What Happens to Your Body When You Start a Weight Training Program

In a recent article, I talked all about what you need to know in order to progress your weights to achieve your health and fitness goals. This is imperative information, especially for those of you who have reached plateaus in your workouts and just can’t seem to make any more progress.

However, what if you’re just getting started in weight training and don’t know what to expect, or even if you’re not a newcomer to the weight room, you may want to know more about how the body reacts to the training demands you’re putting on it.

Well, luckily enough, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. The beginning of any resistance training program is a fragile time. Not only is it important to make sure you have correct form and don’t overdo your weights, but you should also know what to expect after your first training session is over. So, let’s not fuss around anymore. Let’s breakdown the 72 hour period after a workout and make sense of what’s going on. This way, you can see how your body is adapting and getting better over time and have no surprises once you get in the weight room.

During the Workout: Turn on the Muscles to Boost Your Metabolism

I’ve written extensively on the importance of understanding that your metabolism is only as good as you exercise and movement. So I won’t go into much detail about that here. None the less, when it comes to getting your metabolism going again as you age, weight training is what you need to be doing.

As you train more and more, and as your body becomes more adept at moving weights, you will start to build more muscular recruitment. Muscular recruitment is a fancy way of saying that you’re using more muscle to move the weight. For instance, when you first start squatting, you may utilize, say, 60% of your lower body muscles to perform the movement. However, as you squat more often, the body learns how to “turn on” more muscle fibers, recruiting them to help with the squat. Therefore, the body is using more muscle to perform the squat after a month of training than it was on day 1 of training.

This is important for a number of reasons. However, in the instance of metabolism, which is what we need to rejuvenate as we age, muscle recruitment is important because, the more muscles you use, the more calories you burn. Also, the more muscles you use, the stronger you can get and the more lean muscle you have on your body. Lean muscle is active in the body, which means it burns calories at rest. Therefore, the more lean muscle you have, the calories you burn on a regular basis. Plus and plus.

The logical question, then, is how do you recruit more muscle during your workout so you’re getting the most bang-for-your-exercise-buck after your workout? Let’s look at a couple of ways to do this:

#1) Perfect Practice – As I mentioned above, the more often you perform an exercise, the better the body becomes at recruiting muscles to help with the movement. So a simple way to teach your body to recruit more helpers is to practice on a regular basis. Yes. I said “practice”.

More importantly, you should incorporate “perfect practice” into your daily routine to get your body to maximize the number of muscles it’s using for a given exercise. Perfect Practice is the act of doing a certain exercise with perfect form a certain number of times throughout the day (a great way to incorporate perfect practice into your day is with a Movement Hygiene Practice). The term “practice” is important here. I’m not talking about doing heavy squats or deadlifts throughout the day. I’m talking about doing 5 to 10 bodyweight squats 3 to 5 times in 24 hours with perfect form. Remember, it’s the repetition that counts.

#2) Exercise Mindfully – Mindfulness is a fancy new term that has come into popularity over the past 5 years or so. And, although many trendy techniques in fitness tend to be duds, this one seems to have plenty of efficacy behind it. When it comes to exercise, being mindful means actively paying attention to the body as you perform each and every rep. It means focusing extensively on the muscles that you’re supposed to be using. This particular practice was used by Arnold Schwarzenegger and his bodybuilding brethren back in the day (although, they likely didn’t call it “exercise mindfulness”).

The act of focusing on the muscles as you perform an exercise has been proven to help recruit more muscle for the movement. And if you’re incorporating perfect practice on a regular basis, this should come naturally over time.

#3) Progress Your Weights – Many people complain about not getting results in the gym. Yet, if you pay attention their exercise routine, you’ll notice them using the same 15-pound dumbbells for each and every exercise every day. When you don’t progress your weights, your body has nothing to adapt to, which means your progress will stop or slow down. Because, as you’ll see soon enough, adaptation is what drives results. And without purposeful progression, results slow to a crawl.

The First 24 Hours After Your Workout

Now that you know what it takes to get the most muscular recruitment out of your exercise routine, let’s take a look at what happens within the first 24 hours after the workout. This 24 hour period is possibly the most important when it comes to recovery. Because of the broken-down state your body is in post-workout, what you do afterward plays a huge part in how it’s going to recuperate in the long run.

When you lift weights, you’re breaking your body down in a couple of ways. Depending on how hard the workout is, you’re going to be tearing muscle fibers, taxing the nervous system, and straining tendons and ligaments. This is the purpose of exercise (more to come about adaptation to this stress later in the article). So once the workout is complete, it’s imperative to fuel your body properly over the next 24 so it can grow.

And it begins with the first 2 hours after the workout. Many people believe that you must get in a meal of some sort directly after your workout in order for your muscles to grow properly. However, research has shown that this isn’t necessarily the case. Depending on your goals, there are a couple of ways you can go about your post-workout nourishment.

First, no matter who you are, you should eat a meal within 2 hours of completing your workout. No, it doesn’t have to be directly after. As a matter of fact, it’s likely more beneficial to wait at least 30 minutes to allow your body to start the natural process of adapting to the stress you’ve put upon it during the workout. With that said, you definitely want something in your belly before that 2-hour mark hits for maximal recovery.

The next question is, what should that post-workout meal consist of? Well, this partly depends on your goals. To begin, let’s talk a bit about energy. We all know what it feels like to go through a workout with little to no energy. Sometimes this simply has to do with the time of day. But other times, it has to do with improper glycogen replenishment after your last workout. Glycogen, of course, comes from carbs. And your body uses glycogen for energy. Therefore, as you’ll see, most of us need to have carbs after our workouts to restore our energy reserves for the next bout of exercise.

If your goal is to lose weight, your post-workout meal should primarily consist of protein, with moderate amounts of healthy fats, and a low amount of carbs (yes, you still want to have carbs after your workout, even if you’re trying to lose weight). If your goal is general health and wellbeing, again, shoot for high protein with moderate healthy fats and low to moderate amounts of carbs. On the other end of spectrum, if you’re goal is optimal performance and pushing yourself to your body’s limits, shoot for mostly protein, with low amounts of fats, and moderate to high amounts of carbs.

Once you’ve had your post-workout meal, you can go back to your normal nutrition regimen (assuming you’re following a quality, whole foods approach). However, this first meal definitely means a lot for recovery.

The second part of this 24-hour equation has to do with re-hydration. As you know, when you exercise, you sweat. Sweat, of course, is water leaving the body. But it’s not only the sweat that you see coming out that eats up water. It’s also the processes going on inside the body that dehydrate you, as well. So, getting in plenty of fluids following your workout is going to go along in recovery and helping your body grow and adapt. Shoot for about a liter of water within that 2-hour window we talked about. Then, you can taper off into your normal drinking routine (assuming you’re drinking adequate amounts of water, to begin with).

DOMS: 48 to 72 Hours Post Workout

Now that we’re on a roll with proper nutrition and good water intake, it’s time to look at what comes after that first 24 hour period. For newbies, this is when you’ll really notice you got a workout in.

Do you remember the last time you did a hard leg workout after not doing any exercise for a long time? Do remember that feeling that you got a couple of days after that workout? Maybe you had a hard time going up and down the stairs or sitting down in a chair or on the toilet. If you’ve felt this before, then you are going to appreciate this next concept we’re going to talk about.

When you get into that 48 to 72 hour period after your workout, you may experience what is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short. DOMS is that feeling that you get a couple of days after a hard leg workout where your legs are so sore you have trouble sitting on the toilet. Now, it’s important to understand that having that level of soreness (so sore that you can’t walk) is not necessarily a good thing. On the contrary, if you’re a beginner to exercise and you have TOO MUCH soreness, you may be doing more harm than good.

You see, DOMS is a tricky mistress. Many of our new Pack Members sometimes question why they weren’t sorer after their workout. After all, as a society, we’ve come to relate being insanely sore to getting a good workout and making progress. However, as I mentioned above, this isn’t necessarily always the case. When you’re just getting started, you should definitely feel a proper level of soreness, especially if you have been sitting on your rear-end for 10 years doing nothing. However, when you have that crippling soreness that keeps you from functioning properly, that means you’ve gone past the point at which your body can effectively adapt and grow to the given stimulus. This type of soreness can tend to last for a week or more, while normal DOMS should last for about 2 to 4 days post-workout. So, understand, that just because you’re not sore, doesn’t mean you didn’t get a good workout.

With that being said, there are some things you can do during this 48 to 72 period to help reduce DOMS and get yourself back into a normal, functioning state. First of all, is self-myofascial release and stretching. If you’re a Member of The Pack, self-myofascial release is what you do with the foam roller and lacrosse ball. It’s the fact of self-massaging your muscles so you get new water and nutrients into them and flush the old stuff out. Try to foam roll and stretch every morning and/or night to help with DOMS.

The next thing you can do to reduce the soreness from your workout is to workout. Yup. You heard me right. Once you’ve hit a workout that makes you sore, one of the best things you can do to get rid of the soreness is to workout again. This contrary to what most people naturally want to do, which is rest and do nothing. However, movement will break up those sore muscles and help get the body functioning in its normal state again.

SAID: 72 Hours and Beyond

Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground and thanks for sticking with me. But this is important information if you’re wanting to get the most out of your workouts and recover properly for maximal growth. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the purpose of any type of progressive exercise routine is to break the body down so it can adapt and grow. This process of taxing the body in such a way that it inhibits a stress response, then allowing it to recover and grow stronger, is called Specific Adaptation to Implied Demands, or SAID for short (I bet you’re enjoying all of these acronyms).

Technically, if you’re working out on a consistent basis, SAID is happening constantly. For our purposes, we want to see how it’s affecting us after the 72 hour period post-workout. You see, once you’ve reached past the 24 hour recovery period, and past the 48-72 hour DOMS phase, this latter area is where the magic truly happens. Adaptation, or SAID specifically, is what is supposed to happen when you push your body over time. As you lift more weights or do more reps, the body has to adapt as you go. And with that adaptation, the body is getting stronger and more resilient. This means that EVERYTHING about you getting stronger: your muscles, your tendons, your ligaments, your mind, your bones…everything.

Which brings us to the end of our journey, and the most important lesson from this whole article. True growth and adaptation take time. Although we’ve only covered a 72-hour timeframe today, your potential growth from exercise is limited only by your effort and belief about what is possible. Many of our Members say that they didn’t truly see the drastic changes in their body’s until working out consistently for a year or so. Sure, you have changes along the way. But the lasting change, the stuff that matter, doesn’t come until you’ve put in the time and put in the effort.

So, if you only take one thing away from this article, understand that you can always…and I mean always…get better. You can always grow. You can always lose weight. You can always get stronger. The only limits you have are your effort and beliefs. And you choose whether or not that’s going to limit you.

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