Anyone who takes up weightlifting or any other activity in the iron game with any degree of enthusiasm will always learn all they can about training. These people constantly look for the ideal combination of exercises, reps, sets, training load, and intensity. This is probably because each of these things is quantifiable and easy-to-understand. You read about these variables and then you want to get the gym and try them in your latest training regime.
It may take a while before a new trainee discovers the importance of recovery in his or her training. Often the neophyte in his or her enthusiasm for the sport will fail to give recovery its proper emphasis. Some of this is due to the age of new trainees. Teenaged lifters seem to have no end of energy, much to the envy of us masters-age lifters. Younger lifters can burn the candle at both ends with regard to recovery due to their youth and enthusiasm, but sooner or later as they improve they come face-to-face with the problem of how to adequately recover from their strenuous workouts.
How Much Recovery Time Do You Need?
With that in mind, it behooves the lifter to know what factors will lead to requiring more recovery time than others. That way programming will be a lot more efficient – you want to spread your various training lifts around your schedule in a manner that will not require more work and recovery time than necessary.
Factor #1: Larger Muscles Require More Recovery Time
Just compare how you feel after several sets of heavy squats compared to a bicep curl workout. Weightlifters do not train the squat with the same intensity as powerlifters, so they can squat almost every workout. Powerlifters train at much higher intensities to the extent that many only have to squat once a week and some even once every ten days. High-intensity squats need lots of recovery.
Factor #2: Larger Numbers of Muscles Requires More Recovery Time
Closely related to the size of the muscles work is the number of muscles worked in the movement. Bigger muscle groups take longer to recover than smaller ones. This is due to the fact that a large muscle group must lift more weight to get the appropriate intensity than a small group would. There’s going to be a lot more muscle destroyed in the workout and that is going to take time to replace.
Factor #3: Fast Twitch Fibers Recover More Slowly Than Slow Twitch Fibers
Slow twitch muscles are the aerobic ones, made for constant activity at low intensity. They naturally will not need much recovery time. In contrast, the fast twitch muscles are made for periodic efforts only, so they have the luxury of allowing longer recovery times.
High-intensity lifts take longer to recover than lower intensity once, if you hold a number of reps constant. This is obvious to anyone. Work harder and you get tired quicker. Even non-athletes can figure that one out.
You have to be especially careful with reps when thinking about intensity. Low repetitions like singles or doubles with 95% may be less taxing than five rep sets even though they are heavier. Especially with those five rep sets, remember that even though you’re only training with 85%, to the muscles it only feels like 85% on the first rep. As you work through the set, you are in essence lifting ever-higher intensity. Your fifth and last rep may be approaching 100% of your ability at that moment in time. So a set of 85% is not really 85%. It’s always somewhat higher. Keep that in mind when thinking about how you are going to recover.
You also have to think of how many sets of each exercise you’re going to do at any given intensity. Obviously the more sets you do, the more tired you’re going to be.
Factor #4: The Type of Exercise Matters
Don’t ignore the type of exercise you are doing when considering the need for recovery. Is there an eccentric component to the exercise? If so those exercises are much harder on the muscle fibers than purely concentric ones will be. We all know this from doing squats or benches where there is a large eccentric component. These beat the muscles up much more than concentric movements so you’re going to have to spend more time in recovery. Compare those two lifts with Olympic lifting exercises which do not have an eccentric component. Recovery there is much quicker so weightlifters can train the snatch or the clean or the jerk on almost every training session.
Factor #5: Age Matters
Older athletes take longer to recover than younger ones. Nothing works better when you’re older, and that includes recovery from exercise. This is one of the first lessons masters-age athletes learn after returning to lifting after years of relative inactivity. Gone are the five and six day a week training regimens you eagerly tackled in your teens. At forty, the only time you feel like working out two days in a row is just before you work out once. You just do not have enough time to recover from closely placed workouts. You have to take alternate off-days. Some masters will be happy to hear that, and some will not. If it’s any consolation to you, sex works the same way.
Factor #6: More Training Requires More Recovery Time
Don’t forget to factor in how much you have been training in recent weeks. If you’re in the heavy part of a cycle where you intentionally are overtraining, then you are going to need extra recovery time. Of course, if you’re overtrained, even if not on purpose, you are still going to need more recovery time. And don’t forget the effect of your day job. This is especially true for young lifters who may have summer jobs where they are doing a lot of manual labor. If that’s the case, and you still want to do a decent amount of training in the gym, you are going to have to do all you can to ensure recovery.
Factor #7: Psychological Stress Requires More Recovery Time
Don’t forget your psychological condition or underestimate its effect on your physical condition. If you are stressed or anxious or have a lot of troubles on your mind it’s going to affect how much energy you put into training. If you are affected this way, you will need more recovery time.
How to Get More Recovery Time
The most obvious prescription here for the lifter is to get enough sleep at night. If they are observant, even younger lifters will notice that when training their need for sleep noticeably increases. Your training tears down your muscles and they have to be rebuilt. This is best done at night when you’re doing nothing with your muscles. It doesn’t work so well if you are further stressing muscles with a lack of sleep or a surplus of other activity.
Another obvious preventative measure is to have adequate nutrition. If you break down the muscle, you will have to get the nutrients to rebuild that muscle. If you try to cheat yourself in this area you are going to notice it very soon in your recovery.
Progress in weightlifting has always been a well-planned training schedule coupled with adequate nutrition and recovery strategies. Remember you don’t get strong doing a workout; you only get strong when you recover from a workout.
Photos 1 & 2 courtesy of CrossFit LA.
Photo 3 courtesy of Shutterstock.