The speed with which the various systems in the body fully recover after training or a competition differs greatly from person to person and depends, among other things, on the length and intensity of your exertion, the degree to which you push your physical performance capability (or even exceed it), and whether you are a beginner or advanced athlete, young or old.
The period of recovery ranges from a few hours (relaxed training) up to several weeks or even months (Ironman, marathon). The following factors influence the recovery capacity and recovery time:
- Objectives, motivation
- Recovery status after previous hard training
- Nutritional status not only regarding the glycogen stores in the muscles, but also all the essential nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, trace elements, phytochemicals, amino acids, and high-quality fats.
- Ability to concentrate on training and the upcoming competition without additional stress from your professional or personal life
- Targeted training over months without any disruptions due to injuries, illness, or other difficulties
- Intensity and scope of the training
- Temperature and humidity (weather)
- Movement technique
- Training terrain (ground conditions, gradients)
- Training time (early morning, late evening)
- Drinking and eating habits
- Individual meaning/importance of the training or competition
- Active and passive regeneration measures (e.g. winding down, whirlpool bath, cold baths, massage)
- Quality and quantity of sleep
- Drinking and eating habits
Beginners generally require significantly more regeneration time, whereas experienced athletes can start training again quicker. Therefore, only experienced athletes should combine training units on the same day. Relaxed units can be combined with intensive ones, for example, by doing a relaxed run to wind down after a maximum strength training unit. Not only the intensity but also the duration should be kept to a minimum. Doing an excessively long endurance unit when your muscles are already tired worsens your running or movement technique and considerably increases the strain on the passive structures such as ligaments, cartilage, and tendons.
The reverse applies: doing a long endurance training unit before a strength training unit renders it ineffective because you will not have enough energy left to fully load the muscles. Amateur athletes should therefore do standalone training units at sufficient intervals to be on the safe side. Or do circuit training for a combined endurance/strength training unit.
Understand the reactions of your body!
Although modern sport watches now collect a wide range of data during each training unit and use sophisticated algorithms to give the wearer approximate regeneration recommendations that can be quite valuable pointers, a certain degree of training experience and body awareness is essential when choosing the optimal individual recovery time.
Not starting too early with the next training unit requires a good body feeling, courage, knowledge, experience, and the certainty that you will become better during the breaks (supercompensation). The more sensitively you try to tune into your body during training, the more pronounced the development of a meaningful body feeling. The patience it takes to initially build up your basic endurance over the months, which forms the foundation of every top performance and is required for integrating the necessary intensive units, is a key component of success and the corner stone for a balanced recovery state.
After a hard training unit or competition, ask yourself the following questions before you start training again:
- Am I one hundred percent healthy?
- Am I in a good mood, full of enthusiasm and optimistic?
- Am I full of energy when I get up and motivated to do the next training unit?
- Do I feel like I’m not under any pressure to train and do I find training fun?
- Can I plan my training in a calm and relaxed manner?
- Can I clearly see my goals ahead of me?
If you have positive answers to these questions, you can rest assured that you have recovered. Nobody knows exactly whether it will take an individual hours, weeks, or even months to recover and it depends on the interplay between the factors above. If you answered some of the questions with no, then you should ask yourself how you can sensibly organise your upcoming training in such a way that it no longer drains you but builds you up. The basic rule that applies here: while there are hardly any athletes who spend too much time recovering, there are countless who often start training too intensively too early. And after an injury-related sports break, many come back stronger than they were before the injury.
Autumn time = recovery time
Besides the direct recovery after a specific sporting stimulus, there is also the necessary recovery time at the end of a challenging season in which not only the physical, but also mental batteries need to be recharged.
For the classic endurance athletes in our latitudes, this phase normally takes place in the autumn. During this phase, it’s not just about physically recovering after a gruelling training period, but also about versatility, finding new motivation, recharging the mental batteries, and learning new and unfamiliar forms of movement. Only in this way can you start training for the new season with renewed vigour and fresh motivation. Therefore, the guiding principle for around four to six weeks is: try out a lot of new things, unwind and relax, you can do sports if need be but make it as versatile as possible and don’t do it at high levels of intensity. Equally important: pursue other hobbies that usually take a back seat to your everyday training.
The specified times are average values; they vary and are dependent on the duration and intensity of the load as well as the individual performance capability. It is important to quickly replenish your fluid reserves immediately after training and to eat foods rich in carbohydrates and protein in the days that follow. (Sources: Kuno Hottenrott, Regeneration aus sportmethodischer Sicht, (Regeneration from a sports methodological perspective), Georg Neumann, Regeneration aus sportmedizinischer Sicht. (Regeneration from sports medicine perspective.)
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