To reach your peak physical condition, high intensity workouts must be balanced with periods of rest, but how much is the optimal amount for muscle endurance?
Want to build your fitness, endurance and resilience? It’s all a case of hard work right? That’s the attitude many people take. All you’d have to do is work harder, push through the pain barrier and keep going. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Hard work can be critical, but so too is rest and there is reason to believe that longer rest periods could lead to improved performance and muscle recovery.
Achieving muscle endurance
Muscle endurance refers to the amount of time muscles can continue acting against a given force without needing to rest. Generally speaking, the more reps you can do during a work-out, the greater your muscle endurance is.
Most people assume that the best way to bring about quick results is intense physical exertion, but your body can only work so hard for so long. After a while, you’ll find you stop making gains and may even start to decline. The cause is muscle fatigue.
Most of us will have experienced it at some time. It’s that feeling the day after exercise when all your muscles are screaming in protest. Lifting weights or doing exercise can feel more difficult than usual and you may struggle to perform at your peak.
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For many, this is good. Pain is a sign you have been working your muscles to their limits and will build up strength and endurance. However, what your muscles really want at this time is a nice rest to repair the damage and rebuild themselves bigger and better than before, known as recovery time.
How do muscles work?
Muscles get their fuel through three systems: the phosphagen, the anaerobic (glycolytic) and the aerobic (oxidative) systems. Each of these take turns in generating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to provide energy for your muscle cells as you exercise.
The first two work for shorter duration and enable you to exert high force for a short amount of time. The first 30 seconds of activity are governed by the phosphagen system which provides muscle energy for up to 30 seconds. After that, the glycolytic system kicks in and provides energy for work from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. This manages moderate force production. Any longer, and your aerobic system takes over which fuels lower force production.
Eventually, you’ll reach exhaustion levels at which point your body and your muscles will need rest in order to rebuild and heal. During this recovery time, your muscles will repair the damage to structured proteins which are traumatised by the impact of your exercise. The nature of this trauma will vary depending on the exercise you have been undertaking.
Running, for example, can traumatise proteins due to the impact of movement as your feet hit the ground. Weight training damages proteins by straining muscles to their limits. Cycling or swimming are lower impact but your muscles will still have been strained by the work required to maintain the workout.
Rest and recovery
Recovery will give your body a chance to heal those proteins, restore energy producing enzymes and rebuild muscle fibres which are broken down during training. Carbohydrate stores within your muscles will need to be replenished and your immune and nervous systems will need to recover after the exertions of training.
The good news is that, once this happens, your muscles will have been healed to be larger and more robust than before with additional proteins being overlaid in order to increase strength. They should store more energy than before and synthesise more aerobic enzymes to expand your endurance.
Repairing and building muscle
It is during recovery time, therefore, that the actual gains to your muscle mass, fitness and endurance occur. Including longer rest periods could improve muscle endurance and stamina, but it’s a delicate balance to strike. Everyone’s bodies are different. Depending on the type of exercise you’re carrying out and your fitness goals you may need more or less recovery time.
Too much and you won’t repair the damage in your muscles to build resilience and endurance. Too little and you won’t get enough exercise done in your week to build fitness. It’s all about understanding what works best for your body. In general, repair of muscles after heavy bouts of exercise can take between 24 and 48 hours.
You can also maintain muscle strength with longevity supplements like Mitopure. Containing purified urolithin A, the supplement works on the mitochondria, famously known as the powerhouse of the cell that provide muscles with energy. Taken regularly, urolithin A can protect both mitochondrial and muscle health.
Allowing rest days into your schedule, or varying the muscle groups being worked, therefore, will allow you to get the most out of your exercise routine without breaking your back.
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Photograph: Karl Solano/Pexels
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