How often we need to train our muscles is a frequently discussed topic.
There are certain processes that govern our body. And that our body goes through after physical training.
Having a better knowledge and understanding of the phases that our body goes through can help us in understanding more about its recovery and how to further improve our strength and size. Even if you are not after muscles mass, but rather loosing weight those same principles apply to you too and you can benefit from them.
Table of Contents:
Training, Recovery, and Supercompensation
Although each stage can vary significantly depending on a lot of individual factors. The training phases are generally separated into 4 stages:
- Stage 1 – Tiredness and fatigue after training 1-2 hours depending on the intensity
- Stage 2 – Recovery period of 24-48 hours during which our body recovers after the training session.
- Stage 3 – Super-compensation of 36-72 hours.
- Stage 4 – Return to normal strength levels 3-7 days if no training occurred during the previous stage.
Training and Recovery
When we train our muscle fibers get damaged. In response to that our body starts healing them. During that recovery period our muscles feel fatigued, sore and their strength lowers.
In about 36 to 72 hours our muscles recover to their previous strength levels. Data from several studies on the topic show that there are some differences between men and women when it comes to recovery time. For men the generally advisable time frame for the next workout is after 48 hours. Whereas in women the strength recovery time can go as low as 24 hours.
Interestingly enough in one study focusing on bench pressing showed that women were able to recover from fatigue much faster and maintain their strength levels in as low as 4 hours post workout.
Overtraining or Underrecovery?
Sometimes I hear people talk about over-training as a some sorts of a myth or something that never happens.
And to some extent that is true some people never reach that state.
But for a lot others it is a reality especially if you are pushing yourself hard enough.
It can be considered training too much or just not recovering good enough.
But the facts are facts.
After a resistance training or any workout that is intense enough our body goes into a recovery mode. Where it needs to heal back. Through rest and protein synthesis our body is filling up the depleted nutrients in it, healing the created micro-tears in the muscles, and returning to the normal state of operating.
If we train again while our body is in that recovery state further shocking the nervous system and the muscles we will ultimately do more harm than good. That’s why training one muscle for 2 or more days in a row is not going to provide good long-turn results. On the contrary it has been shown to lower the strength, performance, and the time for recovery.
It has been shown that training one muscle 3 days in a row compromises strength and the resulting weakness from the over-training can last for at least as much (3 days).
All things considered.
Knowing that over-training can happen is important. Especially if we want to maintain a constant progress with our training and avoid injuries due to overuse. This is training smart and this will lead to longer periods of uninterrupted physical training, better adaptation and higher vitality.
However as we all know every coin has two sides.
And that’s the case here.
Following the recovery there is another period during which our muscles’ strength increases above the previous levels in a way to adapt and prepare for another similar training.
On the other corner we are facing supercompensation.
So what that is, giving you the TL;DR version, is a period of time where our body is prepared for more intense physical training and has a better strength and performance levels than before.
Resting too much before our next training session will mean we will slowly revert back to our old strength levels. This applies for both training in general and for training each individual muscle.
A Balancing Act
Unfortunately both the overtraining and supercompensation in fitness and sports are oftentimes not given the attention they deserve. Well that is until something goes wrong. Over-training is still a bit more frequently talked about whereas supercompensation is rarely if at all discussed.
We have a window in which if we hit our muscles again we would gain the best results. Essentially bringing up the levels of our strength up over the long term.
What All That Means For Us
We want supercompensation to occur and train in that period of time so that we can eventually increase our base strength levels.
This is part of the reason that some studies show that training your muscles 2 times or even 3 times a week is showing better results than training them once every 7 days.
A lot of the old time bodybuilders were great proponents of training 3 days a week doing full-body workouts. Maybe it is not a mere coincidence that some of the greatest bodies of all time were built on a such training routines.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the onset of the super-compensation can be delayed with age.
In a study that was done in the span of 11 years with one athlete. Studying the data each 5 years. It was shown that first year the peak performance was achieved after 60 hours, 75 hours in the next study, and 88 hours in the last study.
The training intensity, volume, and frequency must be well balanced during your training sessions as to induce enough fatigue.
If the workout is too easy and it doesn’t produce high enough levels of fatigue the effects diminish ans the supercompensation is a lot smaller in return.
On the other hand having too much of an intense workout will make the recovery period longer. The chances of training in the state of recovery are higher and this will lead to poorer performance and eventual overtraining.
Important thing to consider is that super-compensation occurs at different times for the different parts of our body. The rate of recovery is different. Even some of the muscles can have different recovery time-frames.
This is not an exact science. However, the guidelines that we can follow are that the fatigue period is 3 times shorter than the period that is optimal for another training. In other words if the fatigue after training lasts for 24 hours we would have increased benefit of training the same muscles again up to 72 hours. That would mean hitting the same muscles every 4th and 7th day. Although with higher intensity workouts a longer rest periods might be needed.
A sort of a balancing act, sometimes more of an art than anything else.
However, creating a training routine around those principles outlined here will certainly give you better results, better health, better performance, and more energy. And not to forget avoiding the injuries that are associated with training too much or RSI.
Repetitive Strain Injury, a.k.a. Occupational Overuse Syndrome can be found with athletes, gym goers and generally speaking people that do any kind of resistance training. Repeated use and overuse of the same muscles and joints without allowing them to recover leads to inflammation and injuries.
This will keep you training and enjoying better health for a lot longer than the rest.
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- Sex differences in human skeletal muscle fatigue.
- Neuromuscular fatigue and recovery in male and female athletes during heavy resistance exercise.
- Neuromuscular fatigue in males and females during strenuous heavy resistance loading.
- Possibility of Delay in the Super-Compensation Phase due to Aging in Jump Practice
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- Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men)
- The Effect of Recovery Time on Strength Performance Following a High-Intensity Bench Press Workout in Males and Females
- Vladimir Zatsiorsky and William Kraemer, Science and Practice of Strength Training Second Edition.
- Effects of consecutive days of exercise and recovery on muscle mechanical function.
- Recovery from training: a brief review: brief review.