Training volume and the art of recovery

Following on from the last article I wrote on 'Nutritional needs for elite level recovery' during #Pyeongchang #Olympics , I had a lot of interest in the subject and requests for an article on training volume and recovery to accompany it.

To start with we have to define what 'training' is in the pursuit of health or physical performance. Training is nothing more than a stressor on the body which, if done correctly, will cause the body to adapt and improve. It is important to point out that health conscious and sports people will get healthier, bigger, stronger, faster or more resistant to fatigue if they have the correct balance of stressors and recovery.

Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts have experienced the Plato or even a drop-in performance and motivation; there are of course many factors that can contribute to this, from overreaching (doing too much, too many stressors), not having adequate recovery strategies in place (which can encompass many aspects from nutrition to sleep) or just being in a happy state of mind. Let's remember that any form of stress will affect homeostasis, meaning if you have a lot on your mental plate it can affect your ability to adapt to the training stressors you might be placing on your body physically.

It is possible to recover from training without any adaptation, however, it is not possible to adapt without proper recovery!

Many athletes, sport and fitness enthusiasts concentrate on marginal gains in the ever increasing search for improvement; while there is nothing wrong with this it is too often at the cost of paying attention to the basics of training principles. For example, at the top of the priority list would normally be to know; "what is the maximum amount of training that is possible to recover from?". If you constantly exceed this limit, your adaptation will slow down or at worse decrease and possibly lead to illness or injury. The optimal solution is to have a good record of your training to assist you in spotting potential overreaching or to have and include a good coach who not only can show you how to improve but is able to spot the signs of overreaching.

Finding the correct volume/ load of training within your limiters has to be matched with correct recovery, this being de-stressing, to bring your body back down from a heightened state. The main ones, not in any particular order, would be; cooling down, refueling, hydrating, resting (sleeping) and having good stress management in your lifestyle. If these are not in place the catabolic hormones produced during stressful periods will hamper any gains you hope to get.

The most common recovery aspect that is overlooked yet is the most important one of all is sleep and total rest! The research behind the importance of sleep is extensive, it only takes a quick 'Google Scholar' search to find some good papers on the subject and the effectiveness of sleep management and cat napping. Include into this lack of sleep the issues with devices emitting blue light and it doesn't take long to see that the most important recovery method is often overlooked!

Now let's not forget the importance of nutrition and active recovery. Without the correct nutrition, all the sleep in the world will not give us the gains we might want; that said, all the correct nutrition without sleep would not be very good for us either. As I have mentioned in previous articles the timing of nutrition can have a massive impact on the effects of training stimulus and when all of the basics are in place there are very good marginal gains to be found in periodization of nutrition in line with the periodization of training.

Don't fall into the traps of marginal gains at the cost of the getting the basics right: monitor progressive training stimulus and plan adequate recovery in the form of rest/ sleep, good hydration nutrition.