We lift weights to build our muscles.
We force our body to make an adaptation to lifting heavy loads. We essentially trick our Central Nervous System into thinking that, in order to survive such demanding, high-intensity work, the body needs to grow more muscle mass.
And just like growing new skin, hair, or fingernails, that new muscle growth takes time. We can’t just stay in the gym lifting weights until a pound of new muscle is created, then shower and go home. Growth takes time.
How much time?
We know the first priority of the body is to recover from the stress of a workout. Metabolic waste has to be processed through the body. It’s likely that at some point recovery is still finishing while early new muscle growth is beginning in some places. Also, some muscle groups recover faster than others and some muscle groups probably grow faster than others. So there’s a mix of some recovery and some growth simultaneously occurring. (Eg. your biceps have recovered, but your quads have not.)
All of this happens at the microscopic level and, assuming you aren’t performing hourly blood draws and tissue biopsies, you can’t know exactly where you are in terms of your full recovery and your completed new muscle growth.
However, it’s very easy to measure your recovery and growth in terms of your strength:
- If you’re weaker, you haven’t recovered.
- If you’re the same, you’ve recovered but haven’t grown any new muscle.
- If you are stronger you are recovered and you have more muscle.
To train smart and avoid wasted workouts and extra depletion, you need to return to the gym and successfully complete slightly more difficult goals. That’s a ‘win’ compared to your previous performance.
Here’s a graphic to help explain. (click to enlarge)