Recovery- The unsung hero of fitness
Updated: Nov 14, 2020
To maximise adaptation, we need to find a balance between work, life, training, competitions and recovery. A lot of us are very good at balancing a couple of them for a period of time with the recovery being left out because most people think the other are more important.
This blog will hopefully shed some light on how important it is to have good recovery strategies and how to implement them.
This model is one of the simplest representations of the training process and it’s based on the body’s natural ability to maintain a state of homeostasis and adapt to the constant stresses from the environment. We can manipulate the stresses and environment during training so that the body adapts in the way we want to maintain homeostasis.
Figure A shows a visual representation of how Supercompensation works.
The models are made up of 4 parts:
Step 1- Training
The body is stressed through training or loading stress and the body reaction to this stress is fatigue and loss of performance.
Step 2- Recovery Phase
After the body has been fatigued it needs a period of time to recover, this can include lighter training sessions or active recovery session or a day off. Through decent recovery and Nutrition, performance will return to the baseline.
Step 3- Supercompensation
This is where it gets interesting because your body has the ability to rebound above the baseline. After the body has had a chance to fully recover from the training stress which you weren’t previously suited to withstand. Your body had been able to adapt (Homeostasis) and improve its ability to cope with the same stresses in anticipation for the next training stress.
Step 4- Loss of Supercompensation
This is the loss of the Supercompensation effect and happens when a new training stress is added, the decline is a natural response. When you reintroduce your training then the stimulus should be at the height of the supercompensation to maximise the benefits. This process repeats its self throughout the training process so that fitness improves. If no training stresses are introduced during this phase then there will also be a decline and this is called detraining.
Examples of Supercompensation going right and wrong.
Figure B- This shows how supercompensation can work when the rest periods are optimal and the workouts match with the supercompensation phase.
Figure C- This shows another way supercompensation can work over a Microcycle. This works by keeping the rest between sessions short so the body can’t fully recover, then the rest between the third and fourth training session is longer than usual but still optimal, this will allow supercompensation phase to take effect. The fourth workout is at the height of the supercompensation phase after the first after the first three sessions.
Figure D- This shows what can happen when the rest intervals are to short and the body never gets a chance to fully recover and the supercompensation phase doesn’t happen. Performance can reduce and you are at risk of Overreaching and Overtraining.
Figure E- This shows what happens when the rest periods are too long. The supercompensation’s phase happens but the next training session doesn’t happen quick enough, therefore detraining takes effect and there is not progression.
How this affects your training program-
Microcycle- This is your daily/ weekly training schedule.
Planning rest days or recovery session during the week is very important to make sure you take full advantage of the Supercompensation model. There are a number of ways this can be done:
Increasing intensity throughout the week then finishing with an active recovery session/ day off at the end of the week. Start the next week at the high intensity you finished the week before.
For those who play sports at the weekend increase intensity throughout the week and then have an active recovery/ rest day before the game on Saturday.
Mesocycle- This is your 4-6 week training schedule.
Planning an active recovery week (Deload week) within the 4-6 week training program will give the body a chance to fully recovery from the training block. So, when the next phase start you are coming back fitter and stronger.
Macrocycle- This is your yearly training schedule.
When panning for a competition or event, the whole training program leading up to it will maximise the Supercompensation model so you are at your fittest and strongest for the start. Planning ahead means that rest days and active rest sessions can be designed so that you done burnout before the competition starts.
Overtraining can be defined at excessive frequency, volume or intensity of training that results in extreme fatigue, illness or injury, which is often due to a lack of sufficient rest, recovery and perhaps nutrition intake. (REFERENCE)
Overtraining can affect a number of different physiological and psychological functions such as:
Alterations to neural functions.
Motor unit recruitment.
Muscle glycogen stores.
Resting heart rate.
During a well-planned periodised program, you can recover relative quickly from a decrease in performance, a couple of days to a week is generally enough to recover. Whereas when an athlete is overtrained it can take several weeks to months to restore the body to homeostasis and see a return of performance.
As we can see overtraining can have a massive impact of performance and our ability train as if affects us psychologically as well as physiologically. This is a syndrome that doesn’t just affect athletes that train all day, every day and it can happen to anyone who has a busy lifestyle. Fatigue can build up in a number of ways from working a lot of hours to training really hard.
Within the elite sport world, they use recovery technique to increase the rate at which the athletes can recover so they can be back stronger for the next session or competition. Its also possible to combine these techniques for a more effective recovery.
This is one of the most basic recovery techniques, with sleep being the main way we can recover passively. Sleep plays a major role in aiding recovery and there is research to back it up. A meta-analysis by Bird (2013) showed that performance increase when athletes gained more sleep, they also recommended that some athletes that are involved in high intensity training may need up to 12 hours of sleep per night.
Active recovery (cool down) is when you perform light exercises directly after a game or training session. Performing a cool down have been shown to aid in the removal of lactic acid which can help to speed up the recovery process post exercise. With research showing active recovery is more efficient at removing blood lactate than passive recovery. (Ozsu el al, 2018) The current recommendation is to preform 10-20 minutes of aerobic exercises at 50% max heart rate.
Massage is a very traditional way to improve recovery after training and competitions and is a process where body tissues are manipulated to promote health and well-being. There is very little research supporting massage as an effective recovery strategy. With some research has suggesting to help to increase blood flow therefore reducing of DOMS. (Dupuy et al, 2018) There has been a few meta-analysis that have shown massage can lower perceived fatigue which can help the athlete relax more and aid the psychology aspect of recovery. Massage still has a number of benefits with injury prevention and management and should still be an option within your recovery process. (Poppendick, et al 2016)
Training and diet are significantly related and what you eat post exercises can play a massive role in your ability to recover. During exercise we expend a lot of energy so they first goal of your post exercise meal should be to replace the energy lost and to stimulate protein synthesis. To do this you need to consume an adequate amount of carbohydrate and protein.
Compression Garments are widely used within the elite sports as they are believed to aid in venous return through application of gradual compression pushing the blood back towards the heart. The external pressure may reduce swelling and promote stable alignment of muscle fibres, meaning that it could aid in the reduction in muscle soreness.
We can see that fatigue and recovery play a massive role in our ability to adapt to a training stimulus and when it is not managed correctly it can cause Overtraining which can have some massive effects on our performance and psychology. The supercompensation model gives us the best understanding of how we adapt to training and the reason why we should include daily/ weekly and monthly recovery strategies. I hope this blog has also given you some ideas on how you can maximise your own recovery so you can train better, for longer and without injury.
If you want to know more information on how to can maximise your recovery then get in contact.
Baechle, TR., Earle, R.W, 2008. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: National Strength and Conditioning Association. 3rd Ed. Human Kinetics: United States of America.
Bird,S.P, 2013. Sleep, Recovery and Athletic Performance: A Brief Review and Recommendations. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 35(5)
Bompa, T.O., Haff, G.G, 2009. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. 5th Ed. Human Kinetics: United States of America.
Dupuy, O., Douzi, W., Theurot, D., Bosquuet, L., Dugue, B, 2018. An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-Exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers or Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Journal Frontiers in Physiology. 9(403)
Ozau, I., Gurol, B., Kurt, C, 2018. Comparison of the Effect of Passive and Active Recovery, and Self-Myofascial Release Exercises on Lactate Removal and Total Quality of Recovery. Journal of Education and Training Studies. 6(9)
Poppendieck, W., Wegmann, M., Ferrauti, A., Kellmann, M., Pfeiffer, M., Meyer, T. 2016. Massage and Performance Recovery: A Meta-Analysis Review. Sports Medicine. 46, 183-204
Zatsiorsky, V.M., Kraemer, W.J, 2006. Science and Practice of Strength Training, 2nd Ed. Human Kinetics: United States of America.