Recovery and Repair

You don’t get stronger by training. You get stronger by resting after training. If you don’t get enough recovery you’ll continue to damage your body until it becomes a problem.

All too often we are doing “reactive recovery”, meaning we notice pain or an increase in effort for the same results and stop. Reactive recovery becomes less necessary if we plan recovery time and find things that work the best for you as an individual. Recovery from training and competition is complex and typically dependent on the nature of the exercise performed and any other outside stressors.

Recovery Tips

  1. Rest and Sleep: Adequate rest and quality sleep are essential for the body to repair and recover. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  2. Nutrition: Consume a balanced diet with a focus on replenishing glycogen stores, repairing muscle tissue, and hydrating properly. Include a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.
  3. Hydration: Stay hydrated before, during, and after training and racing. Replace fluids lost through sweat to maintain optimal performance and aid in recovery.
  4. Active Recovery: Engage in low-intensity activities such as gentle stretching, yoga, or light swimming to promote blood flow and reduce muscle stiffness. Even Tour de France competitors spin on low resistance stationary bikes after completing a multiple hour race sessions to recover for the next day.
  5. Recovery Modalities: Incorporate techniques such as foam rolling, massage, and contrast water therapy (alternating between hot and cold water immersion) to alleviate muscle soreness and enhance recovery.
  6. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to signs of fatigue, soreness, or injury. Adjust training intensity or volume accordingly to prevent overtraining and promote long-term athletic development.
  7. Periodization: Implement a structured training plan that includes periods of rest and recovery to prevent burnout and optimize performance gains.
  8. Mental Rest: Allow time for mental relaxation and stress management through activities such as meditation, mindfulness, or hobbies unrelated to sports.
  9. Compression Garments: Compression sleeves and pants are widely used in sports and fitness for various purposes, including potentially aiding in recovery. While scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of compression sleeves specifically for recovery is mixed, some research and anecdotal evidence suggest that they may offer benefits in certain situations.

How Long for Recovery?

The duration of a recovery period can vary based on several factors, including age, fitness level, the intensity of the activity, and individual recovery capacity. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for how long recovery should last based solely on age, here are some general considerations:

  • Youth and Adolescence (Under 25): Younger individuals often have quicker recovery times compared to adults due to their higher metabolic rates and greater resilience. However, they still require adequate rest and recovery periods between intense activities to prevent injury and support growth and development. Recovery periods for youth athletes may range from 24 to 48 hours, depending on the intensity and duration of the activity. Typically individuals in this age range do not need to carefully plan recovery days into their training, but can apply them as needed unless training at an elite level where recovery planning is necessary.
  • Adult (25-35): Adults typically require 24 to 48 hours of recovery time between intense workouts or competitions, depending on factors such as fitness level, training volume, and the specific demands of the activity. Listening to the body’s signals of fatigue, soreness, and readiness to train again is essential for determining the appropriate duration of recovery. Recovery methods are increasingly important and should be part of your regular routine.
  • Ages 35-65: Typically recovery periods can require multiple days and a mix of active recovery and rest along with some therapeutic measures. Depending on your training level and fitness recovery should be planned to be at least 1/2 of your plan and if necessary based on your body’s signals you might need to adjust recovery days for training days. Recovery is critical to avoid injury and over training and should be taken seriously.
  • Older Adults (65+): As individuals age, their recovery capacity may decline due to factors such as reduced muscle mass, slower metabolism, and decreased flexibility. Older adults require slightly longer recovery periods compared to younger adults to allow for adequate rest and recuperation. Recovery times may vary widely among older adults based on factors such as overall health, fitness level, and any existing medical conditions.

Impacts to Recovery Time

  • Fitness Level: Individuals’ fitness levels can significantly impact their recovery needs. Well-trained athletes may require shorter recovery periods compared to recreational exercisers due to their higher levels of conditioning and adaptation to training stress. Conversely, beginners or those returning to exercise after a hiatus may need longer recovery periods to allow their bodies to adapt and recover.
  • Training Volume and Intensity: The volume (amount) and intensity (level of effort) of training sessions play a crucial role in determining the duration of recovery needed. Higher volume or intensity workouts typically require longer recovery periods to allow for adequate rest and replenishment of energy stores. For example, a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session may necessitate a longer recovery period compared to a low-intensity, steady-state workout.
  • Specific Demands of the Activity: Different activities place varying demands on the body and may require different recovery times. For example, activities that involve repetitive impact or high-impact movements, such as running or jumping, may require longer recovery periods to allow for muscle repair and recovery. On the other hand, low-impact activities like swimming or cycling may have shorter recovery times.
  • Individual Response to Training: Every individual responds differently to training stimuli based on factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and previous training history. Some individuals may recover more quickly and tolerate higher training volumes, while others may require more conservative approaches and longer recovery periods to avoid overtraining and injury.

Are you Overtraining?

Measuring if you’ve overtrained involves a combination of subjective and objective assessments. Here are some methods commonly used to gauge if you’ve reached a state of overtraining with highlights on the ones that are popular:

  • Monitoring Performance Metrics: Track changes in your performance metrics over time, such as time trial times, strength gains, or endurance levels. A sudden decline or plateau in performance despite consistent training efforts could indicate overtraining.
  • Keep a Training Log: Maintain a detailed training log documenting your workouts, including duration, intensity, and perceived exertion. Look for patterns of excessive training volume or intensity without adequate recovery.
  • Resting Heart Rate (RHR): Monitor your resting heart rate daily upon waking. An elevated resting heart rate over time may indicate increased stress on the body due to overtraining.
  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV): HRV measures the variation in time intervals between heartbeats and can reflect the body’s readiness for stress. A decrease in HRV or disrupted patterns may suggest overtraining. Many sports watches use HRV to track your training level. There is a large work of science on this topic: see parasympathetic and sympathetic responses.
  • Subjective Fatigue and Mood: Pay attention to how you feel mentally and physically. Persistent feelings of fatigue, irritability, or mood swings can be signs of overtraining.
  • Muscle Soreness and Recovery: Assess how your muscles feel during and after workouts. Persistent muscle soreness, joint pain, or slow recovery may indicate overtraining.
  • Sleep Quality and Quantity: Monitor your sleep patterns and quality. Overtraining can disrupt sleep, leading to insomnia, restless sleep, or difficulty falling asleep.
  • Appetite and Weight Changes: Changes in appetite or unexplained weight loss or gain can be indicative of overtraining and metabolic disturbances.
  • Hormonal Changes: While not easily measurable without specialized tests, disruptions in hormonal balance, such as elevated cortisol (hormone related to inflammation) levels or decreased testosterone levels, can occur with overtraining.
  • Psychological Assessment: Consider consulting with a sports psychologist or mental health professional to evaluate any psychological symptoms associated with overtraining, such as anxiety, depression, or loss of motivation.

Give Yourself A Break

Allow adequate time for recovery and avoid rushing back into intense training too soon. Listen to your body’s signals and gradually reintroduce exercise as you feel ready. Pushing yourself too hard or returning to activity before fully recovering can increase the risk of re-injury and setback progress. Recovery is as important as training.


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