You’re nailing your training. Hitting the gym hard, knocking back the protein shakes like they’re going out of fashion and feeling rather smug with your commitment to the #gainz.
But. Everything is sore. You feel like the slightest upset will reduce you to tears and crawling out of bed is even harder than usual. Ok, maybe you’re quite busy at the moment so you might be a little tired, but those strength and fitness gains you are chasing so hard are just not happening. You might be missing one key piece of the jigsaw…rest.
When we are trying to improve our fitness, strength or doing anything that changes our body, we use the principle of overload. This is when you push your body to that point where changes have to happen, but it does also involve the damage of muscles in order for them to grow.
The muscle fibres in the area you have been training become damaged, which then signals the need for repair. As well as just repairing the muscle fibres, the process usually increases the amount of cells in one fibre and as result of these new cells, the size of the muscle fibre increases. This tends to be the goal of most people that take part in resistance training, whether developing new muscle is for aesthetic or functional reasons, we usually want the muscle to grow and become stronger.
The process that uses protein to develop these muscle fibres stays elevated for up to 24 hours after the training session you have done, so it is vital the body has access to the nutrients it requires for repairing the muscles fibres, but also enough rest time to do it.
There are various systems in the body that become fatigued when we train; the central nervous system is often forgotten but plays a crucial role in connecting the brain and the body. A good training program usually works one area of the body, then a different area next time you train, this is a good way of avoiding overtraining the muscles. For example, if you train your quads 3 days in a row, they are not going to have had chance to recover between these sessions and you run the risk of over training. However, the central nervous system tells the muscles in the whole of the body when to contract, not just a specific area, so if you are stacking your workouts up and not giving it chance to recover, you may start to feel weak, slower and tired. Plenty of sleep is one of the best solutions to helping the CNS repair, but you also need to think about the amount of rest between sessions…the harder you are training, the more rest you will need.
In terms of muscle fatigue, it can take anywhere from 48 to 96 hours for your muscles to repair (depending on the intensity of your workout), so if you are not allowing adequate recovery time, your muscles aren’t going to be able to work their magic.
Diet obviously plays a massive part in the recovery process so should always match the intensity of your training. It makes me sad when people use exercise as a form of punishment for what they have eaten, rather than a way of practising self-care. Punishing your body by not providing the fuel it needs post exercise is only going to trigger the start of various negative processes including sending your body into a catabolic state. Use your training to show yourself some love, make your body feel strong and energised, not battered and depleted!
If you feel like you might be over training, chill. Take some time for yourself and give your body the rest it deserves! You are not going to undo all your hard work from a few days off, more likely you’ll see some improvements next time you train!