Recovery - its a balancing act!

For many of us, January is a time to begin increasing our training in preparation for spring/summer competitions. To be successful in sport, training should be structured in a way to optimise performance. Training programmes are defined by volume (how much), intensity (how hard) and frequency (how often). These variables determine the way your body adapts to training.

So, how do we structure training to maximise effort but still gain a sense of enjoyment and well being? In other words, how to we find that balance between training hard and recovery?

We all need to train hard in order to improve but the relationship between training load and performance is individual. Recreational athletes tend to have smaller training loads but benefit from large improvements in performance. Conversely, more experienced athletes will require higher training loads in order to cause small increases in performance (Fisher & Gooderick, 2011 & Budgett, 1998). These improvements in performance, however big or small, are the result of adaptations to your body and its response to exercise. This adaptation process relies on a sufficient, and regular, training stimulus to bring about a physiological change (ACSM, 2010). In other words, we need to train above a certain ‘threshold’ level in order to overload the body, make ourselves feel tired and activate our physiological repair mechanisms. For a runner or cyclist, this may mean increasing the duration/intensity of your training sessions whilst for a strength athlete, it may mean increasing the number of sets or reps in the gym.  

The acute fatigue (tired legs, sore muscles!) experienced during periods of overload training is only to be expected and with adequate recovery, it will disappear and your body will adapt to the increased training load (Fisher & Gooderick, 2011). Recovery should therefore be the ‘bedrock’ of any training programme. People often skip a rest day as a result of missed training. If you continue to train when tired, your body will suffer increasing levels of stress which could lead to further fatigue, over-reaching (short term excessive training), possible over-training and under-performance. We then find ourselves in a vicious circle where training is increased in reaction to under-performance rather than increasing the recovery period.

The best way to ensure sufficient recovery is to take a cyclical approach to your training. For example, you could train in a four week cycle. This means training volumes/intensity gradually increase for the first three weeks resulting in periods of overreaching. These heavy training weeks are required in order to ensure there is sufficient ‘overload’ needed to promote adaptation and enhance future performance.  During these periods of functional overreaching, you may experience a reduction in performance before a recovery phase in the fourth week. This cyclical approach will ensure you have adequate recovery to balance the overload period whilst minimising any detraining effect.

In order to achieve increased levels of performance, you need to have a well-structured training plan that balances heavier training weeks (overload) with adequate recovery. Finally, your training philosophy should never compromise quality for quantity. If you feel too tired to train at the appropriate intensity, take a rest rather than complete the session sub-optimally.

Contact me for more information on how to plan and structure your training or follow me on Twitter @PUREsportsperf