Frequency, intensity, exercise selection, workout volume, and diet are all factors that you’re probably going to consider when planning your next muscle building routine.
But there’s one hugely important aspect that you also need to think about, that isn’t included in the above list, because it’s so often overlooked.
The bottom line is, your muscles grow when you’re resting, and therefore, getting adequate rest is absolutely vital when you’re looking to get stronger, and pack on the pounds.
Muscle Building Process
Lifting weights causes tiny micro tears in your muscle fibers. This may sound unhealthy, but it’s an essential process for building muscle. As soon as you’ve finished training, provided your nutrition is on point, and you’re consuming an adequate amount of calories, and a suitable proportion of the three macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates and fats, your muscles will start to grow. New muscle tissue grows over the micro tears, expanding the muscle fascia, and making it bigger.
If, however, you fail to rest, and decide instead to train day in, day out, hitting the same muscle groups over and over again, your muscles don’t have time to rebuild, and you compromise growth. In a worst case scenario, your muscles may even get smaller.
People often use the term “Overtraining” to describe how they feel when they’ve been working particularly hard in the gym, and are starting to get slightly weaker, or feel tired and irritable.
This, however, is not overtraining.
Overtraining is very rare, but it does happen. True overtraining occurs when you work yourself into the ground over and over again, often training past failure, doing extra long sessions, not eating properly, and of course – failing to get enough rest.
Overtraining takes months to build up, and will knock you out for quite a while, but fortunately, it isn’t something that most people will suffer from.
However, a milder form of overtraining is known as over-reaching, and this can affect a lot of people. It’s simply caused by doing too much, and not resting enough, and can often occur more rapidly if you are under extra external stresses too. Over-reaching causes you to feel very tired, under the weather, and will cause a drop in performance. Should you feel the onset of this, then take a few days off training, and look over your plan to make sure you have enough rest scheduled.
Inadequate rest can also contribute to an increase in injuries. If you’re training with tired muscles and a fatigued nervous system, you’re more likely to use bad form, and subject yourself to tweaks and injuries.
Simply taking a day off from training is a perfectly acceptable way to rest. However, if you want to take your resting to the next level, and make it even more effective, then try some of the following –
- Stretch. This loosens up tight muscle fibers.
- Go for a sports massage. As with stretching, this helps relieve tightness, but also improves flexibility and mobility and aids with relaxation.
- Perform some light cardiovascular activity such as walking, cycling or swimming, which will flush blood through the muscles, and deliver nutrients and oxygen to them.
- Sleep. Sleeping releases muscle building and mood-boosting hormones, so make sure you get your 8 hours a night.
- Eat. Base your diet around nutrient-dense whole foods such as meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and dairy products. Calories and protein help muscles grow, carbohydrates boost your energy levels, and fats aid with hormone production, so make sure you’re eating enough calories, preferably from healthy foods.