News Letter #2 Nov 2012
This edition presents the second installment of Barriers to Performance and will look specifically at the tricky issue of Recovery.
When I provide my athletes with their training programme for the week, they have to manage their time in order to achieve what has been planned. It is very rare that they are able to follow the plan exactly as its not until they get home from work at the end of each day that they know how much time they've got available for training. Because of this I often tell them to treat the plan as a [tick] list of activities that need completing but then teach them how to make the best informed selection from the items remaining for that week.
In order to make the best/right selection they need to understand a few basic rules about Recovery and how each activity has its own recovery-demands.
Here's the theory, it's easy to read and puts everything into perspective, but if its too long for you, scroll down to Guidelines below.
When thinking about Recovery, its best to view the human body as a collection of systems:
  • Metabolic & Energy Systems
  • Muscular & Physical Systems
  • Mental & Neural Systems
  • Whole-Body System.
Each system has a finite capacity and each will be stressed or depleated to a different degree depending on the activity being undertaken, for example, 14 hour days in a stressful office job would mostly affect the Mental System, whilst high-rep Body Building would mostly stress the Muscular & Physical systems. This is a very simplistic view as most activities affect several systems and given that stress is accumalative, its wise to consider the overall stress that you are placing on your body. Have you noticed how hard it is to do mental arithmatic (such as working out your minute-mile pace) when pushing hard on the run or bike?
Operating within current capability.
Recovery is all about restoration of capacity within each system, ideally refilling to the max. The idea that each system has a finite capacity suggests that if you take-out more than you put-in, you will end up reducing that system to zero. This may or may not cause the body to shut-down but will certainly cause a drop in performance and may also lead to breakage, injury or incurring a critical status. There is no such thing as operating in deficit or having a system over-draft!
Another good analogy is to view your capacity as being like a box of matches, where there is a fixed number of strikes. A match is struck each time you take intensity beyond the red-line. Remember that hilly sportive, when your legs gave-out on the last few climbs? My guess is that you got the pacing wrong and struck all your matches too early in the ride.
The human body has a very strong adaptive ability and will try to fill the shortfall created when one part of a system is depleated or broken. For example this is why you can carry on jogging or walking in an aerobic state, once you have used up all your high-intensity anaerobic strikes. There will however be a point at which even this will shut down.
What is Training?
Another aspect of our adaptive ability is the upgrade our system-capabilities in order to meet any new environmental changes placed upon them. This upgrade is referred to as super-compensation, and results from the consistent and repeated over-stressing of a body-system followed by adequate time to rebuild. This forms the basis of all proper training programmes in that the body is made to perform tasks that are progressively harder or more demanding, such as running faster laps or lifting heavier weights. For the Muscular & Physical System the over-stressing actually causes physical damage (micro-tears) within the tissues and this needs to be repaired during recovery. The harder the training the greater the damage and without adequate recovery, super-compensation cannot take place.
What does all this mean and how much Recovery is enough?
Its clear to see that there is less recovery-demand when the body is operating within current capability compared to when in training. So, going for a "volume" run that is within your comfort zone will not require much recovery time, however, pushing yourself to perform interval sets at Threshold will require greater recovery time. Likewise, pushing yourself for greater duration and/or distance will also require greater recovery time.
What is a Recovery week?
When my athletes see Recovery Week (RW) written into their plan they immediately think its time-off. This is not what its about!
You should still be training during your RW, its simply reduced to a lower level. If you've put together a well planned training programme and are listening to your body, you will only need to remove the HIT and long distance/duration sessions from your schedule. Just as the rest of your training should be progressive, the amount of activity that you plan during RW should also be progressive, thus the total training volume for a RW at the end of Base Phase will be greater than at the start of Base Phase. For example, if you are training for an Iron Man and are starting at 10km for your Long Slow Distance (LSD) run, your RW total run distance will be around 15km, whereas at the end of your Base-phase (nearing full Training Distance) the RW total run distance would be around 45km.
Guidelines for Recovery:
  • High intensity training (HIT) and long distance/duration training both have greatest recovery-demands.
  • Under-recovery is more likely to occur during the more progressive or demanding parts of your training programme, thus
  • Build-phase typically requires 2:1 or less as a recovery cycle.
  • Base-phase typically requires 3:1 or 4:1 (weeks) as a recovery cycle.
  • Stress is accumalative so avoid doing more than two consecutive days of high recovery-demand activities.
  • Never increase training targets (distance or duration) more than 10% in any single step.
  • Allow your body to adapt to each new level of stress (distance or duration) before making the next increase. Typically 2-3 sessions is normally enough.
  • Try to mix-up your training activities within each weekly (meso) cycle, for example, run/cycle/run/swim/cycle/run rather than run/run/run/cycle/cycle/swim.
  • Under-performance is the ultimate guide to need for recovery, by which time its too late!
  • Plan your recovery days as you would plan to do training activities. It takes a lot of discipline to take a Recovery Week especially if you are feeling strong.
  • During a Recovery Week, drop all high intensity work and long distance/duration training.
  • Denial of under-recovery is probably the most common issue across all sports and athletic abilities.
  • Employ as many types of Active-Recovery as possible.
  • If you are training more than 10 hours per week, consider having a weekly sports massage.
I hope you can see how all this fits in with the other two big barriers to performance: 1 - Poor understanding of training and 2 - Lack of consistency.
A word about personal preferrence.
Focus on your weaknesses. Generally speaking, we tend to be better at doing the things that we like to do. It takes discipline to go out and focus on something that we don't like doing. Personal preferrence will often over-ride the objectivity of your training requirements/plan.
Have a clear understanding of how your priorities should change as the phases of your programme progress, for example, the main focus during off-season should be Recovery & Rehabilitation. This means a change of priority compared to when you were racing/maintaining optimal performance during the previous phase.
This will mean dropping/replacing some of your runs/rides with rehab & conditioning sessions if the latter are to be effective. This can be very hard to follow through, especially if you have a strong preferrence or desire to go for a run or ride.
I hope this has been helpful and if you have any queries or would like specific guidance please get in contact - call/text 07545 115562 or reply to this email.
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Happy recovery!


Mob: 07545 – 115562