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Welcome to Day 7 of the BWF Primer Build-up!
Hey folks, Nick-E here! Woo, time flies, huh! Already halfway through the event.
I hope you all have enjoyed your first week. To celebrate your achievement of making it halfway, today we’re gonna have an extra special workout:
Doing absolutely nothing!
Oh… And we will also be reading about why doing absolutely nothing is important!
Today’s Learning: Rest.
So, contrary to what many people may be led to understand, it is actually when you are resting after exercise that you are getting stronger, gaining muscle, and getting all those other jazzy adaptations that you have been imposing demands on your body for!
If we relate this back to the SAID principle, exercising is basically saying to your body ‘hey, you know this hard thing we’re doing? get better at it please, thank you!’. The body then needs ample time to use all its resources to build up whatever needs being built up (connections between the nervous system and the muscles, muscle tissue, bone density, etc.).
Not only is the body using this time to build up new things, it’s also using this time to repair and maintain old things! Exercising (and simply living in general) comes with a hefty side dose of general wear-and-tear on your muscles, tendons, ligaments and more. In fact, physiologically, this wear and tear is itself part of the signalling process that tells your body to make adaptations, too!
So by exercising you could conceptualise it as though you are breaking something down, in order to tell your body to build it up better again! (This is not exactly what happens, but it’s close enough for now).
If you are effectively balancing your exercise days and rest days, your body will make all its necessary adaptations (getting stronger! getting more muscles! getting better at things!) while also keeping up with bodily maintenance to keep the wear and tear at bay.
If you are exercising too much and resting too little for your individual recovery capacity, that wear and tear will accumulate over time, eventually building up to a degree that your risk of injury increases and your performance may even decrease due to fatigue and/or burnout over a period of weeks.
If you are exercising too little, during many of your rest days nothing will be being built at all. Your body will simply be in a state of standby, patiently waiting for some more signals to improve. Your progress will just be slower than otherwise. No actual harm here.
Now what determines exercising too much, and what determines resting too little?
That will depend largely on two things: the Total Training Volume and Individual Recovery Capacity
So training volume is tricky one to balance. You need your training volume to be high enough to stimulate adaptations, but too high and it will exceed your recovery capacity and things will start wearing down.
Volume, defined as:
the number of sets you do * the number of reps * the total load/resistance of the exercise
is essentially the #1 driver of muscle growth. Up to a point, the more of it you have, the more muscle growth is stimulated.
At the same time, the more volume in your program, the more your body has to recover from.
When looking at training volume in different programs it’s usually defined by ‘total sets per week’. This is a limited metric because it does not include the intensity/load of those sets, but it’s a good proxy to start with when evaluating these things.
People have tried for a long time to figure out how to model what is an effective, minimum, and likely maximum number of sets per week in training to maximise your progress, while minimising risk of exceeding your recovery capacity.
Individuals like Dr. Mike Israetel have done a pretty good job of this, and have even broken it down into sets per week by muscle group, but that is far more complex than any of you need to know for the moment, or even for quite a while. Feel free to check it out if you just happen to be curious though! It’s a bit of a rabbit hole of increasingly complex training theory.
Ultimately, all of this aside, the amount of volume you will be able to handle is highly individualised, and very strongly impacted by how well you are managing your recovery variables
So an individuals recovery capacity is determined (amongst other more minor things) by:
- Their training age and work capacity (long term improvement, not ‘modifiable’)
- Their stress levels
- Their diet
- Their sleep quality
- Their hydration status
To explain that first point, the longer you have been training (measured in months to years), the better your body will be at sustaining greater loads of work and recovering from them. Unfortunately, you cannot directly aim to improve or modify this variable apart from simply continuing to train and waiting for the cruel, ceaseless passage of time to sink its bony claws into you and turn you into a seasoned athlete.
However, by maximising (or minimising in the case of stress) these modifiable variables, individuals will be able to perform a greater volume of exercise and need considerably less rest to recover from it adequately.
Conversely, if you find yourself training regularly and over time feel considerably more worn down and a bit kicked in the butt, it is extremely likely that one or more of your modifiable recovery variables is in need of some care and attention.
Either that, or your exercise intensity far exceeds even your ideal recovery capacity for your given training age and work capacity. This would necessitate throttling back how much you are exercising until you find a level that you can consistently recover from.
Nothing! In true fashion of what we just read, today is a scheduled rest day in the program. For most beginner programs (including this one, once this initial 2 week period is over) you’ll be having 4 of these a week, usually between workout days.
For a 3x per week, full body strength program then, that would look something like:
If due to scheduling reasons you are not free on alternating days during the week (say for example you work long hours and don’t have much time to train during the week but are free on weekends), it is also okay to do workouts on 2 consecutive days, like so:
However, its not usually recommended to train 3 days consecutively, like so:
This scenario will result in your body not having any time to recover by the third workout in a row, and you will ultimately see reduced performance and an increased risk of strain or other injury.
Ok, I “did” it!
If you want to chat about your experience so far, I’ve set up a new ‘beginners zone’ in the /r/bodyweightfitness discord server, so you can come chat with other new exercisers in a friendly environment, with friendly helpers with experience with exercise that have volunteered to answer any questions you may have!