles, removing any lactic acid that may be remaining, loosening up the muscle tissues, and increasing nutrient delivery to the cells.
So while you won’t be building huge muscles by just doing a light walk, it can help boost your recovery rate.
So these too can be part of an overall sound recovery approach.
Finally, last but not least, you should be taking the time to include de-loading or off weeks in your overall workout protocol.
When looking at your workout as a whole, every 4-6 weeks of training, you should either back off the weight and volume (reduce rate to about 70% of your typical load and do 1/3-1/2 of the volume you usually do) or just take the week off entirely.
A complete rest week is typically the best approach and will make sure that you come back ready to go for the next round of training, however if you’re someone who hates complete rest overall, you can also consider a de-loading week instead. This way, you get to work out, but the stress load is very low so your body can still recover.
Periodization is another highly effective rest and recovery method that uses “cycles” of rest to optimize performance. It’s highly a highly effective method that vastly improves performance, strength/muscle growth and reduces injuries.
There are various methods to de-load or use a hybrid “periodization” programs but the bottom line is to give your body a rest.
So there you have the key workout techniques that should be in place to improve recovery rates. Let’s take a quick look at a sample recovery schedule.
Now let’s move onward and go over the top recovery techniques you need to know about to optimize your progress.
In addition to making sure that your workouts are all set up properly to foster a good level of recovery, you also will want to make sure that you are using key recovery techniques. These techniques will help to prompt better overall recovery rates and make sure that you are feeling your best and most recovered going into each workout session.
Let’s look at what these recovery rates are so that you can start including them in your protocol.
First, foam rolling is a technique that is starting to get more and more popular as the mainstream public realizes the benefits.
High level athletes have been using this method for years to enhance recovery. It’s popularity is now spreading among more mainstream audiences.
To do foam rolling, you’ll simply place a part of the body – the part that’s experiencing tenderness and tightness over the foam cylinder and gently roll it back and forth.
The nature of the cylindrical shape will help to relax the muscle fibers in much the same way a deep tissue massage would.
So this can help to speed up blood flow to the desired region while reducing the knots or tightness present.
Deep Tissue Massage
Along with foam rolling, sometimes going for a deep tissue massage is the best way to reduce soreness and boost your recovery rates.
Deep tissue massages are a slightly more pricey option for recovery, but if you can afford to fit it into your budget, going for one every few weeks can be a great way to treat yourself for all the hard work you’ve been doing and boost your recovery. However, be warned, this isn’t a nice relaxing massage that puts you to sleep. This massage is a little more intense but the results are simply mind blowing. You’ll feel like a million bucks the day after. Just make sure the masseuse is experienced.
Here’s a tip. Fill a Dixie sized cup up with water and stick it in the freezer overnight. Upon your return from a hard shoulder workout, take the cup out of the freezer and cut the top portion off. Gently rub the top to smooth the ice edge. While holding the covered portion of the cup, rub the ice on your skin (don’t allow it to freeze the skin!) and make small circles. As you progress, rub a little harder and harder to really give your muscles and tendons a freezing massage. Do this for about 5 minutes per shoulder.
Taking a nice hot bath is the next recovery technique to be considering as you go about your workout protocol.
A hot bath is a perfect way to relax the muscles, reducing the tension that’s built up as well as help to boost blood flow. This is especially important because the added blood flow will mean you get a good nutrient delivery to the tissues, providing the raw materials they need to rebuild.
A hot bath is also great for reducing stress and as we mentioned earlier, maintaining a low level of stress is imperative to foster optimal recovery.
Try and take a bath just before bed as it can help you move into a deeper sleep – also great for recovery purposes.
No secret here – Quality sleep is a must for optimal recovery. To enhance your sleep quality, try making sure to shut out any distracting noises or light as these can prevent deep sleep from taking place, and turning down the temperature slightly before going to bed. This can help your body get into sleep and keep you sleeping soundly than if it’s too hot in the bedroom.
Also try and get to sleep before midnight if you can as the hours prior to midnight tend to encourage better sleep and a higher growth hormone release than hours after midnight.
Tip* Try buying a sleep shade for your eyes, you’ll be surprised at how much more sleep you get. Our bodies are programmed to get up once it senses sunlight. Shut off the “internal” light sensory equipment (eyes) and you’ll sleep like a baby.
Tip* I always have a better sleep if I read a book for about a half hour before going to bed. I think the reason is that it clears out any stress I have during the day (I get into the book and forget about everything else) and it slowly makes me drowsy. I like to think of it as a natural sleep pill.
Tip* Try and take small “cat naps” during the day. That is, take 5 to 10 minutes and close your eyes and try and relax. You don’t need to go into a deep sleep but into a more relaxed state. I’m positive you’ll get up refreshed and rejuvenated after a short little nap.
Using select supplements can also improve your recovery rate as well. Glutamine for instance, is one particular amino acid that plays a key role in the immune system, which is going to be vital for good recovery as well.
If your immune system is strong, you’ll be able to bounce back faster after each workout.
Likewise, creatine is another supplement to consider for proper recovery rates as it will help to replenish the high energy precursor creatine phosphate that is required for ATP to be produced in the body.
It’s ATP that powers each and every muscular contraction taking place, so when it runs out, problems are ahead. By using creatine before and after a workout, you ensure that you go into each session with a full supply.
Stretching is also a must after each workout session. This is not only going to help to boost your overall level of flexibility, which is an important component of your fitness level, but in addition it’ll also help reduce muscular pain and soreness after your workouts.
Take 10 minutes to do some light stretches, holding each one for 30 seconds after your workout.
It’s one of the best ways to properly cool down and leave each workout on a positive note.
Pre-Post Workout Nutrition
Finally, last but not least, we have pre and post workout nutrition. This is the nutrition that you feed your body prior to and immediately after each workout.
As mentioned earlier, good nutrition is the driving force behind your recovery, so if it’s not up to par, you are going to be seeing a decline in the speed of recovery. It is vital that you consume fast acting nutrients immediately after your workout. After a workout, your body will be in a state of chaos (depending on how hard you worked). Your body is weak and broken. It is at this point that your body will act as a sponge, soaking up every bit of energy and nutrients in order to start recovering from the beating it just took. You MUST kick start the recovery process at this point in order to stop further muscle breakdown.
Try this recovery shake:
• Two scoops of whey protein powder
• 1 ½ cup skim milk
• 1 cup orange juice
• ½ cup of vanilla yogurt
• 2 tablespoons of honey
• 5 ice cubes
• 5 grams creatine
Mix in a blender until smooth. Drink immediately after an intense workout.
Follow up with a full muscle building meal an hour later. In essence, we are kick starting the recovery process which will speed up potential muscle growth. Must have post workout food.
Pre workout nutrition is just as important as post since the food that you eat will still be digesting as you come out of that workout session, therefore it too will help kick-start the recovery process.
Your pre workout meal can be consumed 30-60 minutes prior to the workout (as long as you can tolerate food this early on). Remember, don’t stuff yourself! Have something light that provides your body with additional nutrients. Your post workout meal should be taken as soon after the workout as possible.
Don’t Forget the Mornings!
There are two critical times of the day that our bodies are starving for nutrients, immediately after a workout and upon waking from a deep sleep (the morning). To speed up the recovery process, it is vital that you get as much nutrients into your body as soon as you get up in the morning. Remember, your body is a sponge at this time and will soak up any nutrient you feed it. My recommendation is to drink a fast acting protein/carbohydrate drink as soon as you get up. Try the above drink to really kick start your day and get the recovery process started.
These are just some of the more popular recovery methods. Use these methods with a properly developed workout program and you can rest assured that you will be giving your body the right amount of time it needs to grow.
Recovery is something that is often overlooked. Remember, rest and recovery is the glue that ties weight training and proper nutrition together. If you don’t add the necessary “glue” to the muscle building process, you’re not going to attain the results you’re looking for.
It is far better to give yourself more time off and take a little longer to get to your goals than to overload your system and constantly be suffering from injuries or high levels of fatigue.
Remember, listen to your body and treat it well and it will reward you in return.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.