Weightlifting Recovery: Four Ways to Help Your Body Recover
So you just crushed your lift, now what? To maximize gains, prevent injury and recover quickly, you must engage in certain behaviors following your training session. The magic of a lift actually doesn’t occur during the 20-120 minutes you spend in the weight room—most of it actually happens in the hours and days following a workout session.
Physiologically, the stress placed on muscle fibers during an intense weight-training session breaks them down—a process referred to as catabolism. During the recovery phase following a workout, the muscle fibers repair and grow through a process called muscle protein synthesis. To facilitate this process, improve recovery and minimize delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), you must assist your body during your post-workout period. After an intense lifting session, the following four actions will help your body during your weightlifting recovery.
Make Post Workout Nutrition A Non-Negotiable
One of the most important things you can do after a big lift is to refuel. Consuming a snack of carbohydrate and protein following a lift provides your body with the tools it needs to optimize muscle building and recovery. The protein source provides the body with amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle fibers. Thus, by consuming protein following a workout, your body will have the tools to support muscle protein synthesis. Consuming carbohydrates following a workout replenishes the body’s energy sources—glucose and glycogen (the body’s storage form of glucose). Furthermore, consuming both carbohydrate and protein after resistance training has been linked to improved body composition as well as increases in strength. The International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests consuming a post-workout meal comprised of 3 to 4 grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein within 30 minutes of training (Kerksick, C. et al, 2008).
Drink Enough Water
Water is important for preventing muscle cramping and dehydration. It also transports nutrients, aids in digestion and makes up approximately 50-70% of your body weight. Therefore, water should not be neglected when recovering from a heavy training session. By consuming water after a workout, you will replace fluid lost during the workout itself. To be more accurate about replacing water lost, weigh yourself before you train and then immediately after. The difference in weight will help you estimate how much water you have lost and how much you need to consume (Kleiner and Greenwood-Robinson, 2013).
Make Time to Stretch
Stretching is often neglected, but can be beneficial for increasing range of motion, alleviating soreness, and preventing injury. Often after an intense lifting session, you may experience DOMS. This is a natural response. It may be tempting to not move at all, but this won’t alleviate soreness. Engaging in activities such as yoga, Pilates or simple stretching can help alleviate the discomfort and ready your body for your next heavy lifting session. Techniques such as foam rolling and massage are also good ways to eliminate soreness and prevent injury.
Be Sure To Rest
Rest is imperative for recovery after a heavy lift. If you are training a body part, give yourself at least a day to repair and rebuild before training that same body part again. By neglecting rest days, you may increase your risk for injury and decrease your level of performance. If you are on a schedule that has you lifting consecutive days in a row, alternate body parts to ensure adequate rest in between weight-training workouts.
Nutrition, hydration, stretching and rest are key for enhancing muscle protein synthesis, recovery and minimizing the risk for injury. These four steps are simple, effective and essential for optimizing recovery after a big lift day.
Kerksick, C. et al. (2008). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5, 1, 1.
Kleiner, S., and Greenwood-Robinson, M. (2013). Power Eating. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.