Contrary to common belief, pushing through the pain and stress to force ourselves to punish our bodies in work our after a workout has proven to be detrimental to the overall progress. Saying the toxic culture of demanding we get up and train no matter what aches or fatigue we feel has destroyed many an athlete, would be a gross understatement. Promising sports careers have ended prematurely, qualities of living ruined, relationships strained, and more, all born out of our insisting on hammering our bodies day after day with close to zero proper care taken to restore it back to full health in preparation for the next productive training session.
Our ability to recuperate after a strenuous session, whatever the activity or sport may be, is absolutely critical for those who wish to train long-term, which realistically should be all of us.
Fighting through the ‘training hangover’ of a weightlifting session is beneficial in only a very specific circumstances. Namely, training an entirely separate area from the day before, among other technicalities. Where so many go wrong is in the simple concept of totally ignoring what our body tells us. Listening to the body’s soreness, acknowledging it, planning our training accordingly, and then executing well, is a little-known secret that a plethora of great athletes kept in mind to ensure their ability to train long-term, which allows an appropriate amount of time to then develop the necessary skills and proficiency to become a champion.
Of course, the masses of amateurs, and a select few great athletes will disagree, believing it is necessary to hit the body as hard as possible in the hopes of rapid adaptation and much quicker results. It must be noted, any world-class competitor who maintained such a brutal routine are the exception, not the rule when it comes to structuring a progressive training routine. A far more efficient and effective method of reaching one’s goals is to establish a structured recovery period based on listening to the body. Should a particular muscle group feel tender or painful, there should be an immediate remedy in the form of tailored stretches, nutritional support, and a restructure of training. Preferably, the training should already be scheduled to accommodate for adequate recovery time between specific muscle groups.
With weightlifting and the devotion to becoming much physically stronger and putting more muscle mass on our frames, it is even more essential than in almost any other sport to treat recovery as sacred. Primarily due to the enormous strain anaerobic activity places on our nervous system to recuperate. With aerobic activity, as the physical strain tends to be dispersed over our whole body, as opposed to highly concentrated areas with weights, it is much easier to recover from thus allowing for us to train aerobic sports day after day. In fact, stress from aerobic activities has shown to reverse within 48 hours of the exercise. There are also a handful of unique exceptions, notably combat sports, as they utilize both anaerobic and aerobic capacities.
Damage takes place at a cellular level with intense anaerobic activity. Evidently, the greater the intensity, the greater the damage. To recover, there are multiple steps to take into account due to the complexity of the process our body is about to undertake. The average person who has trained for any significant period of time is likely aware of delayed-onset muscle soreness (commonly referred to as ‘doms’). This sequence of events takes place as follows:
1. Muscle cell damage occurs while highly strenuous muscle activity is taking place, particularly from contracting motion.
2. In the first 24 hours, white blood cell levels dramatically increase and scatter towards the affected area and source of muscle stress.
3. Concurrently, lysosomal enzymes, which serve to eat up and filter out damaged tissue, are discharged to the damaged area.
4. Cells which assist lysosomal enzymes, known as macrophages, start to assemble and continue to do so for numerous days.
5. The inflammatory response occurring results in added damage to the site of muscle pain.
6. Subsequent to these processes completing, tissue regeneration and muscle rebuilding can now begin.
Understanding this process, logically, the muscle needs to repair itself to ordinary levels of functionality before it will begin to overcompensate and build itself to a greater degree than before. Hammering your body again and again without any substantial recovery time for a certain muscle group is entirely counter-productive to both getting stronger and bigger, essentially self-harm. Strenuous activities such as extreme CrossFit regimens, which are typically performed on an overly frequent basis, can be seen as a form of praised self-abuse.
A lesser known truth regarding CrossFit practitioners is the issue with a large number of them suffering from a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, more commonly referred to as ‘rhabdo’. This condition is the deterioration of severely damaged muscular tissue as a result of overly intense exercise and depleting the body to total exhaustion. Rhabdo is not typically a serious life-threatening condition but it can incapacitate the sufferer for a significant period of time. Mainstream evidence such as this suggests recovery time is essential is growing our bodies and the old school, or simply misinformed, attitude of go as hard as you can, as frequently as you can, is counterproductive and self-destructive to physical progression goals.
Being Realistic With Yourself
What we can see is the frequency of training at a high level of intensity is detrimental to physical health which in turn hinders overall progress. The longer a training session lasts, the more sets you do, the more laps or rounds endured, the longer the recovery period will last before you attain pre-workout strength as well as make any sort of physical gain. Therefore, aiming to hit the minimum effective dose, specifically for weight training, should be the target with our training regimen. This will also ensure a good level of normal physical functionality for the several days following a session and providing the ability to train a different muscle group the next day.
Leaving yourself incapacitated by over-training, offering no time for recovery, and not consuming the correct nutritional requirements is a surprisingly very common issue in spite of common sense. Without having to delve into exercise science, the average person who trains can make leaps and bounds with their physical progress by only listening to what their body is telling them, and acting accordingly. Short of taking performance-enhancing drugs to speed up recovery (a very complex separate topic) realize we are all human and our bodies can only take a certain amount of punishment we subject it to before suffering for it badly.
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