This post will discuss the importance of planned recovery in your training program. Your body needs rest after each workout and after every several weeks of hard training to adapt and recover from exercise. These adaptations, which improve sports performance, occur during periods of REST.
I know it is tempting to push as hard as possible each and every workout. Your body can handle a lot, but if you max out every workout, you will burn out quickly and performance will suffer significantly. Train smart and give your body the rest it needs to perform optimally. Read on to learn how to make the most of your training and maximize performance.
General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)
The GAS model describes the process that our bodies go through in response to stressors. When we exercise, we are placing stress on our bodies so that they will adapt and become better equipped to handle the exercise stimulus the next time we encounter it. For example, if we perform strength training, our bodies adapt and we become stronger, and we are eventually able to lift more weight.
Alarm- The alarm phase occurs after a workout. It is a period where performance is temporarily decreased due to induced muscle damage from exercises, the accumulation of fatigue, and the depletion of energy substrates needed to fuel exercise.
Recovery– During the recovery phase the body begins to mend itself. Muscle tissue is repaired and depleted energy stores are replenished, returning performance back to baseline levels.
Adaptation (Super compensation)- It is during the adaptation phase that training adaptations occur. At this point the body has recovered from the initial workout and has adapted causing performance to increase above baseline values.
Detraining– Detraining is the loss of training adaptations when exercise is discontinued. This phase does not occur if workouts are performed often enough.
Intensity of Workouts
The intensity of the exercise performed changes the size of the GAS curve.
This means that the more intense the exercise session is, the more exaggerated the initial decrease in performance is and the longer the recovery period needs to be. However, more intense exercise also leads to greater training adaptations whereas very low intensity exercise needs less recovery time and produces smaller training adaptations.
Arrows indicate the optimal time to perform another workout based upon the recovery time necessary following workouts of differing intensities
Recovery Period Length
The amount of time needed to recover between workouts varies depending on the fitness level of the athlete as well as the intensity of previous workouts. More elite athletes need less time to recover from exercise than do untrained individuals.
The following table from Zatsiorsky and Kraemer gives general recommendations for rest period length between training sessions based upon the intensity of the previous exercise session.
Timing of Workouts Using the GAS Model
Detraining- When too much rest is taken between workouts, your body will begin to lose training adaptations, an occurrence known as detraining. Even during an athlete’s competitive season, they should still train at least 1-2 times per week in order to avoid decrements in performance as a result of detraining.
Overtraining- Overtraining is the accumulation of fatigue that results when workouts are regularly performed before the body has finished recovering from the previous workout. Overtraining can be quite serious and may decrease performance for months in extreme cases.
Optimal Recovery– The ideal time to perform your next workout is when your body is fully recovered from the previous workout and training adaptations are at their peak.
In order for adaptation to exercise to occur, you must plan scheduled recovery sessions and weeks into your workout program. Delayed transformation is the concept that adaptation to exercise occurs during REST, not during times of stress.
The exercise performed provides the stimulus necessary for adaptation, but actual adaptations happen during periods of unloading (a period where exercise volume and/or intensity are significantly decreased). During unloading weeks, enough exercise is performed to avoid detraining, but not enough to cause excessive stress on the body.
Applying the GAS Model and Delayed Transformation to Your Training Program
After weeks of hard training, fatigue accumulates. In order for the training adaptations to become apparent, you need to carefully plan your recovery.
After workouts you can and should perform a number of different recovery methods such as stretching, foam rolling, and spine rolling (as well as a number of other methods such as hot and/or cold treatment, proper nutrition, sufficient sleep, and other methods which I will write about in further posts). These methods can speed up recovery between workouts. You do not need to perform these methods after every workout, but you should have a post-workout recovery plan.
Additionally, every 3-4 weeks you should plan an unloading week. For the first 3-4 weeks of a training period you should train as hard as possible. Then, during your unload week, cut back on your training volume and/or intensity so that your body has time to experience training adaptations.
With that being said, don’t let all your hard work go to waste! More is not always better; sometimes what your body really needs to be more competitive is just rest. I know for an athlete it can be very hard to put on the brakes, but train smart and rest assured knowing that planned recovery will improve your performance!
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1. Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M., and William J. Kraemer. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995. Print.