Recovery is a part of training

13. September 2017

The key to success in sports not only depends on the effort, but also the recovery. Only those who are sufficiently recovered can achieve peak performances.

For successful trainers, it has long been a matter of course to plan their protégés’ training plans around the recovery periods. Rest periods take precedence over everything else - and rightly so. For amateur athletes, this approach is even more important in order to give their bodies the urgently needed rest periods. This is because amateur athletes rarely have it as "good" as the professionals, who are able to focus completely on their sport. And yet, even amateur endurance athletes find that the scope of their training can quickly reach five to ten or more hours per week. Alongside work and family, it’s all too clear what’s too often neglected: recovery! 

Sports training is not about stringing together as many physical activities as possible, but is composed instead of exertion AND recovery. Indications that the body is adapting, which in turn lead to improved performance capability, only first start to appear during the recovery period. The body initially responds to physical exertion with fatigue. And the more intensive the exertion, the greater this fatigue. 

Not every exertion requires the same length of recovery

As soon as the body is fatigued, the so-called regeneration phase or recovery kicks in, whereby the body not only recovers but gets ready for the next exertion. This is because it doesn’t want to get tired again as quickly. It then enters a period of so-called supercompensation. This means that the performance capability surpasses the original fitness level you had before the training. This effect forms the basis of sports training, because if we manage to challenge our body at the right moment with the right stimulus, we can optimally improve our performance capability and gradually climb to the next higher fitness level. 

Hence, the key questions are: how long should you wait until you need to train again and how long do you need to wait until you should train again. If you wait too long and there is no further training stimulus, your performance capability quickly returns to the original level. So, it makes little sense to only do a two-hour run every weekend and remain inactive for the rest of the week. However, if you don’t wait for long enough and already train before the recovery phase is completed, you will place an additional load on the body without any training effect. If this happens too often, your performance capability decreases considerably instead of constantly increasing.

Unfortunately, it is still not possible to determine the exact recovery period as it depends on the duration and intensity of the exertion as well as the athlete’s individual performance capability and constitution. The recovery period following a relaxed continuous run is about half a day, whereas after intense running training or a short competition, it is several days. And a marathon requires a period of several weeks or even months until the body has fully recovered. 

Six hours can mean a lot

Or put another way: six hours of training each week can mean many things. Maybe a relaxed two-hour trip with the racing bike three times a week in the summer. It can also mean a relaxed three-hour bike trip and three strenuous interval training units. While the scope of training is the same in both weeks, the exertion and required recovery time are completely different.

Modern sport watches try to estimate recovery times based on the individual’s data and measured values. The generated data is usually only approximate values, though, and should be treated with caution. However, if you combine acute self-observation with the necessary experience while doing sports, you can gain a much more precise understanding of how much recovery is advisable.