Resistance Training Recovery: Considerations for Single vs. Multi-joint Movements and Upper vs. Lower Body Muscles

Abstract: This study examined muscle recovery patterns between single-joint (SJ) versus multi-joint (MJ), and upper-body (UB) versus lower-body (LB) exercises and the utility of perceptual measures (ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) and perceived recovery scale (PRS)) to assess recovery status. A 10 rep max (10-RM) was determined for 6 SJ and 4 MJ exercises (5 UB and 5 LB) for male recreational weightlifters (n = 10). Participants completed a baseline protocol including 8 repetitions at 85% of 10-RM followed by a set to failure with 100% of 10-RM. In a counter-balanced crossover design, participants returned at 24 or 48 h to repeat the protocol. PRS and RPE were assessed following the first and second sets of each exercise respectively. Wilcoxon matched pair signed-rank tests determined performance improved (p < 0.05) for every lift type category from 24 to 48 h, but the only difference in ∆ repetitions from baseline at the same time point was between MJ (-1.7 ± 1.5 repetitions ) and SJ (-0.5 ± 1.8 repetitions ) at 24 h (p = 0.037). Higher RPE and lower PRS estimations (p < 0.05) support the utility of perceptual measures to gauge recovery as the only between group differences were also found between MJ and SJ at 24 h. Eighty percent of participants completed within 1 repetition of baseline for all exercises at 48 h except bench press (70%) and deadlift (60%); suggesting 72 h of recovery should be implemented for multi-joint barbell lifts targeting the same muscle groups in slower recovering lifters.

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Alex’s Notes: Most training programs have 48 to 72 hours scheduled between lifting sessions for the same muscle groups. However, many programs also indirectly work some muscles in as little as 24 hours. Determining how recovery time affects performance is critical as it allows for programming that optimizing training volume while avoiding overtraining. As such, the current study recruited ten recreationally strength trained males to quantify muscle recovery patterns between single- (SJ) and multi-joint (MJ) exercises, and upperbody (UB) versus lowerbody (LB) exercises.

The subjects averaged 26 years of age and had been engaging in at least 3-4 resistance training sessions per week for the past 12 weeks.

“A 10 repetition maximum (10-RM) was determined for 10 exercises during an initial session. Participants reported 5-7 days later for a baseline trial during which they completed 2 sets on the same 10 exercises. Eight repetitions (reps) at an intensity equal to 85% of their 10-RM was completed during the first set for each exercise. The second set was completed with 100% of 10-RM and participants lifted to failure. The purpose of the first set was to induce standardized fatigue before the subsequent set to failure. The protocol was replicated during two additional sessions with days of rest (either 24 or 48h) between the next two lifting sessions serving as the independent variable.”

The exercises included flat barbell bench press (BP), seated dumbbell military press (MP), barbell dead lift (DL), machine leg press (LP), knee extension (KE), machine triceps extension (TE), dumbbell side raises (SR), machine chest fly (CF), and seated machine hip abduction/adduction (HipAB/AD). UB and LB exercises were alternated and there was 90 seconds of rest between sets and two minutes between exercises.

Lifters were considered recovered if they were able to complete within 1 repetition of baseline

The difference between rest times was significant, with only 50% of lifters being recovered at 24h compared to 80% at 48h. As would be expected, the MJ exercises suffered more at 24h than did the SJ exercises. Interestingly, while most lifters were recovered by 48h, a huge exception was for the deadlift and bench press, with only 60 and 70% of lifters, respectively, able to perform within 1 repetition of baseline with 48 hours of recovery. All this can be seen in the tables below.

24hr 60% 50% 60% 60% 60% 60% 70% 50% 80% 80%
48hr 70% 60% 90% 80% 90% 90% 100% 90% 80% 80%


  MJ24 MJ48 SJ24 SJ48 UB24 UB48 LB24 LB48
Recovered 30% 70% 50% 80% 40% 80% 60% 80%

Practical conclusion

Without getting into the limitations of the study, such as the small sample size of men only, or the fact that the protocol is unlikely to resemble a lifting regiment for a body builder where more focus would likely be placed on distinct muscle groups and includes greater volume, a practical takeaway is that larger lifts need more rest time.

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