Almost every gym aficionado is on the lookout for new ways to fatigue a muscle, shock their body, and stimulate new growth. However, too few realize they could get the gains they’re looking for by shifting their focus in the opposite direction. Instead of finding new ways to attack the muscle, they should look for new ways to improve their muscle recovery.
Why Should You Care About Muscle Recovery
Before you can focus on muscle recovery, you have to know why it’s important. Your muscles don’t actually grow when you work out – your workouts are just a growth stimulus. When you lift weights, you actually cause micro-trauma to the muscle. You then have to rest and recuperate from this “damage”. When you do, in a sense of self-preservation, your body doesn’t just rest and recuperate itself back to where it was – it builds the muscle bigger.
This is because the body is naturally lazy and wants to make things as easy for itself as possible. If curling 100lbs is hard with small biceps, but easier with big biceps, then the body wants to build bigger biceps to make those 100lbs curls easy. But it can only do this when you give the body a chance to rest, repair, and grow. So the more and better muscle recovery you have, the more often (and harder) you can train, perpetuating the muscle-building process.
The More Sleep, the Better
The first thing you should focus on for better muscle recovery is getting enough sleep. Sleep is the most important factor in physical health, and is going to have the most dramatic effect on your rest as a whole. You could employ various other recovery tactics, but they’ll all still be rather ineffective if you’re not sleeping enough. Try to ensure that you get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, but more is better. Read our article on the importance of sleep on training goals here.
Keep Your Diet on Point
Food is used as workout fuel, but it’s also critically important in the recovery process. If you’re not getting enough nutrients (and in the right ratio) your body’s natural repair and growth processes won’t be able to occur as they should. Making sure your nutrition is right seems like a very elementary point, but it’s also that important. A good place to start is to consume 13-15 calories and .75-1g of protein per pound of body weight.
Don’t Work Out any More than You Have To
If you have the big basics of sleep and diet in line, your recovery should already be about where it needs to be. When many people start having problems is when they train too hard, too often, or do too much volume. The more working out you do, the more you have to recover from. And if your muscle recovery isn’t commensurate, your gains will diminish greatly.
More often than not, many bodybuilders would actually get way more muscle growth if instead of trying to up their recovery so they could train more, they trained less to match their current recovery levels. That way instead of being overtrained or under-recovered, they’re matching the two to one another. Once they have that level of growth sustained, they can start to up the training and incrementally add additional recovery techniques.
Bonus Recovery Techniques
Just like some lifters start taking supplements before they have their diet correct, too many try to add new or different muscle recovery techniques when they don’t have the basics down, first. But once you have the above in line, you can start to add new things to minimize your recovery time even further. Here are a few ideas you could add to the mix:
- Massages – Getting a massage a time or two per month is a great way to not only relax the body even more, but reduce stress. When stress is reduced, cortisol levels go down, which can help improve recovery, too. Deep tissue work can also be a way to treat injuries and break up scar tissue.
- Epsom salt baths – Adding 1-2 cups of epsom salts to a bathtub full of water and soaking for 15+ minutes is a great way to potentially speed up the recovery process. If nothing else, soaking in the warm water after a hard workout can be good for relaxing your muscles and joints.
- Contrast showers – Taking a shower alternating hold and cold water every 30-60 seconds for several minutes is a known favorite for reducing DOMS (delayed onset of muscular soreness). The warm water opens blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely throughout the body. The then immediate introduction of cold water constricts those vessels, sending all the blood “inward” toward your vital organs. Re-introducing the hot water re-opens up the vessels, again letting the blood flow easily. This can result in a sort of “flushing” effect, whisking toxins away from recently worked muscles.
You know that muscle recovery is vitally important if you want to maximize muscle growth. Match your training to your current recovery levels, make sure you get enough sleep, eat right, and you’ll be well on your way to the gains you want.