When stress is applied to the body, the strength cycle begins. Here, stress refers to the weight you lift during a training session. It can also refer to all the other stressors in your life: a new job, finals, a break up etc. But for our discussion, we will focus on the training session. Immediately following your training session, your body begins the process of repairing itself, or recovering from the stress it just experienced. Once the body has recovered, it is now adapted to handle that same stress in a more efficient manner. For the strength athlete, we will add a little more weight at the next training session, just a little above what the body has adapted to, in order to force another recovery/adaptation cycle. It is through this continual strength cycle that we see consistent and objective gains in strength.
Stress + Recovery = Adaptation
The nature of the training stress is what receives the most attention from virtually most people (what exercises to do, what’s the latest workout fad, are machines better than free weights etc). However, once we understand the strength cycle, we begin to realize the crucial role that recovery plays in getting us stronger. But doesn’t recovery just mean inserting a rest day in between sessions?? Yes, allowing at least 48 hrs between training sessions is crucial for recovery, but we must ensure that a few items are adhered to in order to be fully rested, adapted and capable of handling our next strenuous session. Here are the top three criteria that need to be met in order for recovery to occur:
Rest: Make sure you are getting enough sleep. 7-8 hrs a night is a fairly accepted started point. Many people take advantage of short cat-naps (10-15 mins) throughout the day if needed. Quality of sleep is critical too, and things like too much alcohol or caffeine can interfere with sleep cycles. If good sleep is something you struggle with, there are plenty of articles/books devoted to this, so take advantage.
Nutrition: The vast majority of people who start a strength program don’t eat enough. This is counter intuitive these days, but a demanding training regimen requires fuel to build, grow and improve. Exceptions to this are overweight or obese trainees, and your coach can help you with those diet modifications. Most people are pleasantly surprised that their physique improves even with increased calories – both men and women included. At least 1 gram of protein per body weight is the starting point (150 lb person = 150 grams protein). If you have trouble meeting this amount, whole milk and perhaps a quality whey protein drink are two easy ways to sneak in protein. The rest of your diet should consist of moderate carbs and vegetables. Fad “diets” for the purpose of losing weight are not advised for the general trainee, and usually hinder weight room performance.
Limit other Stressors: For those of us over 40, other unnecessary training methods should be avoided wherever possible. When training for strength, it should be the number one priority for at least a certain amount of time to make the most gains possible. Running a 5K or grinding out Crossfit WoDs 3x per week while engaging in a grueling strength program will only result in not progressing in either endeavor. Even though they may be different training modalities, stress is stress, and the body needs enough of a break in order to improve. The exception to this rule would be athletes who have mandatory practices. In this case, your strength coach will manage your training volume appropriately, to ensure your training does not interfere with your sport and vice versa. And although we can’t always control the emotional turmoil that life will throw at us, it’s always a good idea learn ways to deal with anxieties, depression, resentments etc. This would be good advice for anyone, but for the strength athlete, they are gains killers. Meditation, deep breathing, journaling, counseling, massage, sauna and talking with supporting loved ones are coping strategies that quickly come to mind, but by no means an exhaustive list.
And now that we have an appreciation for recovery, let’s go train!!
Greg is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, PNL1 Nutrition Coach and pretty groovy cat. That has a blog.