Unbeknownst to the average person looking to build significant muscle mass, muscle recovery time is one of the three most important factors in muscle growth, setting aside training and diet for a moment.
Even if you’re training correctly using proper form, increasing the weight and resistance at each workout, without adequate time given for muscle recovery then your efforts in the gym will be fruitless.
You probably know people who hit the gym every day, and if they aren’t using illegal substances that damages (and enlarges) their internal organs, then you also know that they aren’t growing whatsoever, despite the hard effort and time spent lifting iron.
Bodybuilding often appears counter-intuitive until you learn the science behind the bulk. Generally most people assume that the more time spent lifting weights and the more often you do it, the more muscle growth they will see. This is a widely held belief amongst those outside of bodybuilding.
Damaged muscle fibers require time to recover after each workout, else they cannot repair and re-build in numbers, which equates to more strength and size. Providing sufficient recovery time is incorporated in to your program and your diet is feeding the nutrients your body requires, then muscle growth will happen. People need to understand that they will be doing their bodies a favor by leaving their muscles alone. Training every day will not get the results you desire. Alternating between workouts and rest days will.
Lifting weights involves both concentric and eccentric muscle contractions. In the former, the muscle is shortening as its fibers contract, as in the part of a biceps curl when the dumbbell is brought up toward the body. In the latter, fibers are lengthening even as they contract, as in the part of the curl in which the dumbbell is lowered. Eccentric contractions cause more muscle damage and thus entail longer recovery. John Berardi, Ph.D., says that taking everything into account, a given muscle will not fully recover until seven to 14 days have elapsed after a hard workout. However, you can resume your workouts after 48 hours of rest.
Nutrition and Body Recovery
Regardless of the type of exercise you do and how hard you do it, muscle recovery time is strongly influenced by how and when you fuel those muscles. “Racing Weight” author Matt Fitzgerald notes that recovery is influenced by four factors, all of them related to nutrition: fluid and electrolyte status, muscle glycogen, reducing muscle stress and rebuilding muscle protein. Taking in fluids and carbohydrates both during and immediately after a workout, says Fitzgerald, is vital to a speedy recovery. You should eat a high-protein meal as soon after exercising as possible in order to ensure a rapid rebuilding of muscle tissue.
Training Execution and Recovery
I advocate a beginner trains 3 major muscle groups per week, allowing a full 6 days in-between working each group, splitting the program in to Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example. This means you could train your legs on Monday, and not touch them again until the following Monday, allowing 6 days of recovery time.
On a rest day, trade in your dynamic, high-power weight-lifting exercises for isometrics: gentle, controlled stretching and strength-building moves. Holding a certain position for a longer period of time, your muscles are still engaged, but at a lower intensity. This allows blood and nutrients to rebuild your body for your next high-energy training session.
As time goes on and the resistance (more weight) you add at each workout becomes less, you can reduce your recovery time down to 3 days, or 72 hours. This is because your muscles require less time to build new muscle that can handle the slightly heavier load. As a beginner your muscles will be heavily taxed and require an entire week to recovery and rebuild.
One meta-analysis determined that for optimal strength development, one to two rest days between sessions is ideal for beginners training three days per week and experienced exercisers training two days per week.
Certain studies found low-intensity post-workout exercise—such as swimming laps or taking a walk—can increase muscle relaxation, which benefits recovery. Other research suggests muscles can work to full capacity even while in the recovery stage. You can also look to more mellow treatments to speed recovery, including icing, heating, static stretching, and massage therapy.
The good news is that as a beginner, this is where you will see the best growth – you will grow far quicker resting your muscles for 6 days than someone a year in to their training whose recovery time is only 3 days.
Recovery times are different based on the age. As one grows older, they will need more time to recover. Also good sleep habits will help with quicker recovery and replenishment of energy reserves.