Creating a great training program is not just a matter of writing tough, high-quality workouts. Almost anybody can do that.
High quality work is a double-edged sword. It can lead you to your highest possible level of fitness, or it can destroy your ability to produce top performances.
Doing too much hard training can devastate your muscles, harass your hormonal system, and implode your immune system. That means to create your best possible training program you have to figure out a way to do as much quality training as possible during a given time period – without doing too much work.
You’re looking for the right balance of hard work and recovery, and that’s the challenging problem in putting together the right training program.
You must figure out a way to complete a strenuous training session, one which will produce the needed improvements in your fitness, and then recover for just the right amount of time before undertaking another quality training session.
If you don’t recover for long enough, your muscles won’t be ready for the subsequent session, and muscle damage will occur.
If you recover for too long, you’re wasting your time. Instead of carrying out another fitness boosting workout, you’re taking it easy, thinking that you need to recover.
How Not To Do It
But how can you determine exactly how much recovery you need? Most athletes use a trial and error method. Many of them train hard until they become overly fatigued and then have to take time off to recover.
It’s an inefficient system and one that carries a high risk of overtraining. Other athletes are more cautious, training hard once every three or four days or so because they are afraid to overdo it.
This is also inefficient; these individuals could perform much better if they could fit more quality work into their schedules. What does science have to say about finding the right balance?
Researchers know that the vital aspect of the recovery process occurs in the muscles after an intense workout muscles are slightly damaged.
Damaged structures need to be prepared to prevent more severe damage in the subsequent workouts – and to ensure the next workout can be carried out effectively.
Also, muscle fatigue must disappear; otherwise, the subsequent session will be carried out in a tired state, increasing the risk of injury. In addition to the repair and fatigue-removal processes, things need to be created on the muscles.
More proteins must be laid down so that the muscles can contract more forcefully, and more energy-producing enzymes must be synthesized so that the muscles can work harder without becoming fatigued.
A few years ago, researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Lois made a head start on reckoning recovery times.
Their subjects, six healthy young men who regularly engaged in weight training, carried out four sets each of bicep, concentration, and preacher curls (12 sets in all), with three to four minutes rest between sets.
Resistance (weight) was set at 80 percent of maximum ( 80 percent of the heaviest weight which could be lifted successfully one time), and each set consisted of as many reps as a subject could handle.
The unique aspect of the research was that each subject carried out the curls with only one arm; the other arm rested. The scientists could then use an isotope tracer to determine protein uptake in the exercised arm and compare it with the routine protein synthesis in the unexercised arm.
Combining this research with a similar past effort, the scientists determined that muscle protein synthetic rate increases by about 50 percent four hours after a workout.
This is evidence that muscles are repairing damage accrued from the workout – and also building new stuff to make themselves stronger and more fatigue – resistant.
This repair and renew process seems to peak about 24 hours after a workout when muscle protein synthetic rate was up by a hefty 109 percent in the McMaster Washington research. However, about 36 hours after a workout, the whole process is pretty much over, and muscles are back to routine housekeeping.
It’s important to point out that this study was done with experienced weight trainers; novice lifters might have required a longer recovery process. It’s also important to note that the research was conducted with strength rather than endurance athletes.
Some individuals might be all done recovering after just 30 hours or so, while others could take 40-48 hours.
Still, the McMaster work is intriguing – and has some exciting implications. If 36 hours is about the right recovery time for most athletes, then training could be adjusted accordingly – and in a pattern which most endurance athletes do not employ.
Although much more recovery research needs to be done, it’s safe to say that judicious use of the principle of 36-hour recoveries should help you gradually increase your frequency of quality work – and in the process, make you a better athlete.
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36 Hour Plan
You might carry out a lactate threshold workout early Monday morning. Thirty-six hours later, you would be recovered so that you could do fast, hard intervals at 90-95 percent of maximal heart rate on Tuesday morning.
36 hours after that, you could be ready again so that you might complete some hill work or fast reps on Thursday morning,
By avoiding working out at the same time of day every day and by using the 36-hour principle, you would have completed three good sessions in the Monday through Thursday time slot, instead of your usual two, and yet achieved an excellent recovery ( naturally, you would ensure that your fluid, protein and carbohydrate intake would be high between workouts, especially during the two-hour window following each session.)
Not wishing to push your luck, you could take it easy ( or do nothing)on Friday, and then have a race or long run on Saturday, after a leisurely Sunday, you would be ready to resume your 36-hour plan.
Wanting more precision, serious athletes could have their muscle protein synthesis rates assessed in the laboratory after different workouts and determine their required recoveries after intervals, long runs, reps, tempo efforts, etc. They would then be better able to coordinate their quality effort with their recoveries and layout scientifically should training programs.
References & Acknowledgments
Excerpts taken from the excellent article ‘Recovery Time’, Author – Owen Anderson, FIT BODY magazine