Trick Question: Do you know what ACTUALLY initiates increases in both muscle size and strength???
Hint: it’s not the actual workout, itself. Although, yes, your workouts ARE very important!…The type, frequency, duration, periodization, the amount of resistance used, the types of exercises performed, the WAY in which the exercises are performed (form IS everything!), and the gradual progression from simple to complex (i.e. light to heavy) are ALL necessary aspects to be considered when your goal is hypertrophy (growth)..BUT…The most important component to focus on, and NEVER neglect, is post workout recovery!
Let me explain…
It is not in the gym (or the home gym), during training, where “gains” occur. Rather, it is post training, during periods of rest and recovery.
See, during intense training sessions (i.e. weightlifting) muscle tissue is torn, cells are damaged, and (for lack of a better word) “injury” occurs.
As traumatic as this all sounds, it is necessary to the growth process, because after work (training) comes rest (recovery), and it is during THIS time that specialized cells, called satellite cells, are recruited to repair the damage caused during training.
Basically, these little guys fuss to one another and to damaged muscle fibers, which is what leads to muscle growth…BOOM, GAINZ!…But, in order for this to occur, some very important factors have to come into play.
1. Rest-It is very important to make sure you’re getting enough rest between workouts, as well as between sets/exercises DURING your workouts–anywhere from 30 seconds-3 min or so, depending on the type and intensity of the workout–In terms of between workout rest, whether you engage in active rest or take 1-2 full on rest days per week, you’ve got to give your muscles time to heal, so that they can recover and grow…Also, it’s important to note, you should never train the same muscle groups two days in a row. You need to allow at least 1-5 days between muscle groups, depending on the muscles being trained, the type of training, and the amount of resistance being used. Finally, make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of quality sleep each night. Sleep is the number one most important factor in your overall health and wellness. Put simply, you can make up a missed workout (or not), but you can never recover lost sleep. Be sure to aim for 7-9 hours per night to ensure you’re healthy, well rested, and ready to take on whatever life (and training) throws at you.
2. Nutrition-Muscles cannot grow without proper nutrition. Despite the plethora of misinformation on the internet damning certain macronutrients while praising others, and vice versa, all three macronutrient groups are equally as important as the others, and each contributes to muscle growth and repair, as well as overall health and wellness, in it’s own way.
• Carbohydrates are the quickest form of energy. They contribute to the production of ATP–energy naturally made by muscle tissue–and glycogen–stored sugar in the liver that is released when you need more energy, after ATP stores have been depleted–This is very important to sustaining enough energy to finish your workouts. Plus, increased glycogen production dramatically decreases post workout recovery time…WIN!
• Fats are necessary to manufacture and balance hormones, like testosterone and other growth hormones…That’s pretty important!…They’re also used for energy. Did you know that fat is actually the most energy-dense macronutrient?…Yep! It sure is!…It’s true that carbohydrates provide us with the quickest source of energy, but fats provide us with the longest lasting, most stable source. Plus, fats support a variety of healthy functions in the body, such as blood vessel health, the reduction of information, improvement of triglycerides and cholesterol, increased metabolism, and improved cardiovascular and nervous system function.
• Next up, protein, everyone’s favorite macronutrient!…And, for good reason…Protein is very important to muscle repair and growth, in that muscles are largely composed of amino acids, the building blocks of…protein! The more protein synthesized, the more contractile proteins created, which in turn leads to increases in both strength AND size….Hello, hypertrophy!!!!…Not to mention, the amino acids that make up protein are also responsible for everything in our bodies! Our structure, hormones, enzymes, and immune chemicals ALL rely heavily on protein.
• Finally, overall caloric intake. Just as important as getting adequate amounts of all three macronutrients is, providing your body with enough energy (Calories) each day is imperative to muscle repair and growth. Not only does your body burn a certain amount of Calories naturally through basic life functioning + physical activity each day, but just having a higher % of lean body mass takes that “natural burn” to the next level. It takes a lot of energy (Calories) just to maintain muscle. Thus, you have to provide your body with the energy necessary to a) keep up with basic life functioning, b) support your physical activity, and c) maintain your lean body mass while initiating muscle growth. It’s a hard job growing muscle while sustaining basic life functioning. That’s why our bodies need to be nourished properly each day, so they can keep up with the demands we place on them.
3. Hydration-This one goes without saying, as muscle cells are comprised of 75% water. Water is essential to life. It is water that dissolves both organic and inorganic nutrients and transports them into, and away from, our cells. Water is also important to the synthesis of proteins and glycogen. Basically, everything to do with muscle repair and growth, as well as life in general, is dependent on water…So, yeah, “ Stay thirsty, my friends”…Drink your water!
4. Therapeutic Modalities – post workout therapies can play a huge role in enhanced recuperation after training, which leads to improved performance and max results. Although some are pretty advanced and strictly in the domain of sports medicine physicians, licensed physical therapist, and/or certified athletic trainers, others are much more simple and can be safely applied by coaches, personal trainers, and individuals, themselves.
• Diathermy- a form of high frequency heat that penetrates injured tissue deeper and more effectively than other forms of heat therapy. Unlike other forms of heat therapy, it does not produce static swelling at the treatment site.
• Electrostimulation – involves electrodes that create a contraction of the surrounding musculature, reducing edema by pumping fluid out of the affected tissue. Most effective when implemented immediately after diathermy and followed by cryotherapy and elevation.
• Cryotherapy- the application of cold, usually in the form of ice or “chemical ice”, in body tissue for the purpose of pain relief and decreased swelling. Ice is simple, inexpensive, and effective and can be applied without professional assistance.
• Heat Therapy – heating pads or hot showers are best when followed up with ice, since heat alone causes static swelling. This therapy should only be used for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, followed by active stretching, then followed by 10 to 15 minutes of ice and more stretching.
• Ultrasound- loosens or breaks up scar tissue and tight fibrous adhesions due to injury.
• Hydrotherapy – The use of water for therapeutic means. Contrast showers, contrast baths, and whirlpools are all effective means of hydrotherapy…Contrast baths and showers alternate between hot and cold bursts of water for two minute periods directly following workouts, to help improve circulation. Whirlpools can help improve circulation and render a relaxation affect post training. These should be avoided if any type of joint swelling is present.
• Cryokinetics – involves ice application followed by progressive active exercises. For best results, apply ice directly after leaving the shower. This therapy is very beneficial in reducing contracted, tightened muscle tissue, as well as pumping these tissues free of accumulated training-induced waste products (lactic acid).
• Leg Elevation – used to reverse hydrostatic or columnar pressure after a long day of standing or training. This method can be particularly effective prior to training. For best results, elevate your legs for about 20 minutes, keeping them perpendicular to the floor while lying on your back.
• Ongoing Professional Assistance – many forms of therapy are available to individuals at a moderate cost and are highly recommended. They include Chiropractic, Massage Therapy, Physical Therapy, Rolling, Neuromuscular Reeducation, Trager Mentastics, Acupuncture/Pressure, and Alexander Technique.
And, there you have it! If you want to “get those gains”, your workouts are important, but the recovery process is adamant…So, beast hard!…And recover harder!