REST! It's what we all want to do since we live an active lifestyle, but we rarely find the time to do it and allow for proper muscle recovery. It's common with motivated individuals to want to push harder and harder in the gym in an effort to get the upper hand on their competitors in an effort to enhance their lean muscle mass and improve their strength and performance. This is also true with individuals who don't compete who simply strive to better themselves every day in the gym looking to break their PR's (personal records). It's no shock that the effort you put into your workout at the gym has a direct correlation with what you get out of it. However, the one thing people forget is, skeletal muscle doesn't get stronger or bigger in the gym necessarily, muscle recovery takes place outside of the gym when you rest. Obviously proper nutrition plays a huge part in overall lean muscle gains and fat loss (a whole article could be written on just that topic alone), but an equally important part of the puzzle is actually "rest" to support your muscle recovery efforts as well as those efforts put in during training.
We all live an active lifestyle where we are always on the go. There's always something to do and not enough time in the day to do it all. So what do we cut out most of the time in order to accomplish all the things we want? Sleep. In 2013, the CDC reported that teens need 9-10 hours of sleep while adults need 7-8 hours of sleep. They also mentioned that data from the National Health Interview Survey showed that high school students reported on average getting at least 8 hours of sleep. The survey also showed that on average around 30% of adults were getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night.
Lack of sleep can severely hurt your performance in athletics as well as in the gym. It can cause fatigue, confusion, muscle tension, and can alter your overall mood. A study found that even one night of poor sleep can hurt performance in the gym by lowering maximal lifts on exercises such as the bench press, leg press, and deadlift. When looking at those three lifts, many consider those as "staples" in any training protocol (squats are generally substituted for leg press).
We all have a bad night’s sleep every now and again, so what can be done to help your training or athletic performance if your sleep the prior night was less than ideal? NAP! Many athletic events are in the afternoon/evening which gives you plenty of time for a quick 30-minute nap. In terms of training, if you train in the afternoon or evening this will also help your performance during your workout. A recent study shows that a 30-minute nap in the afternoon has been shown to decrease sleepiness, increase alertness, and when testing sprinters has shown to increase their performance. Cognitive performance was also shown to increase by taking a 30-minute nap as well. So if you find yourself tossing and turning during the night, don't let that stop you from performing at the highest level--take a quick 30-minute nap and you'll find you'll feel and perform better.
Ways to help hit the CDC's recommended hours of sleep each night:
avoid caffeine late at night
take a warm bath or shower if you are feeling extra tense before bed to loosen up tight muscles
shut off electronics (cell phones/laptops/tablets) at least an hour before bed
try to go to bed at the same time each night so your body gets in a routine
if you are a fan of music, play some soft tunes to help you relax and shut your mind off
if exercising late at night keeps you awake, try to fit in your workout earlier in the day or in the morning
avoid alcohol and nicotine late at night
try to keep your bedroom reserved for sleep--that means don't watch TV in bed and don't do work in your bed
make sure everything you need for the following day is planned out so you aren't thinking about it when you're trying to sleep
stay away from large meals at night
try some deep breathing to help with relaxation
To further explain why sleep is so important you can think of your muscle as a stress ball. If you actively squeeze a stress ball and then release the tension in your hand, the ball gradually takes its original round shape after being squashed. However, if you squeeze it again before it becomes round, the process starts all over again without the ball returning to its original form first. Your muscles can be viewed in a similar fashion. When in the gym you are actually tearing and breaking down muscle fibers (making them smaller). It's when you're out of the gym and resting that your muscles begin their recovery phase and with the proper nutrition and rest, muscle recovery can fully take place. Those broken down fibers with proper recovery will grow to be bigger and stronger which will translate into greater lean muscle mass as well as strength gains. If you hit the muscle again before it is fully recovered, then essentially you are breaking the muscle fibers down before they had a chance to grow--ultimately not allowing for maximum muscle recovery which stunts your results and progress.
So what can you do? RELAX and REST. You can work hard and play hard, but at the end of the day you need to take care of your body so it can take care of you. Without proper rest you will never achieve full muscle recovery which is a limiting factor in your progress. Start thinking outside of the gym, and realize your true potential can blossom when you aren't doing anything at all. Train hard, train safe, and rest up so you can do it all over again.
1) "Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 05 Feb. 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/.
2) Postolache, T.T., T.M. Hung, R.N. Rosenthal, J.J. Soriano, F. Montes, and J.W. Stiller (2005). Sports chronobiology consultation: from the lab to the arena. Clin. Sports Med. 24:415-456.
3) Reilly, T., and M. Piercy (1994). The effect of partial sleep deprivation on weight-lifting performance. Ergonomics 37:107-115.
4) Waterhouse, J., G. Atkinson, B. Edwards, and T. Reilly (2007). The role of a short post-lunch nap in improving cognitive, motor, and sprint performance in participants with partial sleep deprivation. J. Sports Sci. 25:1557-66.
Author: Matt Weik
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