Training choices that affect your recovery – learn and apply them via intelligent manipulation!
Few weeks ago I received a phone call. It was a client of mine. First, he was silent, so I thought something was wrong. Then he shouted: “I just had a weight-in, my weight is now up 17 kilos!” We started 17 months ago. And his abs are still showing. And he’s drug-free, guaranteed.
Ok, this is an extreme, one in a hundred case. Moreover, he started at a very low initial body weight and of course has above average genetics. Yet this goes to show that gains well beyond common, restricting beliefs are possible, if you have a great work ethic and dedication – and also knowledge of and tools for intelligent manipulation of important variables that determine your recovery time. Read on to find out what these variables are and how to manipulate them with a little help from RecoApp's MVP.
By using this information and these methods, you can improve your results remarkably. Usually a muscle growth rate of one kilo per month is only possible during the first few months of training, but by using these principles, this growth rate can be maintained much longer. Sometimes you need to include the most taxing and recovery-demanding stuff. You need to step back, use less demanding methods and train more frequently.
Go to failure or not?
What is failure? Failure can be defined as a point where the muscle is no longer able to lift certain weight, regardless of maximum effort. Usually failure also refers to concentric failure. However, the muscle can be exhausted to isometric failure and all the way to eccentric failure. The latter happens when you are no longer able to even lower the weight in a controlled manner.
Training to absolute failure is often considered as THE way to build muscles and strength. However, training to failure is a way more taxing to the bodily systems, compared to sets that are taken close to failure, but with few reps left in reserve. Here’s why:
- Training to failure causes more motor units to fatigue. Because of that, less muscle fibers carry the load; this is why training to failure causes more microfractures in the muscle. In the short run, the effect is muscle soreness. When training to absolute failure continues, excess muscle damage can even cause central fatigue through biochemical messages sent by the muscle, such as cytokines. These changes may effect the mood, weaken the immune system and even mess up crucial protein metabolism.
- The endocrine system also takes hard hits in the long run. Research shows that resting levels of very important muscle building hormones, such as IGF-1, may decrease when failure training continues for several weeks.
- Failure training is more taxing for the nervous system. In the end of the set, the nervous system is forced to work very hard to activate the muscles. However, direct neural fatigue is not necessarily a cause of longer recovery time from failure training, rather than muscle damage, which causes changes in nervous system function.
Take home points
If you’re a beginner, you’ll get away with training to failure easier. In fact, it seems that beginners develop faster, if sets are taken to failure. After the first initial sessions, plan at least one mesocycle in which you take most sets to failure. But not at the expense of correct technique, of course!
If you are an intermediate level trainee, you should be a little more careful with failure training. It seems that 2–3 months of continuous training to failure may disturb the optimal hormonal milieu for muscle growth. Also, training to failure can decrease strength gains up to 10 percent.
Eccentric portion of lifts
Ever done downhill running? Got sore? Yep, I thought so. The eccentric, bracing part of the lift causes most muscle damage and soreness. Main reasons for this are:
- Less motor units are active during the eccentric phase. That’s why there is more stress for active ones, and therefore more damage
- Eccentric work seems to prefer big, fast muscle fibers that are more prone to damage.
Strength can be suppressed even weeks after extreme eccentric strength loading or after an event that included a lot of eccentric or strength-shortening cycle portions, such as a marathon.
Luckily, most of us don’t do extreme eccentric loading, at least not very often. Yet, the more you concentrate on and control the eccentric phase of the lift, the more you cause muscular damage and the more eccentric work is done. If you choose to overload the eccentric portion of the lift, this is even more demanding for recovery.
Take home points
- Very heavy eccentric training should be done in a short, few week cycles only. Somewhat easier eccentric techniques can be used more often (see the link above).
- Focusing on concentric-only training by using special machines may be a really good idea, if you want to really ramp up the training frequency. This lessens the recovery demands of training considerably.
An extremely important point: Eccentric sessions do not necessarily feel very intense, but they can really challenge your recovery – much more than e.g. slow tempo (burn sets) sets that can feel very intense, thus causing a high rate of perceived effort. This means that you have to consciously refine your training and possibly reset your personalized recovery times after an eccentric load. This all is doable with help of RecoApp's MVP.
Total volume per body part
Extreme training volume is one of the biggest recovery demand variables. Try doing 3*10 in bench press. Next time when you hit the gym, first do that bench, then do 3*10 incline bench, 3*10 cable crossovers followed by 3*10 peck deck. Differences in volume are drastic: the former gives you 3 total sets for chest; the latter 12 sets. The recovery demand is higher, because:
- Muscles’ energy stores, particularly glycogen, are depleted. More time is needed to restore glycogen.
- More muscle damage is caused. More repair is required to heal the damage.
- The endocrine system and nervous system are activated more, so those systems need to recover longer.
Take home points
Load volume per body part plays a huge role in recovery demand. Explore, how much certain volume manipulations increase or decrease your recovery time by using RecoApp. For instance: do 3–5 sets per body part vs. 9–12 sets per body part. When planning long-term training, this is extremely valuable information.
Aim for the maximum muscle growth rate by using this information and by manipulating these factors!
Varying techniques and training load applications that cause different recovery demand are an extremely powerful way to keep the body growing year after year. When you follow these principles and go through a couple of mesocycles by gatheting information with RecoApp, you are most certainly a head and shoulders ahead of most others at gym!
Do this: First do a mesocycle that has low recovery demands: Full body training, only 2–3 sets per body part. Very few sets are taken to failure. Eccentric loading is not emphasized. Just do a smooth controlled eccentric part. Training this way, it should take you only 48 hours to recover from the session. Individualize your recovery by using RecoApp. Your lifts should go up very quick. Nice muscle mass gains appear as well.
Next jump to a mesocycle, in which you will do 3–5 part split program. Nearly all sets are taken to absolute failure. The load volume per muscle group is high, like 9–15 sets. You can add eccentric overload here and there. Now the recovery demand per muscle group is very high, up to 5–7 days. Now it’s crucial to monitor muscle group specific recovery by using RecoApp. This way you figure out the optimal recovery time for each muscle group, because recovery time may vary greatly.
When you have completed these cycles, you have learned the optimal recovery times for both basic models. Then just tweak the program just a little bit in term of exercise selection etc. Repeat these two mesocycles several times.
Data analysis for your smart clothing
Wearing smart clothes would help you to analyse the intensity of the exercise in real time. This combined with RecoApp's methodology will give you the optimal recovery times which will lead to optimal supercompensation.
RecoApp’s efficient, visually pleasant and quickly readable way of the data interpretation is a user-friendly experience. Smart clothing is a rapidly growing business and manufacturers need more efficient ways to interpret the data. RecoApp’s patent covers using an image of a human figure in a form of traffic light color coding for receiving and displaying optimal training information regarding muscle recovery times. Therefore it is a significant asset for smart clothing manufacturers to protect their smart clothing portfolio.
RecoApp has demonstrated the function of the patent through MVP mobile application. RecoApp's MVP has over 10 000 users.
Learn to listen to your body - and discover your ideal supercompensation times with the help of RecoApp. The U.S Patent Pending. Global PCT Patent Pending.
Download RecoApp on the App Store
Timo Haikarainen, MSc, Finnish personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach.
Markus Mäntynen, the CEO and founder of RecoApp Oy.
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