[ads1][ads1][ads1][/two_fifth][three_fifth_last]Just as important to achieving your strength goals as the amount of weight and reps you can perform is your choice of supplements and recovery methods. How quickly and completely you can recover dictates how frequently and intensely you can train each muscle group.
While ensuring you get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated are two of the more natural recovery methods, supplements are now considered a vital part of anyone who frequently lifts heavy weights in the gym.[/three_fifth_last]
Not enough sleep
[one_half]It’s a common misconception that muscle growth happens in the gym, with many people believing that an intense weightlifting session will be enough to grow your muscles.
While lifting the heavy weights will certainly break the muscles down and create the stimulus for them to be rebuilt stronger, it is only during the recovery phase when your muscles can repair and growth start to happen.
One of the most important types of recovery is getting enough of the right sleep. This doesn’t mean getting a few hours here and there which add up to 7 hours, but instead requires a continuous sleep period of between 7 and 8 hours.
To promote recovery still further, many people also recommend taking a 30 minute nap during the day.[/one_half]
The reason for your sleep needing to be across a single period of time is due to the different processes that your body goes through at different depths and patterns of sleep.
While the importance of sleep as one of your recovery methods deserves an article in its own right, essentially it is believed that 60% to 70% of daily human growth hormone secretion occurs during early sleep. This is typically when the deepest sleep cycles occur.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep then you may not be fully recovered in time for your next workout, which is one of the most common causes of overtraining.
If you are worried about the lack of nutrients getting to your muscles when you sleep, many strength athletes and bodybuilders will consume a small, low carb meal immediately before sleeping. This is to prevent the muscles going into a catabolic state, with a slow digesting protein such as casein being ideal.
Supplements which can help
- Valarian root
- Casein protein shake
Taking a break from training
Even with all the rest, correct form, keeping hydrated and all the right supplementation, if you are lifting weights a few times a week or more then it can be beneficial to take a complete break from training.
A break of 7 to 10 days is recommended every 3 months, which has 3 main benefits:
- Planning your next training cycle – If you have reached a plateau then the week off will give you a chance to plan your next 3 month cycle, mixing in lots of variation to keep your strength increasing
- Increased motivation – Just because you aren’t in the gym lifting weights doesn’t mean you can’t stay active, but being away from lifting weights for a short time will make you much more eager to get back to the exercises after your break.
- Joint health – Even if you are using joint health supplements such as Glucosamine Sulphate, it’s important to give your joints and tendons a break from the heavy loads that they need to move in multi joint exercises such as squats and overhead presses.
Recovery methods: Staying hydrated
The amount of water you drink each day, and in particular during and after your workouts is very important to your training progress. Although not drinking enough and even dehydration may not appear to have a link with how much you are lifting, it’s actually surprisingly easy for this to be a reason for appearing to reach a plateau.
With so many factors influencing how much water our bodies lose when exercising, you will often end up feeling tired towards the end of your workout. These factors include the environment in which you are working out (air conditioned gym, outdoors, warm gym with no air conditioning etc.), the clothing you wear and the intensity and duration of your exercise.
While there is no specific amount for a particular weight or body type due to the differences between individual’s metabolic rates, a generally accepted guide for the amount of water to drink during workouts is between 0.8 and 1.4 litres per hour (2 to 3 of the 500ml bottles).
It’s estimated that a 2% reduction in body fluids can result in performance decreases of up to 15-20%, so by staying hydrated throughout your workouts you will maintain a higher level of concentration as well as keeping your strength levels up. This is particularly important if you are on supplements such as creatine.
Top 8 supplements to improve strength and recovery
With weightlifting being such a physically taxing activity for the body, it is often necessary to compliment your diet with supplements such as multivitamins and essential fatty acids (EFAs) as well as some which have been specifically designed to help increase your strength and recovery.
The following is a list of the supplements that can be crucial for helping avoid or even break a plateau.
[two_third]A high quality multivitamin is one of the most basic yet important supplements you can take.
Hard training drains your body of vitamins and minerals, with a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals causing a breakdown in your physical performance and immune function.
This is why a good multivitamin will also contain Vitamin C. 1 gram of this 3 times a day not only makes a huge difference in recovery time but also boost your immune system.[/two_third]
[two_third]Protein powders have been around now for many years in one form or another and are almost considered an essential supplement if you want to consume the level of protein, carbs and calories needed to promote strength gains and muscle growth.
This is particularly important when training to break through a plateau, with whey protein considered the best for post workout when rapid absorption is important.[/two_third]
As mentioned earlier, micellar casein is an effective protein to consume at night. Its slow digesting property means that it can take up to 7 hours to be absorbed.
[two_third]Branched Chain Amino Acids play an important role in many functions. While BCAAs are generally considered of a supplement to take when dieting due to their anticatabolic ability helping to prevent muscle loss on low calorie diets, they are also very effective for supporting strength gains.
With such a variety of types now available including the popular L-Leucine, this really deserves an article all to itself. With BCAAs such as Leucine helping to increase the rate of protein synthesis, this means your muscles will actually use the protein you consume more efficiently.[/two_third]
An excellent supplement that can be taken pre-workout, post-workout and even during your workout when purchased in powdered form such as SciVation’s Xtend.
[two_third]Because of the impressive recovery benefits of supplementing glutamine on its own, you can pick up a tub without having to spend more on blends of glutamine and aminos if you are on a limited budget.
Although glutamine is naturally present in your muscles, it can take days for normal levels to be restored after an intense workout. Returning your body’s natural level to normal quicker is why it has become such a pillar of many bodybuilders supplement routines.[/two_third]
Some further benefits include increasing your ability to secrete human growth hormone (HGH), cell volumizing and anti-catabolism.
[two_third]Together with protein powders, creatine is probably the most well known sports supplement. It has even been added to products such as shampoos due to its cell volumization ability.
But not all creatine is the same. Creatine Monohydrate, Creatine Ethyl Ester, Creatine Serum and micronized Creatine are just a few of the different forms of creatine available.
Although opinions differ according to which type is the most effective, the general consensus trends towards Creatine Ethyl Ester. This is due to the fact that this has a much higher absorption rate than regular creatine monohydrate.[/two_third]
[two_third]Nitric Oxide is a gas that can travel freely through cell membranes. This allows it to increase blood flow, which means that nutrients can be carried to the muscles quicker, and makes it easier to have larger pumps. Nitric Oxide also increases the production of adrenaline.
They are very effective and have gotten me through plateaus on their own. No other supplement on the market is as safe and effective as Creatine.[/two_third]
EFAs are a very important part of your diet because they cannot be manufactured by your body. EFAs (essential Fatty Acids) help with everything from energy production to helping with arthritis, and reducing water retention.
They also lubricate your joints, and are a natural anti- inflammatory. So make sure you are getting enough either through your diet, or by supplementing with them.
[two_third]Although ZMA (a combination of Zinc and Magnesium) isn’t anything new, similar to creatine this is a well established and popular addition to many weightlifters supplement routines.
Zinc is essential to numerous chemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis and cellular energy. Magnesium is essential for normal heart function, transporting neurochemicals essential in muscle function and mood regulation, and in the critical balance of sodium and potassium within our cells.[/two_third]
The combination of natural minerals in this supplement will help you get a better, deeper sleep so that you’re back to 100% the next day.
Recovery methods: Sports massage
A good quality massage is an effective method of recovery, which can be highly beneficial to anyone who is lifting weights or exercising on a regular basis.
Although this technique is usually associated with helping someone experiencing muscle soreness or fatigue, this can also benefit your recovery and training even if you feel completely free of pain and injury.
A good quality sports or deep tissue massage is very important for proper blood circulation, which helps in carrying the necessary nutrients to the tissues. When you get a massage, you are supplying the muscles with the nutrients they need to heal.
A further benefit of deep tissue massages is that your muscles are able to rid themselves of lactic acid. The pores of your tissue membranes will open up, pushing out wastes and allowing nutrients to enter the muscle.
You can even perform a muscle massage on the majority of your muscle groups from the comfort of your own home thanks to recent advances in the design of products such as massage balls and foam rollers.
The Triggerpoint Grid Foam Roller is currently one of the most popular and effective products in the world for this type of massage. The varying size of the nodules enables you to work through varying intensities of massage on muscle groups such as your legs, arms and back.
The diet and workout program to break your plateau
Now that we have covered the supplements, recovery methods, and the training techniques which can be used to break through plateaus, in our next article we will take a look specifically at diet.
Our final article in the series will then be published this weekend and provide you with an effective workout program for breaking through your bench press plateau.