Tired, heavy muscles tell you that you need a day of rest

FITNESS CLINIC

April 21, 1992|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer

Have you ever had one of those days when your muscles feel heavy, and you're just too tired to work out? Well, don't worry; all athletes feel that way once in a while.

Now, the question is will you recover faster by exercising at an easy pace or by taking the day off?

All sports training involves putting stress on muscles and then allowing them to recover. Usually, you'll put in a hard workout one day and tone it down a bit until your muscles recover.

For example, on a hard day, a marathoner will run short distances very fast, rest and then run very fast again. The quick bursts may be done at a pace of four minutes per mile. Then, for the next few days, he'll run much more slowly, say, at six minutes per mile.

Yet, even the best athletes can feel heavy-legged and unusually tired with such a regimen.

When you feel that way, you should take the day off. You'll recover much faster by doing nothing at all than by exercising at a leisurely pace.

Two factors make your muscles feel heavy and tired: a lack of stored muscle sugar, known as glycogen, which fuels muscles during exercise, and damage to microscopic muscle fibers.

Muscles fill up with glycogen much faster when they are rested than when they are casually exercised. Plus, muscle fibers heal faster when they are at rest.

When your legs feel heavy and you're tired, take the day off. You'll probably be able to exercise hard the next day.

Q: How can I learn to ride my bike faster?

A: Cycling is a power sport. The stronger you are, the faster you can pedal.

A study conducted at the University of Texas found that the fastest bicycle racers exert the greatest downstroke power on their pedals. That's why the strongest riders go up hills the fastest. When you pedal up a hill, the resistance on your pedals is at its greatest; the stronger you are, the more force you can generate on the pedals. Hence, the faster you can go.

The ability to ride a bicycle very fast also depends on your ability to spin the pedals very fast while you ride and still maintain your coordination. Most fast riders and racers spin their pedals between 90 and 105 rpms. Riders who distinguish themselves as the very best actually spin their pedals at the same rate as riders of lesser ability, but they exert more force with each stroke.

Most bicycle racers do not train by lifting weights with their legs, though; this causes their leg muscles to feel sore, limiting the amount of hard riding they can do.

To strengthen any muscles for a particular sport, you have to exercise them against increasing resistance while using those muscles the same way you use them in your sport.

To strengthen your leg muscles so you can ride faster, you need to practice pedaling up hills as fast as you can. You also need to ride shorter distances very fast, two times a week, and work at getting to where you can spin your pedals more than 90 times a minute.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

United Feature Syndicate

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