The other day – we posted an article about the 10 Commandments of Recovery. And we got a lot of responses that sounded just like this:
I know I need recovery, but how much do I really need?
Man, is this a tricky question to answer!
The amount of recovery can be totally different from one person to the next. But since recovery isn’t just about time (remember it’s also about nutrition, foam rolling, sleep, etc.) more recovery doesn’t hurt!
But there are a few factors that come into play when making the decision of how much focus to dedicate to recovery:
1. Larger muscles need more recovery
The larger the muscle, the more muscle fibers it contains. So when you train larger muscles, you damage more fibers at the same time. Think about training squats vs. bicep curls. They both may get sore, but your biceps will usually recover in a day or less. While you might feel the pain from those squats for a few days.
2. More muscles trained needs more recovery
Makes sense, right? If you only trained one or two muscles, your body can devote all of your internal resources to repairing the damaged tissues. But if you trained the total body, you then have to ration your repairing resources to tons of different muscle groups. The more muscles you train at once, the longer your recovery will take (and the more time you will need to devote to your physical recovery tasks – because foam rolling every muscles takes much longer than just rolling out one).
3. Eccentric movements need more recovery
The eccentric movement of an exercise is much more demanding on muscle fibers than the concentric movement.
So if you train exercises with a heavy eccentric component (like slow squats), expect to need more recovery time than concentric only exercises (like snatches). And check out this refresher if you need to review which movement is which.
Typically, women will need more recovery time than men. Now researchers aren’t really sure why – but here’s the theory: Men have higher inflammatory markers after they train. These signals tell the brain that there’s significant damage and something needs to be repaired. Because men have higher signals, the brain recognizes this as a big problem and sends help to recover the muscles faster.
In women with lower inflammatory signals, it’s almost as if the brain puts the repair on the back burner because the damage doesn’t appear as severe. So sorry women, you’re muscles typically take longer to recover.
Newbies to fitness will need much more recovery time than those experienced trainees. When you’re just starting a fitness program, you’ll likely start moving muscles in new ways (and find muscles you didn’t even know you had). Because your muscles are being introduced to a brand new stimulus, your body will have to figure out how to repair the damage. And that means more time to recover.
A harder workout requires a harder recovery. The more intensity you train with, the more muscle damage you will sustain.
And finally – stress. Training is a form of stress on the body. But the more stress you have in the rest of your life, the longer your body will take to recover from your fitness training. When you have high stress in your relationships, career, or other areas of your life, you train your body to live in a chronic fight or flight mode. Fight or flight is good to protect us in emergencies – our joints tighten and our muscles stiffen in case we need to protect ourselves against something dangerous. But when you are trained to live in this survival mode, it’s damaging to your body’s natural movements. Not only does it increase the risk of injury while you workout (because it automatically decreases your mobility) but it makes it harder to recover your muscles. More energy is reserved to protect your body from the assumed danger instead of being devoted to repairing the damage in your muscles. So if your life is extra stressful, plan for extra time and energy on recovery.
So back to the original question…
How much time do you need to devote to recovery? It depends.
I know all of this info doesn’t give you a clear answer on how much focus and attention you need to dedicate to recovery. The most important thing is to listen to your body. If you’re struggling to move comfortably and the warm-up still doesn’t help loosen your body and tight or stiff muscles, then you may need to take more time to recover the damage and let your body heal. Do what feels best, but don’t let yourself get too comfortable. Sometimes it’s okay to push through the soreness!
Did you miss the pre-cursor to this article? Check it out by clicking below.
We give you the easy steps for how to recover – because like we said before, time isn’t the only way to recover: