Exercise Recovery: A Biologic Model

I’ve always loved Body by Science. Come January 2012, it will be 3 years since I read through it front to back in a bookstore, before then buying it, and implementing the guidelines presented in the book. During this time I’ve averaged a once a week workout. Over the past 18 months, that average is probably closer to a solid 9 to 10 days between sessions.

My most recent workout however was a clean 7 days — something I have not done in a while, perhaps 4-5 months. Needless to say, my performance was sub-par, I felt physically unprepared to workout on that day, and now 8 days later, I am still noticeably sore. My conclusion (more of a reminder having already known this from past experience), is that a week between workouts is not sufficient recovery for my body from my standard workout.

To the lay reader, this sounds absurd. A week between workouts isn’t enough?

Nope, not even for a 23 year old young male like myself, observably “healthy as an ox” — and I would gander to say, of more robust health than 99.9% of my peers (largely due to eating a personal “paleo diet“.

Why is this so?

For one, I think my recovery ability is dead center average. For two and in tandem, I have above average skeletal muscle mass, and practice an above average level of intensity in my workouts — not only because I train to failure but also because I’ve trained to failure for going on 3 years straight now…

The result of this fun combination is a lot of damage to the majority of my skeletal muscle mass — which there is a lot of given my size and body composition — having to be repaired by a middle of the road recovery ability.

And once repaired to the previous baseline, my body is then expected to adapt to the stimulus provided (the workout), and grow additional muscle tissue, before I wreck it again with exercise.

Needless to say, most people are not capable of this act in a 168 hour time period. Simply not going to happen. And so far as I can tell, I am one of those people. A la, as I continually and incidentally remind myself from time to time, I need upwards of 7 days to fully recover and grow from a standard workout. This is only more true if my workout was particularly intense, I got significantly less sleep/was under extra stress during the recovery window.

Admittedly, I used to hate this, because I enjoy working out, but these days, it doesn’t bother me. (Not nearly as much as short circuiting the purpose of exercising in the first place, anyway).

In any case, my recent slip up of working out @ 7 days (was convenient to do so) instead of 9-14, reminded me of comments made in Body by Science, by I presume, Doug McGuff M.D. (one of the authors).

In parting, a quick excerpt, emphasis added by me,

A Biologic Model

The process of growing new muscle can be likened to the process of growing new skin after a burn or cut. The injury is a stimulus to engage the body’s growth and repair mechanism to heal and repair damaged tissue. The next time you sustain an injury of this type, observe how long it takes your body to produce this new tissue…

… Building muscle is actually a much slower process than healing a wound from a burn. A burn wound heals from the ectodermal germ line, where the healing rate is relatively faster, because epithelial cells turn over quickly. If you scratch your cornea, for instance, it’s generally going to be healed in eight to twelve hours. Muscle tissue, in contrast, heals from the mesodermal germ line, where the healing rate is typically significantly slower

About Anthony Dream Johnson

CEO, founder, and architect of The 21 Convention, Anthony Dream Johnson is the leading force behind the world's first and only "panorama event for life on earth". He has been featured on WGN Chicago, and in the NY Times #1 best seller The Four Hour Work Week.    His stated purpose for the work he does is "the actualization of the ideal man", a purpose that has led him to found and host The 21 Convention across 3 continents and for 6 years in a row. Anthony blogs vigorously at TheDreamLounge.net and Declarationism.com.

5 Responses to Exercise Recovery: A Biologic Model

  1. VartanK December 8, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    Quick question: what would you say then to the point that Keith and many others make that muscle actually recovers incredibly quickly from any kind of workout, and it’s actually CNS-fatigue that is responsible for performance drop offs?

    • Anthony Dream Johnson December 8, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

      My immediate thought is that anyone removing momentum from their workouts is by implication putting their muscles through an eccentric (negative) meat grinder, especially if approaching super slow level cadences, regardless of range of motion being practiced.

      Consequently, and regardless of effectiveness, workouts that are safe are necessarily going to require a longer recovery period.

      So if X individual was able to recover (and somehow grow) in 72 hours from a “conventional” workout (that includes momentum), now its 4 days … 5 days… etc.

      Even that I think is pretty rare, for someone who is training to failure and tapping muscle fibers that take longer to repair.

  2. Joe A December 8, 2011 at 6:29 pm #


    A couple of questions:
    1) What are you using to determine whether or not you are recovered? Just performance, i.e. ability to perform more reps, longer TUL?

    2)Related to the question above- what are you considering “subpar” performance?

    3) How was your workout recovery prior to paleo (specifically low carb) eating? I don’t follow closely enough to know how you are eating now…my apologies.

    4) What does your workout look like lately? How has the routine evolved changed (over the last year)? Again. so for not following more closely.

    5) Why have you settled on insufficient recovery as the conclusion to your inquiry, and not something else? Just curious, as I have changed my conclusion recently…and I used to assume recovery was the reason too.

  3. dasani December 8, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    Cool post. I’ve been getting personal training at Ideal Exercise in Seattle and eating a lot healthier these past few months. Previously I put my recovery time at about nine days, but I’ve found that an occasional earlier workout has actually improved my performance in the gym since I began eating better (I came to my 9 days when I was eating terribly, lots of fast food). I went once two days after my workout to show a friend how to do HIT while I was visiting, and improved my weights and scores by a lot at my next workout, five days later. And another time when my appointment was moved up because of holidays. I’ve got to find where my right zone is again because clearly nutrition has changed the game for me.

  4. Gold Investor December 9, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    I like to train somewhat more frequently than required for pure growth to obtain the metabolic and systemic benefits of exercise.

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