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5 Ways to Promote Muscle Recovery

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It’s believed that the key to reaching your fitness goals is training as hard as possible. While giving your all is important, it’s only half of the equation for workout success. Recovery or muscle restoration is the other (less-practiced) element in achieving ultimate performance.

It’s believed that the key to reaching your fitness goals is training as hard as possible. While giving your all is important, it’s only half of the equation for workout success. Recovery or muscle restoration is the other (less-practiced) element in achieving ultimate performance.

If you want to reach your health and fitness goals, recovering is just as important as the time you spend in the gym. All of that intense training has plenty of benefits for your body and mind, but resting well is essential, too.

In this post, we’ll walk you through seven of our favorite ways to optimize your physical recovery, allowing your muscles the best gains possible in between workouts.

Importance of Muscle Restoration

Hypertrophy – the process by which your muscles get bigger and stronger – doesn’t occur in the gym. Your workouts are the catalyst for hypertrophy as they create tiny tears in your muscles that are then healed (and built up) while you rest.

While working out at high intensity every day might sound like the best way to get bigger, stronger muscles, that usually isn’t the case. Letting your muscles recover gives your muscle tissues time to repair themselves, and the repair process is what works to strengthen those muscles.

Let’s briefly discuss the key reasons why muscle recovery and restoration are so important.

Increasing Strength

To improve in any sport or area of fitness, you need to expose your body to stress. Training activities such as lifting, sprinting, and HIIT, all produce fine tears in your muscle tissues. When you allow your muscles to rest, cells called fibroblasts work to repair them. “And when your body’s tissues — from your muscles and bones to heart and lungs — recover, they become slightly fitter than they were before,” explains Adam Rivadeneyra, MD, a sports medicine physician with the Hoag Orthopedic Institute and the Orthopedic Specialty Institute in California. When you allow for muscle regeneration, you also allow for strength to increase.

Reduce Muscle Fatigue

Carbohydrates in the form of glycogen are stored in your muscles. When you work out, your body breaks down these deposits to provide you with energy. Not only does this help revitalize your energy sources, but it also helps prevent muscle fatigue and soreness. As Melisa Leber, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, puts it, “Rest helps reenergize the body, so you have the stamina to give it your all during your next workout.”

Decrease Chance of Injury

Intentional recovery is vital for staying safe during training. When your muscles are overworked, you are more likely to cause excess strain, which contributes to injury. Overworking typically leads to injuries such as stress fractures, runner’s knee, and muscle strains. Even worse, research from Sports Health indicates that insufficient recovery can lead to reduced immune function, neurological changes, hormonal disturbances, and even depression. Adequate recovery ensures you bypass all of these risks. 

Ways to Improve Recovery

Muscle restoration is critical to any successful training regime. While everyone’s routine varies, here are some practices to help boost your muscle regeneration:

1. Hydrate

If you are dehydrated before a workout, your electrolyte levels are disrupted. This can lead to decreased strength and even dehydration. Research has also shown that consuming a proper amount of water can help increase your endurance and tolerance to pain. Drinking water can restore this hydration, energizing your muscles before, during, and after your workout. Water improves overall performance. It also flushes out toxins released during exercise. So, drink up!

2. Eat protein before and after your workout

Protein serves as the basis of muscle tissue. Protein helps to repair tears caused by exercise stress. It also promotes the production of proteins involved in energy production and supports the revitalization of reduced energy stores. It’s suggested that endurance athletes intake 1.2 to 1.4 g per kilogram of body weight, and resistance and strength-training athletes ingest 1.6 to 1.7 per kilogram of body weight per day. Typically, athletes can reach these daily levels with mindful dietary choices.

3. Get enough sleep

When you are sleeping, your body produces muscle-building hormones, one of the most important being human growth hormone (HGH). During sleep, more blood also flows to your muscles, which supports tissue growth and repair. Relaxation allows the muscles to release stored tension. This muscle restoration occurs exclusively during sleep. Therefore, you must get seven to nine hours of sleep per night to achieve full recovery.

4. Consider incorporating magnesium

During exercise, the body naturally loses electrolytes and trace minerals. One of these minerals is magnesium. With a lack of magnesium, muscles remain in a state of contraction. Many Americans are deficient in this mineral. However, it is quite vital as it relieves muscle soreness and aches after a hard workout. You can get magnesium in many ways: through foods such as bananas and leafy greens, oral supplements, salt baths, and even IV therapy.

5. Incorporate active recovery

During active recovery, you engage in low-intensity, low-impact exercises. These activities increase blood flow and tissue repair, without adding stress to already-worked muscles. Nicole Belkin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University, suggests, “If you’re feeling fatigued from strength training, engage in a lower intensity cardiovascular bike ride or walk, which enables your body to circulate waste products caused by the rigorous activity.” You can also do a gentle yoga class, go for an easy hike, or even do a tai chi class. Anything that allows you to move your body without tiring you out.

6. Rotate Muscle Groups

One of the biggest mistakes that newcomers to the world of fitness often make is working out the same muscle groups multiple days in a row. While you might prefer exercises that engage your back, arms, and shoulders over anything you’d do on leg day, you don’t want to keep doing those same exercises over and over again without allowing those muscle groups to rest.

Seasoned weightlifters typically incorporate some form of muscle group rotation into their workout routines. In most cases, that means setting aside one or two days per week for each major muscle group (but never two days in a row for the same muscles!). There is also typically a day or two devoted to a full break from the gym. On those days, you can practice active recovery by engaging in low-impact exercise.

Rotating muscle groups might sound like a chore, but it’s easier than you think. At its most basic, this recovery practice just involves working out your major muscle groups – back, chest, legs, arms, and core – in a carefully-determined sequence that allows each group to rest for at least a day before engaging them again.

7. Listen to Your Body

One of the most important aspects of a healthy fitness regimen is room for unexpected – but necessary – breaks. Everyone has days with more aches and pains than usual, and there’s no need to feel guilty if you have to postpone your next workout for some extra rest and recovery.

If your last workout was particularly intense, you might need to spend several days on active recovery before you return to the gym for more. This prolonged period of rest might feel frustrating, but your body will thank you for giving it the time to recover that it needs.

Your Recovery Routine

Recovery is imperative for any athlete to increase their workout performance. While everyone’s recovery needs are unique, one thing remains true for all: the harder you train, the greater your need for planned recovery. Through staying in touch with your body, you can begin to understand what muscle restoration habits benefit you most.

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