For many people, particularly those of us inclined to frequent the pages of Men’s Health, the most challenging part of working out comes with the rest days. We know the dangers of overtraining just as we know it would be good to see our partners rather than hit the gym (again), yet the thought of not exercising for a full 24 hours can often require more willpower than mustering the energy for one final brutal drop set.
It’s for this reason that injury rehab can come as a challenge. A torn bicep or shoulder injury will often mean weeks, or even months, away from the sweaty embrace of the gymnasium. Not only does that mean you’re missing your daily dose of exercise, but getting back up to speed when said injury is recovered will be that much slower and painstaking. However, new research from Perth’s Edith Cowan University (ECU) suggests this doesn’t have to be the case.
In a paper published late last year, ECU has demonstrated that training one arm can increase muscle growth and decrease atrophy in the other arm without even moving it. How? By using eccentric exercises in the active arm. (For anyone in need of a brush up on gym terms, an eccentric contraction occurs when the muscle is lengthened, as in lowering a bicep curl, or walking downstairs.)
The researchers claim “this could change the way we approach rehabilitation for people who have temporarily lost the use of one arm or one leg. By starting rehab and exercise in the uninjured limb right away, we can prevent muscle damage induced by exercise in the other limb and also build strength without moving it at all.”
The study looked at a total of 30 participants who had one arm immobilised for a minimum of eight hours a day for four weeks. Divided into three groups, some participants did no exercise, some performed a mix of eccentric and concentric exercise and the rest did only eccentric exercises.
The latter group, who performed only eccentric exercises on their active arm, showed an increase in strength and a decrease in muscle loss in their immobilised arm.
“This group also had just two per cent muscle wastage in their immobilised arm, compared with those who did no exercise who had a 28 per cent loss of muscle,” said Professor Nosaka of ECU.
“This means that for those people who do no exercise, they have to regain all that muscle and strength again.”
The news is potentially groundbreaking for both athletes recovering from an injured limb or stroke patients who are suffering the loss of mobility in one side. Rather than waiting until the injured arm is fully recovered to resume training, one can now perform eccentric exercises on the active arm in order to retain strength and muscle mass.
The only downside? Rest days are indeed still important. Sorry guys.