You’re not getting enough sleep.
Sleep is a critical component in building muscle, yet is the most commonly overlooked aspect of it. Muscle tissue repairs itself and grows during rest periods, but sleep is more important than waking rest periods.
The best and most effective routines will not make up for a lack of rest, and sleep is the ultimate rest. Growth Hormone is produced and protein synthesis occurs during your sleep cycles. It also assists a lot of other important body functions i.e. The replacement of aging and dead cells and repair of muscle and tissue, lowering of energy consumption and recharging the brain.
Rest is one of the most important principles of exercise and the most commonly overlooked. Whilst sleeping, your body goes into a state of suspended animation and is doing exactly what you’ve been striving for – Builds muscle! Why would you cut this short by not getting enough sleep? All mammals, birds and fish observe a regular state of natural rest. The role of sleep in health and wellness has been intensively studied and still is to this day, restorative theories of sleep describe it as a time of healing and growth for all organisms.
Animal studies have shown that sleep is essential for survival. Animals deprived of sleep in studies, died after a matter of weeks! In humans, metabolic activity in the brain declines considerably after 24 hours of sustained wakefulness. Sleep is required for our nervous systems to work correctly and deep sleep is necessary for the release of growth hormone in children and young adults.
Though a lot of us think we can get by with 4-6 hours sleep, the reality is that although sleep is entirely individualized, the overwhelming majority of us need 7-8 hours to function normally. The quality of this sleep diminishes with age, but the need for it does not. Rest is also extremely important if you’re trying to gain muscle. Sleep is the best training partner you’ll have and depriving yourself of it not only limits your capacity to build, it also stunts your mental focus and co-ordination so your workouts are then less effective.
Our sleep is divided into cycles which consist of non-REM and REM phases. It’s during our non-REM deep sleep phase that we get the biggest human growth hormone spike. In short, HGH is an anabolic agent that promotes muscle recovery and growth among other things. In order to gain muscle, you need to make sure you get the biggest possible release of HGH every night .. how can this be achieved?
Since our HGH is released during the deep sleep phase and the deepest sleep occurs mid-cycle (usually around 2am) – try to make sure you go to bed in the early hours of the night. Their is a greater amount of deep sleep earlier in the cycle, whilst the proportion of REM sleep increases later in the cycle and just before wakening. During our restorative deep sleep phase, our blood pressure drops and breathing becomes deeper and slower. With our brain taking a time-out, there’s more blood to flow into our muscles. Increased nutrient rich blood flow and high HGH levels will drastically improve your ability to build muscle.
Lack of sleep however can quickly decrease the amount of growth hormone that your pituitary gland secretes during your deep sleep and growth hormone deficiency is associated with increased obesity, loss of muscle and reduced exercise capacity.
It is recommended you get 7-9 hours sleep a night. Sleep less than this and your seriously reducing your chances of growth and/or progression in the gym. If muscle gain is your goal, start going to bed earlier!
Anyone who has participated in training of any kind is familiar with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Even advanced lifters may occasionally suffer from it. What may surprise you is that it is still not fully understood in the scientific community nor can its causes be fully identified. There are a few theories, some of which are more believable, but none are 100% proven. (I may delve into these at a later date, but for now I’m looking at the effect on training and/or hypertrophy (muscle growth)).
DOMS itself can range from mild swelling stiffness around the joints involved to crippling pain where you are literally barely able to stand. It can start from immediately after a workout to a couple of days later and cast last for days – in extreme cases up to a week! Typically however it occurs 24-72 hours after a workout and lasts a day or two. To best keep it to a minimum ensure you eat enough post work-workout, drink plenty of water and get adequate rest.
You do not need DOMS to build muscle, so don’t strive to absolutely kill yourself with volume and/or reps every workout, this is madness! It will also hinder progress as you will be unable to train again for a few days due to the pain. Some trainers deliberately push their clients into soreness every workout with statements like “no pain, no gain”, and “if you don’t hurt tomorrow, you didn’t work hard enough”. All this shows is a complete lack of knowledge on their part, and generally are just trying to prove themselves as their clients may then talk about them in ways such as “so-and-so is a much better trainer than so-and-so, my legs were killing for a week”. Great! well done, you’ve done one session and now can’t do anything else for a week due to soreness! Now think about going for a 10 mile walk tomorrow (boring I know), I can guarantee if you don’t do a lot of walking you will have a level of DOMS from it. Does it take a Personal Training certificate for that? It is very easy to make someone sore after a workout, but not so easy to get them faster, stronger or lower body-fat, that is where a good trainer should stand out from the crowd.
Now I’m not saying you should avoid DOMS altogether, far from it, but you shouldn’t train specifically for it either. It can occur at random due in part to being dehydrated or not having enough rest, but it will mostly occur when you change an exercise or perform something you haven’t done before. It also tends to occur a lot with plyometric (explosive) work, but again mainly when you are new to the exercise and tends to decrease as you adapt to it. For example, I performed a Hack Squat last week for the first time and had DOMS for around 4 days, even though I increased the weight the next time I used it, my soreness was far less as I’ve started to adapt to the stresses involved.
Should you try to train with DOMS or will it make it worse? Another debate-able point. If you are too sore to train, there is little point anyway, but I would suggest some light/mild exercise as I find it helps to dissipate the soreness. However that is my experience, you may be different. One thing is for sure, in the science world, it has been proven that the recovery process can continue and even be enhanced through another workout session, so don’t get dragged into the ‘overtraining’ myth – You can’t overtrain in one workout!! Too many people have been brainwashed with the ‘you must completely recover before the next session’. I have often trained whilst sore and it has never hindered my progress. (I can also talk about CrossFit here, whilst following that I was regularly sore but still would workout the next day without ‘overtraining’). If you get prolonged or extreme soreness, however, then it is genuinely time for a break!
In short, getting DOMS after a session is a good indicator of work done, but it is not the only indicator. It should not be trained for specifically and not getting it doesn’t mean you haven’t trained hard enough. Keep adding weight to the bar and get stronger, you cannot get a better indicator for progress than being able to lift more weight for more reps.