How Neglecting Recovery Affects Your Gains
Most people don’t realise that training is actually a stress to your body and they need to focus more on the recovery from that stress if they want to gain more muscle.
You don’t get stronger in the gym – you get weaker. You break your muscles down. I know your muscles look (and are) bigger at the end of your workout, but that’s just because they get pumped full of blood.
Training is something your body perceives as negative. As you push through those difficult reps, the fibres in your muscles undergo trauma and suffer “micro-tears”.
It’s those reps towards the end of the set where the weight starts to move slowly that do the damage. The ones where you have to really dig in and push through.
Those are also the reps that you need to get in if you want to get stronger from training – but it’s not those reps that are actually making you stronger. They’re just creating the stimulus for your body to get stronger. During recovery is when that actually happens.
We’re still cavemen
Biologically, we’re still pretty much the same as humans 10,000 years ago.
Your body is adapted to survive in a harsh world. It thinks everything is trying to kill you.
A barbell on your back? That’s a boulder trying to crush you.
Pullups? If you don’t climb up those rocks, the tiger will catch you and eat you.
These training stresses cause physical damage to your body on a cellular level (the .
In order to survive, your body must adapt to these stresses and get stronger.
When you create those micro-tears in your muscle fibres you’re telling your body it needs to be stronger to survive.
You don’t get stronger in the gym, you tell your body it needs to get stronger.
You recover and get stronger when you’re not in the gym. You’ve got to rest, sleep and eat to get stronger.
This is a process that you have to allow to happen.
Here’s five ways you could be interfering with it.
1. Too many sets
Provided you’re actually working hard enough to create an adaptation (working close to failure), there isn’t an endless linear relationship between number of sets and growth.
Past a certain point, you’re just creating more stress and damage to recover from.
And this point doesn’t take long to reach.
After the first set, the returns you’re getting are diminishing – rapidly.
After 3-4 sets for a muscle group, anything extra may not be worth it.
In this study 10 sets resulted in worse gains than 5 sets:
2. Training again too soon
You need to allow TIME for recovery to take place. It’s not just an overnight process.
If you train your chest hard, taking your sets close to failure, you’re not going to be fully recovered to do it again the next day.
You’re probably not even fully recovered the day after that.
Recovery takes a bit longer than you think.
In fact, this study showed that only 20% of people were fully recovered 48 hours after a chest session comprising of 12 sets.
The above study also tested older men (50-65) and found that after 72 hours 70% of these men weren’t recovered.
This suggests that as you get older, training volume probably needs to reduce and fewer sets should be taken to failure.
3. Not eating enough, or well enough
Muscles need nutrients. If you’re not taking in quality nutrition, your body is going to struggle to adequately repair itself.
The number one thing you need is protein.
Most people think 1g per lb of their bodyweight is optimal…. But you actually don’t need this much.
This study found that 1.62g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day was the maximum amount – beyond which their was no improvement to muscle hypertrophy.
That’s about 0.73g per lb.
You also need to ensure you’re taking in adequate calories for hypertrophy.
You can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, but this becomes more and more difficult the more advanced you get at training.
4. Not getting enough sleep
Sleep is the PRIME time when your body recovers.
Most of this recovery happens during stages 3 and 4, the deepest stages of sleep.
You’ll cycle through all 4 stages throughout the night – so it’s important you don’t get broken sleep.
You should be targeting at least 7 hours of unbroken sleep.
This study found that hypertrophy was worse for those getting 6 hours or less than those getting 7-8 hours.
If you have the opportunity to consistently get 7-8 hours of sleep, or more, then TAKE IT.
Stop staying up late for no good reason.
I’ve been there and done that. Spending the next day yawning because I stayed up until 3am playing Playstation, or watching pointless YouTube videos in bed.
Try to avoid devices in the last couple of hours before you go to bed.
They don’t help you to sleep well.
Screens emit blue light, which is the same as the light emitted by the sun during the day. We’ve evolved to be awake during this time, and to get sleepy when it changes to reddish/orange light and eventually disappeared.
Sitting with a blue light two inches from your face is going to make it harder to fall asleep, and disrupt your sleep when it does come.
5. Drinking too much alcohol
You should avoid heavy alcohol intake if you want to optimise recovery.
You can probably get away with light to moderate consumption, but proceed with caution.
It can dehydrate you and mess with your sleep. Neither of which are helpful for growing muscle. This study found no reduction in performance between two groups, one drinking alcohol after training, and one not, at 24 and 48 hours post exercise.
You can probably enjoy moderate alcohol consumption – occasionally.
But I don’t do it too regularly – and don’t go over the top. Heavy consumption will impact your results.
Alcohol DOES impact testosterone and HGH secretion the following day, which will affect your muscle building results in the long run.
Martin Berkhan states “A low dose of alcohol for three weeks straight causes only a negligible drop in testosterone, about 6.8 percent.”
“On the other hand, if you’re fixing to get piss drunk with a high dose, you can expect a twenty to forty percent drop in testosterone over the following day.”
When You’ve Got Kids This All Becomes More Important
Young kids will mess with your sleep (I would know). Sometimes it can be a terrible time and you’ll have disrupted and shortened sleep for a year or more (per child).
This will play havoc with your recovery so you’ve really got to optimise the other areas you can.
Kids can also make it pretty difficult to even get workouts in. Your whole approach to fitness might need to change.
That’s what happened to me.
How I kept up my fitness routine as a new dad
My son was a terrible sleeper.
Before, I was getting 7 hours sleep and waking up at 5:30 to go to the gym, then spending 2 hours there before going to work (with changing and showering at a leisurely pace).
After my son was born though, that became impossible.
He was a breastfed baby (it digests faster, so they wake up more for feeding) he had colic, and he was just not a good sleeper.
My sleep went to shit. It was even worse for my wife (being the one feeding him). So, when he woke up for the day between 5 and 6, I was the one getting up with him before I left for work.
That was my gym time, gone.
And I wasn’t going to go to the gym in the evenings. If I did that, I wouldn’t see my son before he went to bed, and my wife would be ready for bed by the time I got home!
That left me with one option: lunch breaks.
Problem was, the gym was a 10 minute walk from the office, so I only had 40 minutes, including getting changed twice and showered once.
So my actual workout time was 20 minutes or so – but I could do it 5 times per week.
That’s what I did, and I actually got really good results!
You can find out more about it in my program 20 Minute Muscle – available here.