Whether you’re just beginning a brand new exercise program in the gym or you are someone who has been at your workouts for a few weeks or months, one thing that you must be taking special care of is your rest and recovery.
When most people start up on a health enhancement protocol, whether it’s to build muscle, burn fat, or improve physical performance, they tend to two different areas:
While both of these are definitely the key areas that need to be paid close attention to, you cannot discount the importance of proper rest and recovery strategies.
Without them, all the workouts in the world won’t get you to your end goal (in fact, with lack of recovery, you won’t be doing many workouts in the future period ), and likewise, while nutrition is a key element of good recovery, you still need the proper amount of rest as well to rebuild yourself back up stronger after each exercise session that takes place.
As many people go about their approach, they end up with an unbalanced level of recovery, which goes on to cause lack of progress, frustration, and sometimes can even cause them to fall off the fitness bandwagon entirely because they just aren’t enjoying their program any longer.
And who can really blame them? If you’re constantly dragging during the day and hardly have any energy to get your usual daily tasks done, you won’t want to keep up with the one thing that’s making you feel this way.
That’s why proper recovery and rest is key.
With it in place, you will feel refreshed and rejuvenated going into each workout session and ready to give it you’re all.
As a result, you’ll work harder and that will result in you moving one step forward with your progress.
So in this guide, I’m going to share with you the ins and outs of what good recovery means so that you can make sure that you get it into place with your own program and approach.
We’ll go over why recovery is important, factors that influence the level of recovery you need and the degree of recovery you get, and the different steps that you can take to ensure that your rest and recovery is taken care of.
Once you are finished with this guide, you should be feeling confident to move forward, tending to this element of your protocol with the attention that it deserves.
So let’s get started and first talk about why recovery and rest is so critical.
In order for you to give rest and recovery the attention it deserves in your program plan, it’s going to be critical that you come to understand why it is so important in the first place.
With anything related to health and fitness, understanding the ‘why’s’ behind a concept will help you better put that concept into action because you’ll know the reason you are doing so.
So what makes recovery so essential?
There are a number of key points as to why it must be in place. These include:
The very first reason why recovery is so critical to success is because it’s going to be required in order for you to make strength gains.
Look at it this way. Each and every time that you go into the gym, you are going to be breaking your muscle tissues down.
You perform intense weight lifting exercises and as you do so, you create tiny tears in the muscle fibers, which is them getting weaker.
This is why at the end of the workout, you could never go and perform the same exercise with the same weight level than you did at the start of the workout – by that point your body is broken down and its strength has been compromised.
When you move out of the gym, that is when your body goes to work, repairing all those broken down muscle tissues to ensure that you come back next time stronger than you were before.
Your body realizes that it may face the same training stress (load) again so it prepares. It realizes that in the near future, it needs to be better equipped to handle the stress and loads.
And that is essentially how strength gains take place. You break your muscle tissues down, you get out of the gym to rest and provide time for them to grow back up stronger than before, and then you go in and break them down once again – this time hopefully using a heavier stress load.
Think of it this way:
Process 1: The body and muscle tissue is broken down by physical stress such as intense weight training
Process 2: Intense weight training depletes the body of essential nutrients. The body must replenish these nutrient stores through proper nutrition
Process 3: Rest and recover is the glue that ties process 1 and 2 together for successful strength and muscle growth
As this cycle continues, you make progress.
So now, what happens if there is no rest? What happens if you don’t let your body build itself back up fully again?
If that occurs, you hit the gym again, but now you’re only in a partially recovered state, meaning that your muscles are still only half as strong as they were before – they’re still not fully repaired.
But, you hammer them again with more weight, breaking them down further. So now, you are doing damage to an already damaged muscle tissue.
Hopefully you can see where this is going.
If you continually do this time and time again, you’re not going to be getting stronger – you’re actually just going to be getting weaker.
So rather than moving forward with your fitness level, you could in fact actually cause muscle mass loss to take place.
This is why recovery is such a vital element in the progress equation. Without it, you won’t be moving forward.
Now, muscular recovery isn’t the only thing that’s needed after you finish an intense workout session. Each time you pick up a weight – or do a sprint interval on the treadmill if that’s what you’re doing – you are putting a stress on your central nervous system.
Your brain and spinal cord are working hard to send messages to the muscles to contract with a very high intensity level in order to complete the desired action pattern.
Throughout the whole workout, this stress load can get to be quite high after which you’re CNS is very fatigued. Remember, the harder you train (higher intensity levels) the more affected your CNS will be.
At that point, it needs time to recovery. This tends to be more known as full body fatigue in that when the CNS is tired, every muscle is affected.
This is also why, if you’re on an upper/lower split body part, if you’ve ever gone into the gym and done a very heavy and intense lower body workout, you might be feeling slightly weaker the next day for your upper body workout session.
Even though you didn’t work the chest, back, or shoulder muscles the day before, those muscles still feel tired.
It’s not because the muscles themselves are tired, it’s because your CNS – the system that makes these muscles contract, is still fatigued. As such, your strength isn’t as high.
So not only do you need to get enough rest for your muscles to recover, you need to make sure your CNS is getting its recovery as well.
This is also why body part splits – where you work just one or two muscle groups each day and hit the gym four to six days a week tend to be not so great for those who are just getting started.
With that frequent of gym sessions, it’s quite taxing on your central nervous system and if your body hasn’t built up enough tolerance, it’s going to cause total systematic fatigue to set in.
A day off between sessions – where no intense exercise is taking place – is the better way to assure full CNS recovery.
Moving along, another reason rest is so important in your workout session is because it’s going to provide great motivational enhancement as well.
By properly introducing the proper rest and recovery protocols, you’ll feel a 100% better going into the next workout. You’ll look forward to the workout session and you’ll enjoy it a heck of a lot more. Performance will be high, you’ll be feeling strong, and you’ll have a very positive experience.
When you are just trying to form the habit of regular exercise in your lifestyle, this is critical. In fact, coming to really enjoy exercise might even be more important at this time than the actual exercise that you do because of the fact this is what will keep you coming back for more.
If you hate every workout and only do one workout for every 5 you were supposed to do, do you think you’ll see results?
Even the best workout in the world won’t produce results if that’s the attendance rate to the gym you’re showing.
And, if you aren’t resting, you will feel fatigued during the session. You’ll feel slow. You’ll feel week. Your body will ache and your joints may suffer from pain.
• Does that sound like a fun time?
• Does that sound like something you will willingly do daily?
Clearly not – this is why rest can make or break your program.
Top priority should always be enjoying exercise in your life – it’s what keeps you active for the long haul. If rest isn’t given, you won’t be enjoying anything.
Next up, proper rest and recover is also going to go a long way towards preventing overuse injuries as well.
If you are someone who is doing similar forms of exercise each time you hit the gym, there is a high chance that you will suffer from repetition related injuries.
This is simply because you are performing the same movement pattern over and over again, and as such, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments involved are going to be very stressed and strained.
With each workout you do, they break down just a little more until that nagging pain starts to present itself.
• The knee ache you get each time you do lunges
• The ankle pain you get when you go out for a run
• The shoulder pain you suffer from each time you do a shoulder press exercise.
Overuse injuries are a very serious thing and once you are suffering from them, they can take weeks if not months to overcome properly. Believe me, tendinitis is a whole world of hurt and can keep you sidelined for months. Take it from me!
It’s a frustrating process and very often can be entirely avoided if proper rest and recovery is given.
A good cross training approach – making sure that you are doing a few forms of exercise in your protocol – will also go a long way to offset overtraining from taking place as well.
Finally, the last reason why it’s important that you are giving the time and attention to rest and recovery that it deserves is that it will help you maintain good life balance.
While being fit and healthy is important, so is cultivating other areas of interest and pleasure in your life, be it a very active social life with your friends/family/significant other, engaging in other additional extra-curricular activities, or fostering higher career development – whatever gives you pleasure and/or passion.
Those who start training too much and are putting all their focus and energy only into this one element of their life (To the extreme, megarexia) are more likely to experience burnout along the way or develop an unhealthy attitude relating to food and exercise.
Maintaining proper rest and recovery gives you time to enjoy these other activities in your life and keep everything more balanced.
So there you have all the many reasons why it’s essential that you tend to your rest and recovery. Hopefully now you can see why this is so important and how your success does really depending on whether you are looking after this area.
Now let’s move forward and talk about a few of the main factors that can influence the recovery that you see.
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.