Why do I need to let my body recover?
Making time for muscle recovery after physical activity is an important component of a safe and efficient strength training program. To understand recovery and the need for it, let's look at what occurs to your muscles during strength training.
During a strength training session, the goal should be to work until your muscles are so tired they cannot perform any longer. You’ll know when this happens because two things may occur. Your form may decrease or you are unable to do any more repetitions, whichever comes FIRST.
As you do an exercise, your muscle fibers start to break-down on a microscopic level: Think of the muscle fibers like fibers in a cotton shirt - they are woven to be flexible and hold together. Your muscles are built the same way; they can expand and contract just like a shirt can stretch and shrink.
Once you're finished strength training, the fibers that comprise your now-fatigued muscles have very small tears within them. The body, being miraculous and intelligent, will get right to work repairing these micro-tears and begin rebuilding more fibers. This adaptive effect occurs in order for your body to prepare itself for the next time you are physically active. Personal trainers utilize this effect to increase your body's strength.
Your muscle cells use protein like building blocks for new muscle fibers. Carbohydrates are utilized as both the delivery mechanism and energy source to do the building. This process of muscle fiber regeneration can last for 24 to 48 hours, depending on a few factors. Stress, sleep and the availability of nutrients are among the most important factors in this process. Your body recovers faster and more efficiently during sleep than at any other time. Negative stress will decrease muscle recovery rates. When you are stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which slows down your body's metabolic processes.
As a trainer with a specialty in functional movement, I encourage my clients to follow this prescription for optimal recovery: eat well, sleep well, and rest your recently exercised muscles for at least 24 to 48 hours before performing the same type of work again. Happy resting!
The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program and any modifications to physical activity.