How much should you be training to achieve optimal gains? Too much and you will burn out, but too little and you won’t challenge your body enough to make it change.
Overtraining is a very common problem among new lifters, and even experienced ones. It is easy to get carried away with your training, especially if you are making great progress, increasing the weight or the repetitions regularly and seeing positive changes in your body.
Suddenly, you wake up and feel very, very sore. Simple tasks that require even minor stretching takes a lot of effort. You write it off as muscle soreness that can be driven away by another good session, so you hit the gym – and then you realize that you can’t even use the weight you used the last time. You have overtrained – you’re burned out.
Recovery is just as important as your training sessions, if not even more important. Your gains come not when you’re lifting weights and damaging your muscles, but when you’re recovering and giving your muscles time to heal. It could take up to three days before you can perform at peak levels again, sometimes up to seven days after a particularly intense session. Your recovery is based on two factors that you should pay close attention to – your rest, and the food you eat.
Rest is not just doing no training on a given day. Quality muscle comes from good sleep and some low-impact movement that keeps the blood flowing to your muscles. These could include brisk walking and light ab exercises. The key is not being totally sedentary, but not taxing your body too much that it interferes with recovery. Yoga is a very good recovery tool – check out these benefits of yoga.
Nutrition is what gives you the building blocks for muscle. Getting the proper nutrients in will help you get back into performance level. A good amount of protein and carbohydrates are needed to fuel recovery. Ideally you should consume a good amount of protein and carobohydrates a few hours before your workout, and again right after it.
You should also pay attention to your training frequency – you don’t need to be hitting the same muscle with heavy weights every day to produce results. You should focus on performing at your best when you are in the gym, and recovering on the days you are out. Beginners can stick to a three-day weekly routine and make solid gains for quite a while.
Volume is another important factor in recovery – the more work you do in a session, the more time you will need to recover fully from it. If you are an athlete that also needs to practice techique, your volume should adjust to accommodate your training needs. If you are just trying to be healthy, you should not be making yourself sore every time you lift lest you suffer an injury.
Getting your recovery in check, however, is useless if you are undertraining. You need to be using weights that are heavy enough to kick your muscles into growth, and you need to be doing enough sets and repetitions to meet your training goals. For strength, you should be doing heavier weights at lower repetitions; for size, you should be doing moderate weights for more repetitions.
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