The Most Underrated Part of the Strength Game

February 14, 2012

By Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro

[Q] A lot of bodybuilders train each bodypart just once per week. If you’re not sore, is there a good reason to wait that long to train again?

[A] Yes there is. The reason is that you want to give that bodypart its best chance to recover and repair itself so that the next time you train, you can train heavier or for more reps. A week seems to be the right number (for more advanced bodybuilders). If you hit a muscle group well, you should need at least that much time. And don’t forget you work some muscle groups a second or third; the triceps, for example, get worked on chest and shoulder days as well. There are some guys I know who do only the major lifts once every 10 days. Soreness isn’t always a good guide, so make sure you take at least a week to rest.

[Q] I do heavy lifting year-round with a group of guys in my neighborhood but it seems that stretching has become a bit of a lost art. Is stretching necessary to maximize recovery and strength gains?

[A] I think that’s an awesome question. I wish we’d ask ourselves and other lifters this question more often so that the answer would stick in our minds. I have trouble remembering to stretch or setting aside time after workouts to stretch. But it’s important to keep your tendons elastic and supple. If you don’t stretch, muscle fibers tend to shorten and become less elastic over time. Plus, stretching delivers positive blood flow and oxygen into the muscles and gets those muscles opened up, elongated and flushed out. Guys skip it because they’re lazy or don’t think it does much good. Though you may want to jump right in and get your workout done, you need to remember that doing the prep work and maintenance will extend your shelf life. Some guys do light stretches before, but if you really want to stay limber and maintain a muscle’s full range of motion, count on spending at least 10 minutes post-workout targeting the muscle groups you just worked.

[Q] Johnnie, I tell my wife that a few deep-tissue massages every month are a worthwhile expense because they keep me training heavy and looking good! Can you back me up here?

[A] Deep-tissue massage is definitely necessary for someone who is training hard several times a week. I think it’s worth going for a massage a couple of times a month if you can afford it because it helps loosen tight muscles and keeps your tendons and ligaments elastic. Again, this allows you to lift longer and heavier with a reduced risk of injury. One important reminder: You need to drink a lot of water. It’s so important to keeping your muscles fit and releasing toxins. For me, I try to do deep tissue work once a week. My massage therapist comes to the house and gives me, and sometimes my wife, a massage. And you can tell your wife I said that!

[Q] I read somewhere that a good way to maximize recovery after a heavy training session is to perform a lighter workout the next day. That just sounds bizarre to me. Your thoughts?

[A] I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do. I don’t do that now because of the way I train but I’ve done it in the past and it’s been effective. After your workout, your body is still pumping a lot of blood to the area and there are metabolic byproducts concentrated in the areas. So a light workout (nothing to failure and using weights you can do for 15–20 reps) will promote greater blood flow and bring more nutrients back into the muscle, thus speeding recovery. But if you don’t have time to mix in a light session the day after a workout, stretching post-workout is effective as well.

Johnnie's Top 5 Recovery Tips

1 REST: Keep your workouts intense and take at least a week before performing the same lifts again to allow for more complete muscle repair (read: strength gains).

2 STRETCH: Spend at least 10 minutes post-workout performing static stretching on the muscles you just trained to maximize recuperative blood flow to those areas.

3 MASSAGE: If you can afford it, schedule a deep-tissue massage a few times a month to keep muscles and tendons supple. You can also use high-density foam rollers at home for a similar effect.

4 HYDRATE: Water helps to clean out toxins that build up in muscles as a result of heavy training. Aim for around a gallon a day, or at least half your bodyweight in ounces per day.

5 ACTIVE RECOVERY: Occasionally mix in a light, high-rep “next day” training session that targets the same muscles you trained the day before (if it was an intense, heavy workout). This also helps to flush the muscle with fresh, nutrient-rich blood.