While working out has its perks, it’s not always the most…well, exciting experience. Regardless of the type of exercise you’ve chosen, the whole process takes a toll on your body and muscles. Well, it’s all for a good cause, right?
Here’s a fun fact: Your muscles don’t get any larger or stronger when you’re lifting weights. It’s when you’re resting that the magic happens, and your muscles repair themselves into better and stronger versions. Whether you want a more sculpted physique or just to lose some weight, it’s important you let your muscles recover. Why? Let’s find out.
What Is Muscle Recovery, And Why Is It Necessary?
Rest days and recovery periods are things that you’re sure to come across in fitness circles. However, what do they entail, and why all this fuss about them?
See, when you work out, a lot of stretching and contraction happens in your muscles and tissues around them. This ultimately creates tears and breaks down muscle tissues, which is normal, so there’s no need to be alarmed.
Eventually, when you start resting, the synthesis and biochemical repair process enable your muscles to rebuild and regenerate. This is what is known as muscle recovery, and it results in stronger and larger muscles. This period is crucial for your body whenever you’re on a workout regimen.
Exercising continuously with no rest between workout sessions could be counterproductive to your cause. Your performance will most likely reduce, and by extension, your progress and output will decrease.
Read More: What To Do On Rest Days: 5 Best Ways To Stimulate Active Recovery
How Much Time Should You Allow For Muscle Recovery?
Now you know what muscle recovery is and why it’s important to make time for it. The only question is, how much time should you allow for muscle recovery?
The duration for muscle recovery varies based on several factors, including: Type of workout, nutrition, sleep cycle, age, and groups of muscles being worked on. For instance, the muscle recovery time over 50 age group will be longer than the more energetic 20’s age group.
That being said, how much time for muscle recovery should be allowed for optimal results? Next, we look at some of the most common exercises and their recommended muscle recovery time.
So, how much time needed for muscle recovery after a marathon or sprint is sufficient? First off, running utilizes the same muscle groups in every workout session. What will, therefore, determine how long you should rest is the intensity and duration of your exercise. It’s recommended that beginners rest for about a day between runs.
The terrain can also influence your rest duration because of the factor of stress involved. An uphill terrain will put extra stress on your muscles, necessitating the need for more rest.
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How long your recovery time here is, depends on which muscle groups you were working on and your weight-lifting schedule. Large muscle groups like your thighs often need more recovery time compared to smaller muscles.
Some bodybuilders usually alternate between their upper body and lower body on different days. However, sports experts recommended 48 hours of rest before working the same group of muscles again. You should always listen to your body, though, when you’re working out. If you feel fatigued, don’t overtrain, as you will be putting yourself at risk of getting injuries.
All these, however, are just general guidelines. You should work with your fitness instructor to develop a muscle recovery time chart that best suits you.
The American Council on Exercise recommends a minimum rest of 48 hours for high-intensity workouts. For the lower intensity exercises, the recommended period is 24 hours in between workout sessions.
It’s important to note that the time for muscle recovery after workouts is different from recovery time from workout injuries. For instance, a pulled bicep muscle recovery time can last between 1-2 weeks for mild injuries, even longer for severe ones. On the other hand, pulled calf muscle recovery time can take anywhere between 3 days to 6 weeks.
That said, you should also listen to your body. At some point, you need to stop worrying about what is the optimal muscle recovery time and just listen. Don’t push it past its limit and if you get exhausted, stop and rest!
For some people, these timelines may not be the most ideal. If that’s the case, you’re left wondering, “ how can I speed up muscle recovery times.” We find out how in the section.
How To Speed Up Muscle Recovery?
Muscle recovery after a workout is a natural process that will occur on its own if given enough time. For one reason or the other, you may want to speed up this process. Maybe you run a tight ship, and you need to be back in mint condition as soon as you can.
Below are a few things you could do to help fasten this process:
Take Healthy Recovery Foods
Rest periods can be tempting in their rights. It’s at this time that your mind will start wandering toward junk food. As good as that idea may sound, you should do everything possible not to give in.
When you exercise, you use up your energy reserves. Replenishing the used-up energy stores fastens your muscle recovery and repair time. A diet including high-quality protein and carbs should do the trick.
Get Some Quality Sleep
Sleep is essential when it comes to growth. During this time, your muscles heal and repair themselves even faster. The more you exercise, the more sleep you’ll need.
This research suggests that sleep deprivation can affect muscle recovery. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body’s inflammation reaction is significantly distorted. Also, sleep deprivation can interfere with the production of hormones that help in muscle growth (2).
Read More: How To Recover From Overtraining And Why Skipping Rest Days Isn’t The Answer
Try Contrast Water Therapy
This therapy involves submerging yourself in very cold water and very warm water in alternate periods. The fluctuation in temperature triggers dilation and contraction of your blood vessels while changing your heart rate.
This study concluded that contrast water therapy could help reduce muscle soreness post-workout (1). The results, however, were limited and best suited for athletes.
Your muscles’ ability to repair themselves is adversely affected when you’re dehydrated. It only gets worse if you’ve been working out in hot or humid conditions. You should ensure you drink between 16-24 ounces of fluids for every pound you drop when exercising (3).
Try Tart Cherry Juice
Studies indicate that tart cherry juice can help reduce inflammation, muscle soreness, and damage after exercising (4). It then follows that drinking it during your rest periods can fasten the muscle recovery process. Further research is still required to understand its effect fully, but several studies published to date appear promising.
Do you know how you’re always told to watch your diet and keep it balanced? Well, the same thing applies to exercise. Everyone eventually wants to see the fruits of their efforts. The only way that happens is by striking a balance between exercise and recovery.
Sufficient muscle recovery times will help your muscles rebuild and repair themselves before the next session. This will result in stronger and larger muscles that’ll increase your overall performance and efficiency. So the next time you’re taking a break, make sure you get just enough of it.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Contrast Water Therapy and Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2013, nih.gov)
- Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Acute Skeletal Muscle Recovery after Exercise (2020, journals.lww.com)
- Exercise and Fluid Replacement (2013, journals.lww.com)
- Powdered tart cherry supplementation demonstrates benefit on markers of catabolism and muscle soreness following an acute bout of intense lower body resistance exercise (2014, nih.gov)