Rest to Recover, Recover to Grow
If building muscle is your goal, then you must consistently place them under stress. The best way to do this is by lifting weights. As your muscles adapt to the weight though, the novelty wears off. To keep building muscle, you must keep slowly increasing weight or repetitions.
Yet one aspect of this equation that routinely gets forgotten is the importance of rest and recovery. We live in a culture where we are led to believe that more is always better. But through years of personal trial and error, I can tell you that such is not always the case. And in certain cases, less is more.
The soreness you feel the two days after a workout is the result of little tears, called micro trauma, caused to the muscle tissue. When you rest, your body is given the chance to recover and repair this damaged tissue. The nutrients from your diet are broken down and used to build the muscles back up, leading to bigger, stronger muscles over time. Yet if you continue to train without allowing the body to recover, you will be over taxing already fatigued muscles.
This can lead to bigger muscle tears and even complete tears of the tissue. At this point you will be in a decent amount of pain, making whatever training activity you were doing unbearable. In essence, because you didn’t give your body the rest it needed, it found its own way to rest. But instead of taking one or two days off, you are forced to rest for much longer.
The trick is to find the least amount of training to elicit the greatest response. The time outside of the gym allows you to focus on other factors that will positively help your training.
So if you are really all about those gains, train hard and recover even harder. Make sure you are aiming for 9 hours of sleep, eating as many vegetables as you can (6-8 servings/day) and performing any soft tissue work (foam rolling) that your sore muscles may need.
Sleep is the most important factor in recovery as this is when the body releases anabolic (muscle building) hormones such as HGH and testosterone. The longer you sleep, the more you are exposed to these muscle-building compounds. Sleep also is when the Central Nervous System reboots. A well-rested CNS allows for faster nerve impulses, allowing your brain to think more clearly and your muscles to fire faster and harder, improving your speed, strength and reaction time. All good things if you are an athlete.
Nutrition also plays a very large role. Focus on eating 6-8 servings of vegetables a day to ensure that your body is getting all the vitamins and minerals it needs to operate at maximum efficiency.
Finally, practicing soft tissue work ensures that muscle fibers are maintaining their elasticity, as the body lays down new collagen over the tears in the old muscle fibers. It also thought that soft tissue work brings blood flow to the area, which helps to speed up the recovery time.