“Working out,” as fun as it can be, is also…uh…work. Whatever your chosen form of exercise, your muscles don’t really get any stronger unless you actually work them. Interestingly enough, though, it’s not the actual time you spend working your muscles that enables them to grow and become stronger—it’s the recovery period between workouts that increases strength.
During the workout itself, you stretch and work your muscles and break down muscle tissue. Then, when you rest afterwards, a biochemical repair and synthesis process allows the muscles to rebuild themselves, and thus become both larger and stronger. Your body needs this recovery period. The truth is that if you exercised every day, with no rest between workouts, it wouldn’t work as well, and you would actually make less progress than by resting between workouts.
So how long is enough rest between workouts?
This is actually a much more complex question than it appears to be. The answer will vary depending on a variety of factors—the nature of the workout, which sets of muscles are being exercised, your nutrition, your age, and your sleep cycles—just to name a few of the big ones. In the following sections we’ll give some general guidelines for how much recovery time to allocate after your exercise sessions.
- Recovery after running. We’ll start with running because it uses the same basic muscles and sets of muscles in every session. The variables that determine how long you should rest between runs therefore depend on other factors, such as intensity (how fast or hard you ran), duration (how long you ran), surface (did you run on grass, sand or concrete?), and topography (was the surface flat or hilly?). Beginning runners should probably rest a day between runs, but with experience you can safely run every day. However, running either uphill or downhill puts more stress on your muscles and requires more recovery, as does running hard, for example during a marathon or other competition.
- Recovery after lifting weights. Recovery time depends on the muscle groups used, and your weight-lifting schedule. In general, large muscle groups (such as thigh muscles used during squats) require more recovery time than smaller muscles. Many bodybuilders alternate their workouts by focusing on upper body one day, then lower body the next, etc., but sports physicians suggest that if you’re really working your muscles hard, resting for 48 hours before working that set of muscles again is a better idea. Our advice is to take it easy and err on the side of more recovery time , because overtraining can lead to injuries.
- Nutrition matters. The length of recovery time can be profoundly influenced by your diet—how you “feed” and “fuel” the muscles you’re exercising. While exercising, you really need to make sure to drink enough fluids and electrolytes, along with carbohydrates if it’s an extended workout. Afterwards, it’s good to drink even more fluids and eat a high-protein meal to ensure your body has the “building blocks” it needs to rebuild muscle tissue.
- Despite what you might like to believe, your age matters, too. Young muscles recover faster after exercise than older ones. Period. If you’re past your 30s, respect your body and give it more time to recover after each hard workout.
- Finally, if you want to maximize the health and fitness benefits of your workouts, get enough sleep. Many people report that they fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, and feel more rested after a good workout. There is a reason for this—the harder you work out, the more sleep your body needs to recover afterwards. Two possible signs of overtraining and not getting sufficient rest between workouts are insomnia (which can happen due to overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system) or daytime sleepiness (the result of poor quality sleep).
These are just guidelines. If you are committed to your exercise and workout program, work with your coach, trainer or sports chiropractor to find a training/rest schedule that works best for you. The American Council on Exercise recommends as a general schedule several high-intensity workouts per week, with at least 48 hours in between to give your muscles plenty of time to recover and rebuild. Lower-intensity workouts may require less recovery time, and you may feel comfortable with 24 hours of rest between workouts. But whatever you choose, bear in mind that the actual strength-building takes place during the rest/recovery periods, not during the actual workout periods. If you have any questions please contact me at (703) 912-7822 or visit us at Chiropractor in Burke, VA.