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Muscle recovery after your workout: 6 regeneration rules

A white woman performs gentle yoga for muscle recovery. She wears gray clothes and is curled up, resting on her shins and forehead, in front of a gray brick background.
Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

Still not getting the results you want, even though you’re completing all your training sessions per week and giving it your all? Giving your body a chance to recover is the be-all and end-all of working out. No matter what your goals are: Your body needs a break to keep progressing. Here’s 6 tips for effective muscle recovery after exercise: 3 that revolve around your workout, and 3 to make sure the rest of your lifestyle is giving your body what it needs outside of the gym!

Why is muscle recovery after exercise important?

Higher, faster, stronger. When you start a new fitness regime, your motivation levels are high. But a lack of workout recovery can quickly take a toll. Those who overdo it often suffer from muscle soreness, overtraining and a higher rate of injury. Even at a low level, it’s easy to get stuck on a fitness plateau where it looks like there’s no way forward or back.

Exercise is deliberate stress. If you want to make progress in your workouts, you can’t avoid challenging your body and bringing it into an imbalance.

Examples of these imbalances include your body converting food or stores into energy and the loss of minerals and water by sweating.

Muscle recovery helps rebalance this imbalance.

Recovery isn’t just about the time after your workout, it’s multi-dimensional. Nutrition and your lifestyle are just as important as a good workout plan.

Muscle recovery – Pre- and post-workout

1. Warm-Up & Cool-Down

Get up in the morning and start running at full speed right away? Don’t worry, pretty much no one does! And after a day at a desk your muscles don’t either. Prepare them for a tough workout routine with a warm-up to improve blood flow, increase athletic performance, and help reduce the risk of injury.

A white man with scruffy blonde facial hair stands on a treadmill, smiling at his phone, with white corded earbuds in his ears
@skynesher

A relaxed cool-down helps calm your cardiovascular and nervous systems, and kick off your active recovery post-workout. Incorporate foam rolling to reduce muscle soreness even more!

Tip: During your warm-up and cool-down, choose exercises that specifically prepare you for, or help you recover faster from, that day’s training session. For example, if you’re planning on doing pistols, warm up with air squats.

2. New reps and movements: body weight and regular sets

New movements are important for your progress, but you should introduce them slowly. Get the technique right before adding weight. Work with just your own body weight until you can do the movement perfectly. If there are exercises where your body weight is too heavy, discuss modifications with a trainer. Only once you can execute the movement flawlessly should you ramp up the intensity by adding weight.

3. Schedule in recovery after exercise

Don’t leave your recovery to chance. Plan both the intensity of your workout and your post-exercise recovery. If the schedule feels wrong one week, you can adjust it the next. Every week should have 2-3 recovery days worked in.

Our rule of thumb: The higher the workout intensity, the longer the recovery time.

Proven ways to optimize your lifestyle for recovery

1. Train, eat, sleep

The principle is simple. The keys to fast regeneration are regular, reasonable training, good nutrition and enough water, and sufficient sleep. While you’re getting a good night of sleep, your body is at absolute rest and can regenerate undisturbed by exercise.

A woman of color, whose head is visible resting on a white pillow while covered with a white duvet, rests to give herself muscle recovery time
©Dmonkeybusinessimages

2. Recovery in everyday life

If you’re constantly under stress, you won’t have any energy left to regenerate. Make sure your training sessions fit into your life. Doing heavy physical labor after strength training is just as counterproductive as constantly rushing from A to B under stress.

3. Space for mental relaxation

Just 20 minutes of breathing exercises, meditation, light stretching, or a walk in the evening may help calm your mind. Your mental state affects your body state, so a calm mind is a good basis for supporting your body’s regeneration.

Knee and one hand of a white man holding thumb and index finger together
©istock/Serg-Myshkovsky

Progress requires recovery, not muscle soreness

The body requires rest in order to build muscle or break down fat and remain productive. This recovery mostly takes place after exercise and on rest days.

During this phase, the body recovers and rebuilds the structures that were stressed by intense stimuli provided during your workout. It remembers the previous stress and regenerates to restore your previous condition.

Supercompensation

When the exercises are new or more intense than usual, the body tries to go beyond muscle repair to help your body handle the same load more easily the next time. This effect is called supercompensation.

How long does my body need to recover?

It’s difficult to make general statements about how much rest is necessary to regenerate optimally or to benefit from the effect of supercompensation. Age, health, weight, fitness level and amount of daily exercise are just a few of many factors that influence how much time you need.

As a rule, you can figure out whether or not you’re ready for more intensity if you listen to your body. Good indicators include:

– No traces of soreness or heavy limbs.

– No tired muscles from everyday movements.

– Running for the bus, carrying heavy packages, and similar strenuous activities don’t leave you exhausted.

– Feeling generally rested and capable.

For light to moderate exertion, 12 hours to two days of rest may be enough to fully recover. Intensive sets working on individual muscle groups might require three days of rest or more. Recovery is always personal.

Conclusion

  • Recovery takes place on non-workout days.
  • Regeneration is multidimensional: workouts, nutrition, and lifestyle are all key factors for success.
  • Success in meeting your fitness goals requires adequate regeneration.
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