TRAIN, RECOVER, REPEAT
The totality of your fitness and ability to make consistent gains is NOT based solely on how many reps, sets or the amount of weight you can push in a day, week, or even a year. A more principal predictor is how quickly you can recover and get back in the gym. No matter how consistent you may be, if you’re not recovering from your workouts, it’s possible you’re NOT getting the full benefit of your hard work. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) almost always accompanies a hard ass workout. If you’ve ever done so many squats you can’t sit on the toilet the next day, you know what I’m talking about. You also know what a workout-killer DOMS can be. We’re still not entirely sure exactly what causes DOMS, but current research would point to a breakdown, or micro-tears of connective and muscle tissue. If this theory is accurate, it becomes obvious how important it is to formulate a solid recovery strategy to get back in the gym as pain/injury free as possible.
We’ve talked a lot about volume in previous blogs. As a refresher, volume is calculated as:
Volume = Intensity (weight used or heart rate in cardio sessions) + reps + sets + frequency
Strength, hypertrophy (increase in muscle size), muscle endurance, and cardiovascular endurance are most affected by an increase in volume.
If you increase volume too much, too fast, you break. If you increase volume to slowly or not at all, there is no stimulus for change. The only magic pill I can prescribe is one that teaches you how to administer the appropriate amount of volume, and proper recovery strategies to mitigate side effects. This is the heart and soul of programming and why many of you at some point are going to have to hire me. Programming is complex. It requires a deep understanding of exercise science principles that can take years to acquire. They must be specific to the individual and the sport or fitness goals.
Recovery strategies can also be equally complex using various techniques, strategies and advice; all of which should be taken with a grain of salt. At the end of the day recovery strategies should revolve around one thing; mitigating the side effects of fatigue. There are two types of fatigue which the strength athlete must recognize: peripheral and central. Here is a brief description taken from a 2009 study at The University of New Mexico,
“Peripheral fatigue during exercise is often described as impairment within the active muscle. The muscle contractile proteins are not responding to their neural stimulation. Depletion of muscle glycogen (for fuel) is thought to be an important factor in peripheral fatigue, especially during prolonged exercise (Jentjens, 2003).
Central fatigue is concerned with the descending motor pathways from the brain and spinal cord. Bishop and colleagues (2008) explain that brain messages may signal reductions or complete cessation of exercise performance. A central fatigue hypothesis suggests that the brain is acting as a protective mechanism to prevent excessive damage to the muscles. The speed, power, and frequency of the nerve impulse directly depend on the state of the CNS.”
You could categorize these two types of fatigue as short term (Peripheral), immediately accompanying a single session of hard training and long term (Central), an accumulation of many sessions over time. A strength athlete should have both short and long-term recovery strategies. He/she should also follow a periodized program with built-in rest cycles (tapering) to prevent central fatigue or even serious injury. I’ve taken the liberty of creating a top 10 list of the most essential tools every strength athlete needs to recover more quickly and get back under the bar.
Dehydration is the #1 killer of both individual workouts and recovery from them. I see its effects all the time both in myself and my clients. We use a very sophisticated bio-impedance called an Inbody for body composition analysis. When muscles are dehydrated and broken down from tough workouts the Inbody consistently shows significant loss of lean mass. We know this is due to the loss of muscle glycogen and intracellular hydration of the muscle which is more than 75% water. Remember, hypertrophy is largely caused by an increase of fluid in the sarcoplasm of the muscle cell. If your dehydrated, it’s very possible all that hard work in the gym, is for naught. Here are some tips to stay hydrated during and after your workouts to aid in muscle recovery:
- Drink 2-3 cups (8oz.) of water before training
- Know how much water you need to stay hydrated. Here is a great calculator on bodybuilding.com to compute daily water consumption: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/everything-you-need-to-know-about-hydration.html
- Carry a water bottle with you.
- If you are training outside or for more than an hour its possible some added electrolytes will help with hydration. Think about cutting ½ of a Gatorade™ with water or add some electrolyte powder/tabs.
Plenty of research exists to suggest that if your brain is tired, your body is probably tired too (Stults-Kolehmainen, MA, Sinha, R, 2014). Mental stress and physical fatigue are closely connected, but symptoms can be ambiguous and are often neglected. The disastrous effects of stress on health and adhering to an effective fitness regime should not be overlooked or taken lightly. Below is a list of ways stress can sabotage your fitness efforts and actually turn into life threatening diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. If you walk around in a state of “fight or flight”, also known as high-stress, perhaps your next workout should consist of meditation or massage! (adapted from www.fitness.mercola.com, 2014).
- Brain dysfunction
- Physical dysfunction
- Memory loss
- Neurological (motor) impairment
- Loss of concentration
- Compromised vision
- Unstable emotions
- Stagnation in training effects
- Loss of motivation
- Slower recovery from exercise
- Increased risk of injury
- Slower weight loss
My advice is simple: Get lots of sleep. Study after study has proven the beneficial effects of proper sleep cycles in restoring the body’s physiology and metabolic processes. Here’s a short self-assessment you can take to determine if you’re getting enough sleep:
- Do I need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning or an atomic bomb?
- Is getting out of bed getting harder every morning?
- Do I get tired quickly when driving or reading a book?
- Do I have trouble with memory or concentrating?
Do I fall asleep as soon as I get into bed?
On average, most people need at least another hour to an hour and a half more sleep. I have long been an advocate of powernaps. If you’re having sleep issues at night, find 15–45 minutes during the day for a short nap. If that’s not possible, for instance you’re tied to a desk all day, then eat lunch in your car, put the seat back, set the alarm on your phone, and drift off into a deep coma. I learned how to take power naps while I was in the army. We rarely had consistent sleep patterns while deployed. You simply learn to take advantage of every opportunity to nod off for a couple of minutes. Over time, you can learn to master this practice and fall asleep in the most unusual places and positions. If this seems odd, trust me, it’s better than being a walking zombie and spending your days half-asleep. Try it out!
At StudiO2 we use macro-based nutritional programing. Each one of our clients has their very own formula (a recommended amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates) which is right for them and their individual goals. Dr. Tiff discusses our Nutrition program extensively in The Biohacker. If you’re really interested in macro-based nutrition get your copy now or contact her directly. Once again, we use state of the art testing equipment to analyze how much lean body mass the client currently has and then factor in total expected workload (volume) and individual goals to create your macro profile. Like all aspects of performance programming, nutrition is and should be individualized. No cookie cutter program that uses counting calories or percentages alone is accurate enough to optimize nutrition for a strength athlete. Here are some points to consider for your nutrition programing
- It takes quality protein and adequate calories to build lean muscle tissue. “Two essential, nutrition-related tenets need to be followed by weightlifters to maximize muscle hypertrophy: the consumption of 1.2-2.0g protein/kgof total body weight, and greater than 44-50 total calories/kg–of body weight.” (Stark et al., 2012)
- Low carb diets are not only counterproductive for building lean muscle, this approach is not so good for the heart either. Don’t get fixated on gettin’ jacked guys, think about your ticker too! “A low carbohydrate-high fat diet decreased lean mass and impaired cardiac function.” (Nilsson et al., 2016)
- Could low-fat chocolate milk be the holy grail of muscle mass?“Both pre and post-workout is most effective in increasing muscle protein synthesis, resulting in greater muscle hypertrophy and strength. The protein type and timing, has been linked to increased protein synthesis (hypertrophy and strength) especially when combined with fast acting carbohydrate.” (Stark et al., 2012)
- If you want to optimize your post workout recovery and muscle development, be sure to include the mighty carb! “Carbohydrate and Protein taken together effects protein synthesis and deters protein degradation.” (Poole et al., 2010)
I am not a big supplement guy, but when it comes to gaining muscle size and recovery from hard ass workouts, they will become essential. Here is a condensed list of the absolute essentials. Please guys don’t get carried away with the supplements. Take what you need and discard the rest. Chances are your spending a shit ton of money on gimmicks which could be replaced by a real nutrition program that’s right for you and your level of training intensity.
A 100% Whey, or Plant Based Protein supplement (We recommend Muscle Pharm or Iso100, Vega (plant based))
Creatine Monohydrate (We recommend Muscle Tech, Platinum)
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), We recommend Betancourt or MRM Reload)
Omega-3 Fish Oil
A Natural Multi-vitamin
Vitamin C, D and E have also been shown to help with symptoms of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
#6 AUTO-REGULATION Starting and sticking with a program is the only guaranteed road map to achieving results. Even with consistency, however, no program is perfect. Sometimes adjustments must be made. Auto-regulation is a process of listening to your body and applying what you learn to the program design. Learning to push yourself and becoming comfortable with discomfort is a skill you’ll have to develop. Understanding the need for appropriate rest breaks to allow energy stores to return and appropriate time in between workouts for full muscle recovery is essential. Here are some suggested recovery times to help you with your programming:
Restoration of ATP 3-5 Minutes
Restoration of muscle glycogen 10-48 hours
Removal of lactic acid 1-2 hours
Restoration of vitamins and enzymes 24 hours
Recovery from high intensity strength training 2-3 days
Listen to your body, but also record emotional and mental responses to training into your workout logs. At some point, you’ll find correlations between mental states and how they physically affect your workout. These correlations can be applied later on and become an important factor in program adjustments.
#7 RESTORING LENGTH-TENSION RELATIONSHIPS
There is no doubt about it, you’re going to get sore, and muscles will become “tweaky.” Restoring the length-tension relationship, or proper firing sequence, from the core musculature through the kinetic chain is as important as the workout itself. Proper form, full range of motion, flexibility stability, and mobility are probably the most overlooked dimensions of fitness. Neglecting them will more than likely lead to injury at some point. Get serious about implementing strategies such as SMR (self-myofascial release) or use of electronic muscle conditioning devices such as the Marc Pro to restore the body and mind and prepare you for that next head-banger workout! Remember, the faster we recover and restore our muscles, the more frequently we can use them. This means better, faster, long-term, sustainable results.
Check out our YouTube Channel, S2TV for healing strategies.
#8 MOVEMENT SCREENING & CORRECTIVE EXERCISES
Functional movement screening (FMS) is one of the best tools to stay injury free. The screening doesn’t tell us what specific injuries are in your future but can identify areas of weakness where potential for injury is greater. For instance, if you’re unable to keep your arms overhead during the overhead squat assessment, we can surmise your lats (mid back) and chest muscles are tight in which case shoulder mobility will be affected. We can conclude your potential for shoulder injury is greater than normal. No one can predict you’ll suffer a rotator cuff tear in the infraspinatus on December 10, 2018, from doing a clean and jerk. However, regular re-evaluation will reveal faulty movement patterns and give you the opportunity to address them through mobility and soft-tissue manipulation before they turn into injury.
Studies have shown that as little as 15 minutes of post-exercise massage can decrease the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness, increase proprioception (neuromuscular coordination), and build strength. There are more forms of massage than I can count. However, my experience is Thai massage (without the climactic ending) is by far the most effective form for restoring length-tension relationships in the muscles and neuro-fascial homeostasis.
#10 ACTIVE RECOVERY
These days there any number of claims about the effects of various healing strategies on resistance training. One side effect which must be regulated is inflammation from connective and muscle tissue breakdown. It is essential that the strength athlete have a toolbox full of remedies to deal with inflammation. These do not include quick fixes like steroids and popping a bottle of ibuprofen. Below is a short list of remedies which are backed by science and my own personal experience.
- Increase blood flow to worked muscles after workouts with light cardio or body weight exercises like squats, lunges, light sled pulls, pushups, band work etc. Spend about 5-15 minutes after the workout doing a cooldown mixed with exercises such as these and also some static stretching.
- The Marc Pro – Marc Pro and Marc Pro Plus are unique electrical stimulation devices that can provide substantial recovery and pain relief benefits. These are not TENS devices; which are intended to mask pain while connected. They use a process called, Muscle Activated Recovery Cascade, or “MARC®” for short. The process begins with the activation of Nitric Oxide (NO), which “dilates blood vessels and leads to increased flow delivering more oxygenated blood and nutrients to the area”. These devices are not traditional muscle stimulators; which use harsh and fatiguing muscle contractions to tone or re-educate muscle. A 30-60 minute session is simple, and can be completed while you chill on the couch watching Monday Night Football. A Marc Pro utilizes proprietary technology to create a low intensity muscle contraction to get rid of unwanted waste and deliver nutrients to the affected area.
Summation: I can only hope at this point you realize the importance of adopting some solid recovery strategies into your programing. Remember, your workouts are only as effective as your ability to recover. Pay careful attention to the amount of volume your accruing and schedule recovery into the individual workouts to make sure you actually do it. Make sure every 3-4 weeks to include a taper or deload and most importantly listen to the warning signs of peripheral fatigue.