I felt the need to discuss muscle recovery here, because I think many people get this part wrong in their training.
Many magazine and sites would have you believe that the more experienced you are, the better your levels of recovery. That is true to an extent but as a trainee gets stronger, the training stress increases as well. In fact, the closer you get to your genetic potential the tougher and heavier you must lift to see a change in strength (or muscle size if you are trying to increase muscle mass).
Advanced lifters have a much greater need to cycle intensity than beginners. A beginner can gain strength each and every workout, with less time in between sessions.
[I always appreciate good photos even if they don’t relate to the topic. 2010 has just begun and I think this will be know as the decade of neon! Old retro 80’s stuff is coming back big which means neon is going to make a comeback. Back in the mid-to-late 80’s black lights were very common place…great for making your teeth look white…bad if you forgot to use a lint roller.]
Advanced Trainees Need Bigger “Stresses” to the Body
In Mark Rippletoe’s and Lon Kilgore’s masterpiece on strength training, “Practical Programming for Strength Training”, they talk about what happens as an athlete becomes more advanced.
An advanced lifter must push their body much harder to achieve a positive adaption than a beginner…
“Unlike beginners or intermediates, advanced and elite
trainees need large amounts of intense work to disrupt
homeostasis and force adaptation. This means that the stress
required for progress will creep nearer and nearer to the
maximal tolerable workload that the body can perform and
recover from. An elite athlete who is doing ten sets of squats
and making progress may not make any progress with nine sets
and may “overtrain” by doing eleven. The window for progress
is extremely small.” – Rippletoe & Kilgore
Stress to the Body VS Ability to Recover
As a trainee becomes more advanced, his recovery level does increase. This is what is talked about in fitness magazines and in many other fitness books.
What people fail to mention is that in order to make positive progress, the stimulus and stress to the body must increase as well. In fact, the stress to the body winds up increasing at a faster rate than the ability to recover.
Supercompensation (Improving After Recovery)
A beginner doesn’t need a massive stimulus to make progress…and because of that, they can recover quickly and gain strength or muscle (supercompensation).
For intermediate and advanced athletes thing look different…they sometimes need more than one workout to give the body a big enough stress to improve…
“In the novice, a single training stimulus results in supercompensation in 24 to 72 hours, just in time for the next training session. For the intermediate trainee, multiple training sessions in a week are required to induce supercompensation. For the advanced trainee the cumulative effects of weeks of training are needed to induce supercompensation in a month’s time or longer.” – Rippletoe & Kilgore
What This Means & How You Can Use This Knowledge
I hate to make things too complicated, but here’s how you can use this knowledge. If you are beginner you can expect to make consistent strength gains and muscle gains from workout to workout.
An intermediate will cycle intensity (usually a heavy day alternated with a more moderate day seems to work well). An advanced lifter who wants to lift really heavy weights, will want to use a schedule of periodization (beyond the scope of this article).
Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to “Go Light”
Most of us will never reach the level of an advanced lifter, so no need to make things too complex.
What I suggest is to simply lift light weights on the days where the bar feels heavy in your hands. You should know within 1-2 sets of your first lift, if your body hasn’t achieved supercompensation from the last workout.
Don’t worry that you will lose strength, muscle size, or muscle tone by backing off a bit…this is actually the way to experience positive results over time in your lifting.
Most of Us Won’t Need to Worry About This As Much
This site is about just adding a natural level of muscle to achieve the lean look…like men and women in Hollywood. You don’t need to stress the body to-the-max to reach this level. You can do this by simply gaining strength slowly over time while losing body fat.
[This is a funny commercial from “GQ” Magazine. A tiny bit of swearing at one point, but that still qualifies for the PG-13 rating of my site. Love this Billy Idol Song…good for some cheesy Karaoke for sure!]
The Law of Diminishing Returns and Muscle
I am a firm believer in the fact that most people will put on their “natural” level of muscle mass within just 6-9 months of training following a solid workout plan.
Every pound of muscle gained after that simply takes magnitudes more effort than that initial muscle gain. My advice is to add a bit of muscle if you haven’t trained and get that part “out of the way”.
After those 6 months, spend the rest of the time fine tuning your muscle by getting stronger without increasing in size…get great abs, increase muscle definition, etc.