Ever Wonder if You Work too Hard?

Ever wonder if you’re working too hard? Today I thought I’d discuss how to determine the amount of Rest and Recovery you need (no, R and R does not stand for Rum and Ritalin as prescribed by Dr. Leo Spaceman on 30 Rock). Spacing your workouts correctly can really help you prevent over-training and injury.

Anyone have their coach scream at them near the end of a grueling workout to push through because that was when you were developing the strength to beat their opponent or improve their performance? Well maybe mentally you were getting stronger, but by that time your muscles we’re planning a mutiny. The fitness level of the human body in training goes through 4 phases and actually gets stronger during the recovery phase not during training.

The human body is an adjustable organism and will improve its performance with sufficient rest and if the next training session takes place during the supercompensation phase. If the next strenuous workout occurs during recovery this can lead to over-training. If you wait too long to workout and miss the supercompensation phase, you’ll start to return to your initial fitness level.

So you’re thinking, “OK, I got it. Just give me the number of days between workouts.” Hold on there sport! There are a lot of variables and it’s actually somewhat subjective. You might even say its complex. We often hear 48 hours mentioned as being the length of time needed between sessions for the same muscle groups, but there’s more to consider.

First of all is your name Rich Froning or Annie Thorisdottir? (amazingly conditioned Crossfitters). Or is it Joe Blow the couch potato who saw Annie and Rich on the television and just joined the local box? The first 2 already have the neuromuscular control and neovascularization which allow them to recover more quickly. Joe on the other hand might need a little more recovery time before working out again with the same exercises or muscles.

We also know ground-based multi-joint exercises like the deadlift, squat, snatch etc. require more muscle groups and therefore increased motor unit recruitment. More muscle mass is utilized and potentially broken down. Isolated joint movements GENERALLY result in less tissue destruction overall, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to perform intense bicep workouts back to back or a high volume WOD with pull-ups 2 days in a row. And if you do, you better learn what rhabdomylosis means!

Another variable to look at is what percent of your 1 rep max you’re using in the workout that day. One study has shown that trained individuals using 80% of their 1 rep max can train each muscle group at a frequency of 2 times per week with 2 rest days between sessions. In the same study untrained individuals using 60% of their 1 rep max could train each muscle group 3 times per week with 1 day of rest between sessions. What does this mean? That trained individuals can coast? No. It means intensity matters. At the other end of the spectrum, I have my post-operative patients perform their rehabilitation exercises multiple times per day. They are able to handle this frequency because of the low intensity.

Other factors to consider are whether or not you are performing any other training in between sessions, the percentage of eccentric contractions in the workout and your age.

Remember to pay attention to how you feel both physically and mentally outside the gym. Symptoms such as persistent fatigue, muscle soreness, an increased number of injuries, reduced physical performance in and out of the gym, as well as depression and irritability can be related to over-training and a lack of recovery. We will discuss more about this in the next article.

I hope you see the need to take the proper amount of recovery time between sessions in order to prevent injury and maximize performance, as well as appreciate how many variables are involved in its determination. That’s why finding a gym or physical therapy clinic where coaching and programming are taken seriously is so important.

Get out and move!

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