Power, muscle size, lifting more, speed, contractions, are some of the first things you may think of when it comes to athletic performance. But there is something else that can improve all of these and without it you will never reach your full potential. It is recovery. Being active with your recovery can improve all of these attributes.
Muscle soreness can be extreme in the days after a workout. If you have been out of the gym for a while, the thought of the lactic acid soreness the days after you train is enough to scare you off getting back in.
I took 3 weeks off legs recently and i done the sensible manly thing as usual. I went in to the gym with the full-on intention of "going light".
Whilst I did not break and records in terms of lifting heavy, I did far too much volume. Not only did I do far too much volume, but I actually worked my muscles to failure. With multiple sets.
You'd think I'd learn at my age, but at least you get the benefit of not repeating my mistakes. The sorest part for me was my calves. They got extremely sore 2 days after my workout.
At night in bed I couldn't get comfortable. My calves felt closed to cramping and I was scared to death they were going to cramp in the night. I think I would rather be shot than to have another extreme calf cramp.
I have had 2 or 3 over the years, and if you have ever had one I know you feel my pain. So I could hardly walk down the stairs for the next few days as my quads, hams and calf muscles were so tight.
I was even getting pain in my knees as I didn't have a full range of movement in my legs.
I settled the matter a bit with some hamstring stretches, foam rolling would also have helped, but I'll be honest here, I couldn't be bothered. I was off on holidays with the kids and I decided to push through the pain.
I went back in the gym a week later and made sure I added some foam rolling in as my pre-workout warm up.
BTW if you want to start your muscle repair and recovery phase as quick as possible, read our article on how the right cooldown music can get you into this zone much quicker.
I was also the victim of science, in particular a phenomenon known as Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS). This actually refers to the amplified pain I was feeling which got progressively worse 2 days after my training session.
The Science Behind DOMS
Like a lot of things in science what causes delayed onset muscle soreness is based on a theory. It is thought that eccentric muscle contractions (negative or lowering portion of rep) eventually lead onto doms. It all starts will an action, which leads to an opposite reaction, caused by various physiological and chemical reactions.
I am a big fan of lowering the weight for longer than I raise it as I have heard multiple times that the muscle is built, or rather more muscle is built in this part of the rep. Now science more or less confirms it.
It makes more sense anyway, you are fighting against gravity, so as you lower the EZ bar in bicep curls, fight against the urge to drop the weight, slow it down and take all momentum out of the rep. One of the pinnacles of bodybuilding is time under tension. So why not use this to your advantage, place your muscles under tension for longer, and at the same time make them work harder?
Forget about the weight, there are plenty of guys who will lift 200 pounds more than you on the bench press, but you can develop a more balanced and scultped chest, to the best of your genetic ability, with proper technique and more time under tension.
On the bench press the technique side involves taking out the shoulders, and triceps to a certain degree, by keeping your shoulders back (a thinner bench aids this greatly) as this stretches the pecs. Squeeze the elbows together as you raise the weight.
It also involves lowering the weight for longer, taking out all momentum and as soon as the weight is lowered to your chest, exploding to the top. Work the muscle not your ego.
One of my great beliefs in bodybuilding is- get more from each rep. Build more quality muscle in less time. Unless you are doing super slow which I also am a fan of (not many people are as it is too tough- wimps!) , lower the bar for 4 seconds, and raise it for 2. This is just an example you adjust to suit.
Eccentric exercises lengthen the muscle, the muscle also contracts in the eccentric phase, the contractions cause it to restrict so you can apply force, lift the weight, move the body part in a certain angle. Once you exhaust the muscle as you do in bodybuilding by performing reps to failure or close to it, this produces micro tears in muscle fibers.
Eccentric contractions appear to cause more damage than concentric or positive contractions, most likely since muscles fibers tear more easily once they are stretched and put under a load, in this case by weights.
As you perform exercises habitually in a bodybuilding routine your body will have to adapt to the constant load you are requiring it to lift. To do this the body will then build more muscle or rather bigger and stronger muscles, to accommodate the newfound stress you are asking it to deal with.
That is why bodybuilding works in a linear fashion. You gradually progress by adding more weight, more reps, or making the reps harder by slowing down on the negative, by performing more negatives, or by taking less time between sets.
Doms are a direct result of the muscle damage you sustain from the micro tears that occur as you overburden your muscles. Once you try a new training routine, or a new exercise, or even worse take a lay off from the gym, and then go back months or even weeks later, well just try training legs and go super light, compared to what you are used to.
You just may have trouble climbing up and down the stairs for the next 3-5 days....and be a massive grumpy pain in the butt to be around. Welcome to the world of doms. A whole new world of pain.
Serious Aspects Of Training Recovery
If you are training for more serious goals than I was of late, there are some spectacular scientific reasons that you should be aware of, of why you should make recovery an essential part of your training intelligence.
- If you can improve your recovery ratio you can boost your training volume and intensity. If you are in a training cycle you can up the ante each week until you reach your peak training amplitude. Faster recovery aids you here by getting your body ready in time for your next training session.
According to Phil Bishop who has published papers on Strength & Conditioning & Recovery:
The training stimulus can be considered as a challenge to the organism, as it disturbs homeostasis [10,29] from a physical perspective, and typically elicits a catabolic responseresearchgate
Other Ways To Enhance Recovery
Cold Water Therapy
Seen the footage of Floyd Mayweather or anyone in the fight game taking an ice bath after a fight or a sparring session? Even tennis players like Andy Murray have added this into their training system.
Immersion in ice baths (known as cryotherapy) reduces swelling in the muscles, and lowers inflammation. In the case of professional athletes it helps them recover quicker for the next training session.
Ice is known for it's anti-inflammatory & natural pain relieving properties. That's why it is used as one of the first methods to treat minor soft tissue knocks and injuries with the R.I.C.E. protocol.
If you don't have access to a shed load of ice or hydrotherapy pool a standard pool or a cold shower will be the next best alternative. If you have a load of ice you can fill a barrel with cold water and top it up with ice.
Another technique to apply is contrast water therapy, where you go from extreme cold temperatures to warm temperatures. A shower is the easiest way to do this.
Use BCAA's To Reduce DOMS
Adding branch-chained amino acids to your water supply during a workout is something you can immediately do which doesn't require you to go to any extreme effort, bar shelling out a tenner and adding a scoop to your drink.
BCAA's have been scientifically proven to reduce doms. They will not increase your performance in the gym or eradicate the muscle pain altogether, but they can decrease the pain.
Power lifting legend Andy Bolton thought you don't have to go so extreme. He would walk 1 length of his local swimming pool after a hard weight lifting session as he thought the water itself could sooth the muscles and speed up their rehabilitation.
Stretching At The End Of Your Workout
Stretching is one way to keep you lithe and nimble. If you have restricted range of motion in your muscles and they are tense it is easier for them to develop knots and in some cases even tear.
You just have to be careful not to over do it as extreme stretching can not only tear the muscles, but also damage bones and ligaments. Light stretching in combination with foam rolling can loosen up knots in the muscle and aid to reduce DOMS. If you are in extreme discomfort days after you work out, hop on the foam roller.
Foam Rolling Helps Loosen Up Muscles
Foam rolling can ease lactic acid and if you suffer from this it will probably kick in worse a few days after you train a particular muscle group. Rolling the area can loosen up tight muscles, which ironically will make your muscle pain more painful.
Foam rolling is also thought to flush lactic acid toxins out of the body as the skin gets a vigorous massage and blood circulates at a faster rate to the rolled area.
A deep tissue massage can get into those areas where a foam roller can't. If you have scar tissue from previous injuries, or wear and tear, a deep massage can loosen up those bulges.
In the days after a workout a massage can help alleviate muscle soreness.
Research like this shows that some of the best ways to alleviate doms is via massage, foam rolling, water therapy, and even the right music can reduce the inflammation and pain.
Hot Baths Dilate Blood Vessels
It's not all about extreme measures or Artic cold baths. Hot water has been proven to relax tired and aching muscles. Ice is good for extreme inflammation, but if you are extremely tired and your muscles are aching one of the easiest ways to help is with a hot bath.
Hot water opens up the blood vessels which helps blood circulate more easily. Once this happens your muscles become more supple, and the other thing that happens in a warm bath is that it allows the mind to relax.
A relaxed mind is ideal if you want to relax your body.