Working out is a great way to stay in shape and improve your overall health. Through routine exercise and regular physical activity, you can effectively reduce your risk of developing chronic issues while also promoting a better quality of life.
Working out can improve your health by placing good stressors on your body that cause it to adapt and become stronger and more resilient. Your circulation, bones, and muscles can be positively impacted through exercise.
While exercise poses many benefits to your overall health and wellness, having periods of rest is important to ensure your body has the time it needs to recover and heal. While these periods of rest can seem like an inconvenience, especially when you are passionate about your fitness, it is important to remind yourself that they are necessary.
Below is a deeper look into what happens to muscles during the workout, why you need rest, how much rest do you need, and ways to help assist your recovery. With this knowledge, you will be equipped to fully understand the importance of rest periods and know of ways you can help support your body through this important process.
What happens to muscles during a workout?
Muscles are a unique tissue type within the human body. Unlike connective, nervous, and epithelial tissue, muscle tissue is capable of facilitating large movements. While muscle requires the other tissues to move the body, the muscle cells are the only ones that actually facilitate motion. Muscles are found throughout the body and include the typical skeletal muscle as well as cardiac muscle in the heart, and smooth muscles that are found in the circulatory and digestive system.
When dealing with a workout, the main muscle type of concern is the skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle is attached to bones through tendons. Typically muscles have attachment points across joints. The attachment of each end to a different bone is what allows for movement. With hundreds of muscles in the human body, it can allow the body to move in many different and complex ways. If you take the simple action of walking and were to observe the muscles that are utilized, it may be surprising to see that dozens of muscles are utilized for each step.
During a workout, your muscles contract to move your body. What differs in a workout is that you manipulate the amount of force needed to make that movement possible. Increasing the resistance that each muscle needs to contract against is the main point of a muscle training workout.
When resistance is added to a muscle that is contracting it leads to micro-tears within the muscle. While micro-tears may seem bad, they are a part of muscle growth. Once you are done with your workout the body gets to work repairing these tears and building them back stronger than before. Essentially during a muscle training workout, you are performing controlled muscle tears to improve your strength in the long run.
Why do your muscles need rest?
While working out can be a great way for you to blow off steam, it is important that you schedule periods of rest. If you workout on a daily basis you are constantly introducing micro-tears to your muscles. In order for your body to grow stronger, time needs to be set aside for it to successfully mend and repair these tears.
A great way to think about your muscles is to think about a city that has an earthquake. While some houses are destroyed, the ones that are built back are stronger and better able to handle another earthquake. If earthquakes are occurring on a regular basis, there is no time that would allow construction to begin on new developments. In this analogy, the buildings are analogous to your muscle cells and the earthquakes represent a workout. Giving your figurative city the time it needs to rebuild is necessary to allow your hard work in the gym to pay off and make you stronger.
How long do muscles need to recover?
The amount of rest your body needs largely depends on how vigorous your workout was, your fitness level, and how long your worked out for. The main aspects that dictate how long a recovery will take is the extend of the tears imposed upon the muscle and the amount of glycogen stores that have been depleted. The more tears that are present, the more time it will take to repair. The more glycogen utilized, the more time your body needs to replenish them.
This can be evident with people who push through soreness and continue to workout. After they have worked through their soreness, they will typically require longer rest periods to properly heal.
Another aspect to consider is the type of workout that was conducted. Typically cardio is less intense on your muscles and individuals can typically have shorter recovery times as muscles are less strained. Weight training on the otherhand introduces large amounts of tears which requires time and bodily resources to repair.
For the vast majority of people, taking a rest day every other day is a great starting point. If you are more advanced, you may be able to spend more time and effort working out, but the amount of rest you get should be proportional to the amount of work you put in. Implementing rest into your workout is a great way to ensure you get the most out of your workouts. By giving your muscles the time to rest and recover, you are able to effectively promote muscle growth and help prevent potential injury.
Ways that you can help your body’s recovery
While there is no substitute for setting aside time for rest, there are things that you can do to help your body in the recovery process. The best way to think about ways you can help recovery is to imagine ways that you can support your muscles to be more efficient with there time.
Ways you can support muscle recovery include increasing fluid flow across the muscle and increasing availability of micro nutrients. Below is a more detailed look at specific ways that you can help support your recovery following a workout.
When people think of recovery days, images of sitting and relaxing most likely come to mind. While this can work for some, there is emerging evidence that a technique known as active recovery can be more effective in recovery.
Active recovery is essentially utilizing your rest day and performing a low intensity activity. Yoga, walking, or stretching are some examples of active recovery exercises. The thought behind active recovery is that it isn’t really introducing further damage, but is promoting blood flow to the areas that need to recover.
Increasing blood flow to recovering tissues helps promote healing and is one of the reasons why the body initiates inflammation in the event of an actual injury. Increasing blood flow allows for a better exchange of materials into and out of cells. For cells that are actively recovering this is extremely effective as they have all the tools they need for repair at there disposal thanks to increased fluid flow.
Massage or heat
Massages are a great addition to any recovery. Not only are they relaxing and feel good, but massages can also promote increased blood flow. As stated previously, increasing blood flow to areas that are actively recovering can be beneficial because the nutrients and building blocks in the blood can more effectively be utilized by the cells that need them.
Pairing a massage with the application of heat like taking a hot bath can further increase blood flow in the body and can help supercharge your recovery. With blood vessels dilated and blood flowing effectively, your muscles are given the nutrients and oxygen they need to heal and grow.
Supplements are a great way to ensure that you are receiving all of the micro nutrients your body needs to function at its very best. For muscle recovery, supplements are extremely helpful because there are some micro nutrients that are extremely difficult to acquire through diet alone.
MitoQ is a great example of a supplement that can help support your body at a cellular level. MitoQ is a unique CoQ10 molecule that is able to be directly implemented into the membrane of the mitochondria. The mitochondria is a structure found in nearly every cell in your body that converts oxygen and glucose into usable energy for the cell. While this process is vital, it results in the production of reactive oxygen species which are neutralized by antioxidants like CoQ10. When CoQ10 levels are decreased, it can result in a decrease in mitochondrial efficiency and energy available to the cell.
Muscle recovery is an energy intensive process. Taking MitoQ is a great way to support your muscular mitochondria and allow these cells to have all the energy resources they need.
In summary, your body needs recovery days if you are regularly working out. Working out introduces microtears that need time to be repaired. For most people two to three rest days is a good starting point. These days of rest do not need to be entirely idle as there are numerous ways that you can help support your recovery like increasing fluid flow across the muscle and increasing availability of micro nutrients.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.