Recovering from exercise is just as important as the work you put into a training session. To get the most out of your workout, you must do more than just go through the motions when you train. Working your muscles against resistance places stress on your body. That stress leads to positive adaptations to your training. Recovery plays a vital role in helping your body strengthen and build.
Recovery is a vital element for muscle growth. It’s during the recovery between weight-training sessions that muscle growth takes place. Working with weights in a way that breaks down muscle fibers “sets the stage for muscle hypertrophy and is a prerequisite for muscle growth. However, the real work begins after a workout is over. Not only do your muscles have to recover after a weight-training session, but your central nervous system also does too.
You probably heard your muscles should recover for at least 48 hours after a strength training session. Although this is a good rule of thumb, what also matters is the structure of your workout. Are you doing a high ratio of compound exercises?
What Are Compound Exercises?
Compound exercises are those that work more than one muscle group or involve movement around more than one joint at a time. These exercises are the “big guns” of muscle building and include such moves as squats, deadlifts, push-ups, bench press and more. Comparatively, isolation exercises work only one muscle group or involve movement around a single joint. Examples are biceps curls, triceps extensions, and leg extensions. These exercises have their place, but they’re more for fine-tuning your training and laser-like focusing on specific muscles.
Compound exercises are functional moves that teach your muscles how to work together. Plus, they burn more calories and potentially elicit more of a metabolic response. Top it off with the fact they’re time-efficient since you work multiple muscles groups simultaneously with these exercises. That’s why many trainers recommend 75% compound exercises and only 25% isolation movements. But, there’s a question. If you do a workout that focuses heavily on compound exercises, do you need more recovery time between workouts?
Compound Exercises Create More Central Fatigue
Some fitness trainers believe compound exercises are more taxing on the central nervous system. Not only do your muscles become fatigued from weight training, there’s also central nervous system fatigue. Central nervous system fatigue is the “tiredness” that originates from the brain and spinal cord, rather than from the muscles. It’s linked with changes in neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Research also suggests that the accumulation of ammonia in the brain and the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines may contribute to central fatigue.
Nutrient depletion, especially carbohydrates, dehydration, and a rise in body temperature also enhance central fatigue. Comparatively, peripheral fatigue, or fatigue that arises from the muscles, is due to the degradation of ATP, a cell’s energy currency, and the build-up of lactic acid and phosphate in the muscle.
Do You Need More Recovery Time?
Common sense says if you do many compound exercises, you need to recover longer after a workout. But, does research support this idea? Not necessarily.
One common misconception is that deadlifts drain the central nervous system and lead to more central fatigue than other compound exercises. Yet, one study published in 2017 doesn’t support this idea.
In the study, trained men performed a rigorous deadlift and squat routine on two separate occasions. During one session, they did 8 sets of deadlifts at 95% of their one-rep max. With each set, they completed two repetitions and rested 5 minutes between sets. In the second session, they did squats using the same resistance and number of sets.
You might expect central fatigue to be greater in the deadlift group since you use more muscles to do deadlifts than you use to squat. However, there was no significant difference in central fatigue. So, it’s not a given that lifting at a high intensity and contracting more muscles leads to greater central nervous system fatigue.
Some research suggests central nervous system fatigue is shorter-lived than peripheral fatigue due to muscle damage. In one study, central fatigue was transient when the researchers measured spinal cord activity. It lasted only about 20 minutes. In contrast, muscles take 2 to 3 days to recover from a peripherally.
The Bottom Line
A good rule of thumb: the harder you work your body, the more time it needs to recover. This is especially true if you’re an intense lifter who uses heavy weights. Although studies don’t clearly show you need more recovery time after doing a workout that emphasizes compound exercises, it makes sense you would. These exercises, because they use more muscle groups, are more fatiguing to your muscles and nervous system.
Also, more recovery time might be beneficial if you do a workout that includes many lower body compound or total body movements that use heavy resistance, such as deadlifts and squats. These are some more exhausting exercises. Without adequate recovery, you may not get the expected muscle growth, since you’re not allowing the muscles enough time to repair.
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