Muscle recovery from intense training is probably the most important piece of the muscle growth and development puzzle. Knowing how long it takes for a muscle to recover fully is important when designing the most affecting training program. As usual, we turn to the science.

Scientists know that mechanical strain on muscle tissue during heavy resistance exercise produces disruptions in the structural integrity of contractile elements within the fibers.  This trauma in the structural integrity causes muscle soreness and temporary impairment to muscle functions following exercise.

In the days following a heavy Max-OT session, skeletal muscle remodeling occurs and muscle function recovers to pre-exercise levels.  This cumulative effect of repeated intense resistance exercise causes an increase in muscle mass and strength

We know from research that resistance exercise increases gene expression in skeletal muscle for several days following an intense session. This increase in the expression of genes causes an increase in protein synthesis and allows damaged muscle fibers to repair.

Testosterone is an anabolic hormone that stimulates muscle protein synthesis and decreases muscle protein degradation.

Let’s take a look at the research . . .

Recent research investigated the effects of high overload resistance exercise on muscle function and recovery.

Well-trained participants conducted and intense leg workout using high loads and maximal effort repetitions.  They measured muscle androgen receptors, IGF-Ia, and MGF gene expression, testosterone concentrations, creatine kinase, strength, soreness, and swelling before and for one week following the workout.

The purpose of this research was to examine all these aspects of muscle recovery.  In other words, their intent was to answer how long it takes a muscle to fully recover after an intense resistance training workout.

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What did they find?

Results demonstrated that the workout damaged muscle fibers decreased the maximal force and increased testosterone concentrations in men.

Interestingly, after 48 hours of recovery, maximal force was still significantly impaired, whereas markers of muscle damage, soreness, and muscle swelling actually increased.

Although there were no changes in androgen receptors or gene expression, expression of IGF-1a and MGF increased compared to pre-exercise levels.

The participants’ perception of muscle soreness and impairments was followed for 7 days. Some aspects of muscle function were still impaired for 6 days following the workout.

What does this mean to you?

This research indicates that growth factors (IGF-I and MGF) are important for regeneration of muscle.  Participants’ perception of muscle soreness and some aspects of impairment were still present 6 days after the leg workout.  Therefore, it could take up to 6-7 days for a muscle group to fully recover from an intense resistance training workout.

Muscle recovery is of extreme importance. A training program designed to ensure you are giving your body adequate time to recover, get strong and grow is crucial to continuous gains.  If you don’t pay attention to this, you can get into a state of overtraining where gains will come to a halt. Training just to train is one thing. Training that incorporates the science of overload, nutrition, and recovery is what will give you the best results possible.

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Muscle Recovery From Intense Training – The Science

by Paul C. Henning, Ph.D. CSCS time to read: 3 min