How Important is Rest and Recovery for Muscle Growth?

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question-icon-newI have read that muscle needs time to rest after each workout. Many articles say that muscle tissue needs 24-48 hours rest? I have been thinking about it and if your body only gets rest when you are sleeping, how can you get a complete 24-48 hour window of recovery when most people are doing active things every day like housework, running errands, walking the dog, etc.?

answer-icon-newThe word “rest” for recovery basically means doing as little as possible (cut down on any strenuous activities) after your workouts. This basically means to avoid overdoing it with a labor intensive job (construction work, coal mining, etc) or any other form of very intense activity. For anyone who lifts weights and has a labor intensive job, they will need much more time to recover since their body is working hard all day long. For others with desk jobs, they will be able to get enough rest unless they go home after work and decide to re-roof the house.

If you try to limit your physical exertion throughout most of the day (post-workout), then you should be able to rest and recover fine (24-48 hours between muscle groups). For optimal results, you should focus on at least 48 hours of recovery before training the same muscle group again. Many people incorporate a “split routine” into their workout plan. A common routine is a “5 day split” where they will train a specific muscle group each day and only actually work that muscle group once per week. Here is an example of a 5 day split routine:

  • Monday: Chest and Abs
  • Tuesday: Back
  • Wednesday: Legs and Calves
  • Thursday: Shoulders and Abs
  • Friday: Arms (Biceps and Triceps)

rest-recovery-muscle-growthAs you can see with this routine, the individual is only working each muscle group once per week (except for abs) which is allowing maximum rest and recovery for their muscle tissues to grow from intense workouts. The key here is the word intense. If you truly hit your muscles hard and heavy with compound mass building exercises, you will need to allow your body this amount of time (1 week) in order to properly recovery and allow repair and growth to take place. Abs and calves are smaller muscle groups that can be trained a little more often (2-3 days per week) since they are smaller muscle groups that get exercised very often (calves while walking all day and abs as core stabilizers), but you still want to allow at least 24 hours of full rest and recovery between workouts with these two muscle groups also for optimal growth.

Obviously sleep is the crucial time where you release growth hormone and really let the rebuilding take effect, so make sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep to maximize this recovery time so your muscles can repair themselves and grow. The quality of sleep is also crucial since if you’re not actually in deep sleep throughout the entire night, it will be difficult to truly rest and recover. The important things to consider when preparing for a full night of quality sleep consist of:

  • Black out your bedroom. Make sure your bedroom is in complete darkness since any light can affect the quality of your sleep. Even the smallest amount of light in your bedroom can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin.
  • Keep it cold. Your bedroom should be on the colder side with the temperature being no higher than 70 degrees (Fahrenheit). After you fall asleep, you body’s internal temperature actually drops to its lowest level, so it’s always advantageous to keep your bedroom temp at approximately 60-68 degrees for the ideal sleep temperature so you can mimic your body’s own natural temperature drop and have a deep, quality level of sleep in order to allow your muscles to recover and grow.
  • Shut down the TV. Any stimulus can affect your quality of sleep, so make sure to shut off your favorite TV show a few hours before going to sleep. Your bedroom should be 100% quiet and avoid any external noises as best you can (washing machine, fans, etc).
  • Avoid coffee and stimulants. The last thing you want to do is chug down a large cup of coffee before going to bed since the caffeine will not only give you a jolt and keep you up but it also spikes your cortisol levels which are your body’s stress hormone and can affect the release of body fat as you sleep. Make sure to limit all stimulants (caffeine, coffee, energy drinks, chocolate, etc.) several hours before going to sleep and it’s also smart to go to sleep on an empty stomach, so try to avoid eating any foods about 2-3 hours before hitting the sack.

By incorporating these different aspects into your workout routine, you can set yourself up to maximize the crucial rest and recovery phase after your intense weight training sessions, which will allow you to avoid any serious issues with overtraining down the road.

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