You probably wouldn’t think twice about seeing these hashtags in a fitness post, but I’d argue that these mentalities can do more harm than good.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I’m not a fan of these fitness norms. Not only do they conflict with your body’s natural healing process, but they also tend to drive guilt-driven exercise. They can actually lead to regression, joint damage, weight gain, and an overall less healthy system.
I know there are so many who struggle with this feeling that you have to work more and more and harder and harder to see results and feel like you’ve done “enough.”
And it’s truly not your fault. This mindset is infused into the fitness culture.
If you’ve made exercise a lifestyle, you’ve been exposed to this mindset and have probably created a hard-wired circuit that becomes difficult to break.
The problem is that the results will often come in the short term with this mentality because if you’re putting your body in a calorie deficit. Therefore we start to believe working out that way is what “works,” further solidifying that neural circuit with “evidence.”
Although it may work in the short term, these habits will eventually regress you and can even be at the expense of your overall health in the long term.
In order to understand why this mindset can be damaging, it’s helpful to understand the physiological mechanism behind exercise adaptation.
Your body has this matrix of adaptation. Adaptation is what you are looking for in your workouts. You are looking for your muscles to adapt and get stronger, creating more lean tissue. Your heart and lungs will adapt and be able to function at a higher level.
Sustainable adaptation is a slow build and takes time. Many time visual results will take 12-16 weeks or longer to create (in someone that is new to strength training). This happens by striking a sweet spot of adaptation where you are doing just above your capabilities on a regular basis.
Think of your body as having a threshold of tolerance. This is the maximum amount of effort it can produce without creating serious damage like tearing a muscle, breaking a bone, tearing cartilage, etc. You want to flirt with this threshold, getting right up to it, and maybe slightly above it, but never really blowing too far past it.
This means you’re adding a tiny bit more stimulus than your body is comfortable with, then giving your body time to recover and heal.
When you give your body proper recovery time, the result is a stronger system than before you started, that threshold slowly moves up, and you’re able to do a little more the next time.
This process happens little by little:
- You stress your system and deconstruct muscle tissue just SLIGHTLY above what you’re comfortable with
- You recover.
- Lean tissue develops during recovery.
- You add a little more the next time.
THAT is how you see sustainable, real results that increase your muscle mass, thus boosting your metabolism and allowing you to maintain a lean, fit body.
With proper nutrition, sleep, and strength training, here’s an average time frame you can expect: (this if for someone new to strength training)
After about 2-8 weeks: Strength improves quickly and rapidly
After a few weeks you will notice you will feel stronger. You may even be able to lift heavier weights after just one month. If you’re doing my programs, this is the time frame where you start to feel better in your joints. You have less pain and are generally “feeling” better. Most won’t see significant improvements in size in this period.
Around 8 weeks: Hypertrophy
You will start to see muscle increase in size, or structural changes in the muscle. You are lifting more than you did when you started, you feel much more stable, and you begin to see your muscles poppin. You may not be to your “goal,” (it’s a continual process), but if you continue to slowly and progressively lift, you will begin to see more muscle. Your metabolism will begin to increase at this point, and you may notice you start to lose fat (if you’ve made appropriate nutritional changes). If you are consistently adding weight, you will continually see muscle changes until about 24 weeks.
After about 24 weeks, hypertrophy, or improvements in the size of the muscle, slow down but still gradually increase as you train.
This process takes patience and is something most people blow right past, leading to regression, injuries, or just not seeing results.
The two mistakes that end in less desirable results are either not pushing the threshold enough or blowing right past that threshold too frequently.
Staying below the threshold of your body’s capacity might result in the maintenance of your current muscular and cardiovascular system, but it won’t lead to adaptation and change. If you are never pushing your muscular system, you can begin to see a decline in muscle mass.
Blowing past the threshold with the “more is better” mentality will eventually lead to regression as well. This is the part that many have troubles understanding, again, because of soundbites we’ve internalized from fitness culture like:
“No days off”
“No pain, no gain”
And even slogans like “just do it” have those subliminal messages that you need to get your butt to the gym.
Whether or not you realize it, you’ve internalized these soundbites. For most, they have become hard-wired beliefs that you have to do wreck your body in order to see results.
Let’s go back to the idea that adaptation is like a matrix. There’s a sweet spot where you push the threshold just enough to create positive change, but not so much that you create negative change.
When you regularly push your body past what it can quickly heal from, you never give yourself time to heal and push that threshold higher.
The example of pruning a plant comes to mind. You prune the plant with the intention that it will bloom again. But you LET IT GROW. You don’t continue to prune it before it’s bloomed.
Another example that demonstrates this from a human physiological healing perspective is a sunburn on the first summer day.
Your skin maybe isn’t used to the sun exposure from being indoors more during the winter, and your threshold for burning is low. For many people, a sunburn will turn into a tan in a few days.
Everyone knows that while they have a sunburn, they need to protect themselves from the sun because their skin is more vulnerable and healing from the sun damage. However, once you’ve given your skin that time to heal, it turns to a tan after a few days. Then the next time you go into the sun, your threshold for burning is higher, and it takes more sun for you to burn.
However, if you continued to go into the sun without protection while you were burnt, your burn would get worse and worse. Eventually, you would get irreparable damage to your skin.
This is an illustration of the physiological mechanism for most healing in your body, including your muscles. It takes TIME, and continuing to hammer away at your body before it’s healed will never allow your threshold to increase. Your body won’t be able to adapt like it could if you gave it proper recovery, and you won’t see desirable results.
A flower can’t bloom when you constantly trim its stem.
So the question is, how much time SHOULD you be recovering from my workouts?
And the answer is, it depends on how much you pushed your threshold. Everyone’s threshold will be different and can even vary within an individual.
My recommendation is to give any particular muscle group at least two days of recovery, sometimes longer, even up to 7-10 days, if you’ve had a tough workout.
The only workouts I do are when I teach. Here’s the schedule that we do in Evlo, and I have found this works really well for my body:
Monday’s: Lower body and optional cardio
Tuesday’s: Upper body
Wednesday’s: Core and optional cardio
Thursday’s: Optional yoga class
So if we work glutes on Monday, we won’t work glutes again until Friday at the earliest. This gives your glutes enough time to recover and rebuild. Saturday’s and Sunday’s are recovery days.
Now, your body might be healing from years or even decades of overuse and might require an additional day or two of recovery time. In this case, I recommend four workout days and three recovery days. Remember to avoid working the same muscle groups on consecutive days.
But once your joints feel good on a regular basis, you can start to add a workout day or two until you get to 5 days of workouts/week, which is what I recommend as an eventual goal.
Of course, I still move on my recovery days – walks, hikes, golf, or I’ll do some mobility routines in my living room (there’s tons of options in my membership!). Motion is lotion, but my recovery days are never resistance training or stressing my system to the point where I’m “flirting” with that threshold, so to speak.
This is an adjustment for many – because, as I said, these beliefs are many times hard-wired into us from years of fitness culture. But fitness culture is largely driven by consumerism, not science. That’s a topic for another post coming soon.
My challenge for you is to take one month, maybe workout 4-5 days/week, and never work the same muscle group on two consecutive days. See what happens and notice your results. When combined with clean nutrition and enough sleep, you will start to see your body change in the way it feels and looks. You probably won’t see visual differences in your body in that first month, but you will feel stronger, and your joints will feel better. And of course, if you’re in my program, this is already structured for you so you don’t have to worry about it.
If you want guidance on this, I highly recommend joining Evlo Fitness, my online exercise program. You start with a schedule builder assessment that will give you a recommended schedule, so you know you have the right amount of stimulus and recovery for your body. Check it out at evlofitness.com. See you there.