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Recuperating is supposed to be the easy part. You lie on your couch hypnotized by your television or you’re snug in your bed and dead to the world, and all the while you’re growing. That’s the plan, anyway. Workouts tear down muscles; food nourishes muscles; rest and sleep let muscles grow stronger and bigger.
The problem with this approach is it’s reactive, and thus limits your ability to recuperate. You train and eat, then you wait to grow. Instead of sitting on your glutes or lying on your lats waiting, why not take action to recover and grow faster?
This recuperation plan consists of proactive strategies for increasing the speed of your recovery and growth.
Some of you may be thinking, Not another recuperation article. Why should I have to work at resting? I’d rather skip reading about sleeping and just sleep. Fair enough — most people should indeed be able to recuperate by following a healthy diet and merely allowing enough time and sleep to occur between workouts. But recovering from workouts won’t give you all the muscle growth you’re looking for. You want to recover and then grow stronger and bigger to the greatest extent possible. In effect, you want to superrecuperate, and therein lies the difficult part, especially for a hardgainer.
If you’re not growing, it might seem logical to schedule more time between workouts. Indeed, sometimes this is a solution. Many pro bodybuilders train bodyparts only once per week, but most of those same bodybuilders train with more intensity and/or volume than we recommend for the average hardgainer. Another solution is to take action to speed up the recovery process. The faster you recover from workouts, the faster you’ll grow.
Bodybuilders frequently welcome muscle soreness and even exhaustion as signposts to future growth. Although the tight discomfort caused by lactic acid buildup is a natural part of overload training and you may indeed be exhausted after a strenuous workout, these are not physical states you should prolong. To the contrary, if you take action to increase them in the gym, you should take action to decrease them when outside the gym. The harder you train, the more effort you need to put into recuperation. To maximize gains, you have to help yourself recover because only when you fully recover can you fully grow. Use these seven tactics for boosting recuperation.
7 STRATEGIES FOR BOOSTING RECUPERATION
1. INTRAWORKOUT REST
Recovery begins during the workout. Take as long as you require between sets to return to normal breathing and to replenish the majority of your strength and energy. Generally, one or two minutes are sufficient. The time will vary between exercises. Heavy compound lifts, such as squats and deadlifts, typically require a longer rest period than pushdowns or wrist curls.
Another key to intraworkout recuperation is stretching. Too many trainers dismiss stretching as something done by weekend toners, not hardcore bodybuilders. In fact, the harder you train, the more effort you should put into stretching, not only because it boosts safety, but also because it boosts recovery. Dorian Yates, to name one decidedly hardcore bodybuilder, spends a sizable chunk of his gym time stretching. He knows doing so aids circulation, reduces lactic acid buildup and elongates his muscles. Stretch before and after your workout, as well as between sets.
Immediately following your workout, endeavor to stay comfortably warm. If your skin is warm, nourishing blood flow will stay elevated longer, which helps reduce lactic acid buildup.
Get at least eight hours of continuous sleep each night. Additionally, when possible, take a daytime nap of 30 minutes to one hour.
5. PHYSICAL STRESS REDUCTION
Ideally, have a sports massage at least once per week. Among the benefits of massage are relaxed muscles and nerves, increased circulation, lowered blood pressure and improved flexibility. Put succinctly, a competent professional massage is one of the best things you can do to boost physical recuperation. Many champion bodybuilders include them as essential parts of their routines. However, not everyone can afford regular massages, and not everyone has access to trained professional massage therapists. A good alternative is a hot whirlpool bath, a sauna or simply a long hot bath. Heat offers some of the same benefits as massage — relaxing and loosening muscles and improving circulation.
6. MENTAL STRESS REDUCTION
Mental stress can sap your strength, energy and recuperation. Severe cases of anxiety need to be treated professionally, but lesser cases can usually be alleviated by dealing with the root cause, and everyone can benefit from proactive techniques. Yoga reduces physical and mental tension and promotes recuperation. Jay Cutler is a yoga enthusiast. The aforementioned massage or bath may also prove helpful. Meditation can reduce stress and light physical activities may have a similar effect. Whatever form of stress reduction you choose, make time in your waking life for peaceful activity or inactivity during which you either focus on nothing at all or focus on anything other than the worries of everyday life.
7. TRAINING BREAKS
When your workouts are stale and gains come slowly or not at all, often the best strategy is to avoid the gym for a week or two. Alternatively, you can focus on circuit training or cardio during that time or adopt a lighter training cycle for four to six weeks. Don’t make the mistake of “sucking it up” and continuing to train heavy. Intense workouts drain not just the targeted muscles, but also your physiological, nervous and endocrine systems. Your body needs an occasional vacation from heavy sets in order to return to the work of tearing down and building up muscle with revitalized vigor.
Even if you don’t believe you’re overtraining, take at least two one week breaks from the gym per year. The pleasant truth is that a week on some tropical isle where the days consist of nothing more strenuous than massages, whirlpools and naps may be exactly what you need to reach your physical potential. Daydreaming about it sure is relaxing, too.