On the Road to Recovery

News & Results

02/11/2005| 0 comments
by Mike Niederpruem, MS, CSCS

On the Road to Recovery

One of the most common training errors is training too hard on recovery days, and not hard enough on the "hard" days.

One of the most common training errors for endurance athletes at all levels is training too hard on the "easy" or recovery days, and not hard enough on the "hard" days. This pervasive regime creates premature plateaus and can lead to significant overtraining, which can result in prolonged illness, injury, and burnout. Although the aspects of training intensities, duration, frequency and volume of the "hard" days are beyond the scope of this article, we can address the components of "easy" days recovery that make them powerful training tools.

Simply put, one of the most important considerations in the recovery process is the replenishment of glycogen stores. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates within the body, and it is these carbohydrates that are a primary source of fuel at high intensities (at or above lactate threshold). Training too hard and/or too soon after high intensity training sessions or races compromises the process of glycogen replenishment, and ultimately interferes with the ability to continue training at high intensities or race effectively in the future.

If glycogen replenishment is optimized, it is possible to recover from most types of training within 24 hours. However, it can take up to 36-48 hours to recover from prolonged efforts at lactate threshold (60-90+ minutes), cumulative efforts above lactate threshold (30-45+ minutes), or moderate to heavy resistance training. Both the intensity and quantity of efforts one is performing need to be considered when determining amount of recovery time needed.

Many additional factors affect one's ability to recover from high intensity training sessions or races, both in the short-term (i.e., week to week, from one race to the next) and the long-term (i.e., over the course of the entire season and from one season to the next). These include age, level of physical development, skill level, disciplines, point of season, and nutrition habits. Young (under 16) and the older (50 +) athletes often need more recovery time than athletes between those ages. Athletes with less than 3 years of structured training need more recovery time than more physically developed athletes.

Reasonably developed and fit athletes often respond well to one day of active recovery for every day of high intensity training/racing. So, if you race once per week, you may get by with an active recovery day on Monday, and be sufficiently recovered for high intensity training by Tuesday. However, if you are racing both weekend days, and across multiple weeks, then you may need as many as 2-3 days of recovery after the first weekend, and another day or two prior to the next weekend. This type of week would look like:

SAT

SUN

MON

TUE

WED

THU

FRI

SAT

SUN

RACE

RACE

Active Recovery

Active Recovery

High Intensity Training

Active Recovery

Active Recovery

RACE

RACE

If you are at the end of a particularly difficult training block, racing has been unusually difficult, or your daily measures (morning heart rate, body weight and sleep? see below) vary from normal over several days, you may be overreaching and in need of a recovery or regeneration week. Ideally, you should

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