Recovery WeeksDonovan van Gelder
Without recovery, there will be no improvement. The fundamental premise of the training effect is that we stress the body slightly beyond its limits in a training session and then give it time to recover from that stress, and then make improvements while repairing the damage we caused, in anticipation of it happening again. This ebb and flow of hard and easy effort should be easy to see during our training day. It is probably even more obvious when looking at the training week or micro-cycle, but it is also necessary on a bigger scale, across our macro-cycles of training.
When planning our seasons, we first decide on events that we are targeting as goals. We included other events into that schedule as training races. These have multiple uses as training sessions; tests to gauge progress and means of maintaining motivation and excitement through what may be a long build up to a much bigger event. What they also do is define training segments. Giving us clear partitions between cycles or blocks of training. Even though the event may not be an objective for us, we will always want to arrive at the race at least partially recovered from the previous training and a little fresher than we normally are in our day to day workouts. We will more than likely also allow ourselves a little more recovery after the race than we might after a regular weekend of training. So, having these B or C events ensures that we schedule in regular periods of rest in our bigger cycles of training. This is definitely the preferred method of scheduling recovery. It gives us something to focus on and get excited about rather than the inevitable paranoia that accompanies a scaling back of training for recovery but what if we don’t have any small races to build in?
I will repeat over and over again that momentum and consistency are the key to successful training for endurance sports but, we cannot continuously keep increasing volume and/or intensity for weeks on end without building up too much fatigue, both mental and physical. There will always come a time when the body needs some catch up time to deal with all the admin that has accumulated over the weeks of excellent training. In the absence of a training race to force some extra rest, we have to schedule in a recovery, cut-back or book-end weeks. They are all the same thing, but I prefer the last term, the Book-End Week.
It most accurately describes how this week fits into the grand scheme of things. It caps off the end of a great training period where we have gently escalated our efforts over consistent weeks, and begins the next phase of training where we will build on what we have done, and more than likely change the focus a bit to stimulate more adaption in our bodies. These weeks allow the body a bit more time to recover and repair. During hard training we never allow complete recovery between sessions. There is always that latent fatigue and the odd ache and pain. After the Book-End Week, we want to feel relaxed, refreshed and niggle free. In short, we want to feel amazing.
A recovery week should be scheduled every 8-10 weeks if there is no other reason for more rest in that period, like a small race. This can be pushed out to 12 weeks depending on the type of training and the experience of the athlete, but more regular recovery weeks are preferable. We don’t want to find ourselves in the situation where these weeks are forced on us because our bodies have just said, “enough!” That is too late and is a large contributor to the list of over-use injuries that endurance athletes incur.
Like the Taper Week, a Book-End Week comes with a lot of psychological baggage. We are used to feeling the effects of our regular training. We are comfortable in our routines. We can also become paranoid about losing fitness and putting on weight if we drop our volume and intensity even slightly. We become slaves to our records. We want to see the big hour or mileage numbers at the end of every week, or we think we are not progressing. We all know this is not true, but even the most experienced professional athletes suffer from these irrational fears. Unfortunately for us, we probably don’t have a team of managers and coaches around us to allay these fears and, if we are planning our own training, it is extremely easy to doubt ourselves and our plan.
Scheduling the Book-End Weeks into our training and knowing when and why they are happening helps a lot but there are other components of the week that will help us to get the week done, not fall apart and possibly even enjoy it. Afterall, when we come out of the recovery week, we will feel amazing. We will have all the benefits of the prior work we have done, with little to none of the negatives. Starting the next phase of training is going to be phenomenal.
The first rule of the recovery week is, don’t change the routine – The less we change about our day-to-day lives, the more seamlessly these weeks will fit into our overall training picture. We want to keep our sleeping habits the same. Going to bed and getting up at the same time as we usually do. We also want to train with more or less the same frequency as we normally do and in the same time slots. These sessions will be shorter and less intense, but we want to hold that place in our day for the training that we are used to, making it easier to get back into training the following week with no loss of momentum.
The second rule of the recovery week is, don’t drop the volume too much – A 70% drop in overall volume is sufficient. If we needed more, we should start questioning the volume of our training in normal weeks. It will probably be too much if our recovery deficit feels too big.
Rule number three is, don’t lose the intensity – We will definitely want to drop the volume of, not only the whole week, but also the key sessions. We will still be training with good intensity, but the volume of this work will be lower and the recovery periods between harder intervals will be longer. We want to be able to get straight back into our normal level of training after this week, without feeling like we need to build into things again. So, keeping the body sharp and activated during the recovery week is essential. This also contributes greatly to our state of mind during this week.
Recovery week rule number four is, don’t add to the load – We will have more time with the drop in training volume, but we don’t want to use that to catch up on other tasks, especially physical ones. This is not the off-season. We are giving ourselves this extra time in order to recover and allow our bodies to regain equilibrium before pushing ourselves to and above our limits again. Leave the DIY for the holidays.
Lastly, rule number five is, get excited – Towards the end of the week we will start feeling fantastic. Our state of general recovery will be more complete, and we will feel energised and sharper than we have in a while. That is a great sensation. Anticipate that at the start of the week and look forward to it. Focus on the positives and the potential doubts and negative thoughts will be pushed away. Next week we are going to feel super. Look forward to it!