A time of injury is the worst time for an athlete. There is no way to work out your daily frustrations, there is no ‘me’ time to be had for an avid exerciser, there is no continued progress toward a goal; all there is- is recovery time. The road to recovery can be a long one if an injury is severe enough, but in that down time, even short down time, how much training progress can you lose?
It’s pretty safe to assume that everyone knows you need to have rest days in your workout routine. The body needs time to recover, rebuild torn muscles, produce blood plasma and generally heal up the positive damages done by exercising. This down-time allows your body to adapt to the new situations you are putting it into by exercising- and most importantly, your rest days are when real physiological changes take place. Body adaptations occur when tissue is in a “vegetative state” like sleep or sedentary rest. The tissues in your body are able to heal during this time because other demands aren’t being made on them during rest time- tissues that need to heal are focused on rebuilding and repairing damage that occurred during waking time. When your body receives adequate healing time you can increase your strength and mass; by that same note, when your body receives inadequate healing time, damages to muscles and body structures will remain damaged and become potentially serious injuries. Constant stress on your body and muscles without rest and off days will cause body dysfunction: which can present with strains, sprains, muscle tears and eventually “overtraining syndrome”.
Usually exercisers are unsure of how much off-time they require; also athletes tend to find themselves feeling ‘lazy’ or have the ‘need’ to workout on an off day, leading to over training. For those exercisers who lift weights or participate in heavy resistance training the traditional recovery time for any one group of muscles is 48-72 hours. This simply means, if you do a heavy set on your legs and lower body, you must wait 48 hours minimum before hitting those muscle groups again. This time frame will help you focus on other muscle groups in your core and upper body on other days, and allow your body to recover in between sessions. Also remember that the harder you work, the more resistance and stress you place on your muscles, the lower the recovery time will be on those muscles.
Of course over-training is common for a seasoned gym-goer or athlete but injury can just as easily occur in casual exercisers or those individuals just starting an exercise routine. In resistance training, many injuries come from improper form and over exertion (like assuming that since the guy next to you can lift that barbell, you should be able to do it too). In aerobic exercise, the injury pattern is a little different. Because aerobic training is very repetitive in nature (think spin class, jogging, step aerobics) injuries caused by overuse are very common and stem from a variety of human error factors. Many of the common factors seen in overuse injuries include: starting off too aggressively, abruptly increasing progressions, muscle imbalances and lack of range of motion, incorrect footwear and uneven running surfaces.
Because the possibility for injury is so common, rest days become very important for not only repairing muscle damage, but fighting off injury. What happens if you don’t put in those rest days, you over-train, you sprain something, or you get injured? What does your body do in that down time? When you are injured and need to take time off, your body goes through its usual repair and recovery maintenance; but when your body has finished repairing and still finds itself inactive, it begins to Detrain. Detraining, or De-conditioning happens when your body is no longer being stressed by outside factors such as those demands made by resistance training or aerobic activities. Our bodies undergo a reversal in the adaptations made by our previous exercise goals. When talking about aerobic detraining, you can see the effects of time off from exercise in just a very short period. A trained individual, someone who runs or bikes consistently several times a week, will show a decline in aerobic performance in as little as a week! Their bodies are reducing the amount of blood plasma available and lowering the stroke volume of their heart- making aerobic exercise more strenuous and difficult to continue over a short period of time. If aerobic exercise for a trained individual is prolonged over 3+ weeks, the amount of mitochondria in their cells is reduced, making it harder for their cells to extract oxygen and fuel their muscles. For an un-trained individual, or a casual exerciser, the effects can be even more detrimental, leading to a faster decline in available oxygen in the blood and an increased rate of injury.
Detraining can even occur if you simply let your routine get dull, or stop putting in the extra work in your chosen exercise. When you are no longer working hard to achieve that same level of stress, the muscle begins to return to a state of pre-training. Muscles can be reduced in size, muscle fiber size can decrease, muscles can lose strength and power, neuromuscular efficiency can decrease and the exerciser may not even take notice. This pre-training state can be even more dangerous to a seasoned gym-goer who does not realize his body is no longer in peek condition, leading to injury when increased demand is placed on muscles for a ‘heavier lift’ or faster rep-set. The degree of detraining you experience is of course dependent on how trained you were before your injury. Just as the aerobic exercisers found when they stopped doing aerobics, anaerobic exercisers will also lose their gains in fitness. However, those individuals whose passion is resistance training will have an edge in their detraining. Unlike aerobic training, weight training, or resistance training adaptations show a slower reversal process rate. Meaning people who trained at a very high anaerobic intensity will return to a pre-trained state at a much slower rate than people who train at a high rate of aerobic intensity. Data shows that aerobic detraining can occur in as little as one week, where as in resistance training, one week off has shown improvements in strength and power. Why?? The week off allowed resistance trainers’ bodies a rest period in which their bodies could repair muscle tears and fiber changes. Of course, after this initial increase in power, detraining begins to affect resistance trainers; after 3 weeks of detraining, power output and strength begin to decrease.
Detraining due to rest periods can be minimized if other activities are maintained or alternate training methods are utilized, but immobility can be extremely detrimental. The absolute worst situation for an athlete or casual exerciser is immobility. Immobility causes detraining at an alarming rate because muscle tissue declines the most rapidly when immobilized. If you were to be placed in a cast today, you would lose as much as 7% (or more) total strength in your limb by this time next week. This is due to the magnitude of the atrophy and reduction in neural stimulation associated with immobility.
In short- take your rest time! Don’t push your body to the point of injury or even worse; immobility. Train safe and train smart. If you have an injury, make sure it is healed before continuing to train.
*Additional information gathered from Advanced Concepts of Personal Training -Biagioli