Many athletes and coaches go to great lengths to identify and add the latest and greatest recovery modality to their training regime, however the most effective recovery solution comes from planned reductions in training. Programming recovery into your training program can help to stave off preventable training ruts that put the brakes on your progress. In this article we will discuss how to properly build recovery into the training plan.
Planning recovery into your training program requires a basic understanding of periodization and how your body reacts to training stress. The foundation of all periodization strategies is a gradual and progressive increase in training stress over time. Programming would be easy if we could continually intensify our training indefinitely and make improvements in each and every workout. If that were possible then there would be a lot of 1000lbs. squatters and benchers walking around every gym, but we know that just isn’t possible. Eventually progress reaches a plateau and it may seem like ages pass before a new personal best is set. Planning rest weeks that reduce training intensity or volume is the key to ensuring continual progress.
Rest weeks should occur at regular intervals within your training program. Training experience factors heavily into the timing of planned rest weeks. Less experienced athletes are generally able to tolerate more successive weeks of intensive training compared to the experienced athlete. One other major consideration is the time of year relative to the competition season. In the early off-season it may be conducive in a preparatory phase of training to induce a high level of fatigue when seeking specific adaptions, however it is unacceptable for an athlete to become overly fatigued during the competitive season. Running with this example, an athlete may be able to intensify training for 3-4 consecutive weeks in the early off-season, but may reduce to two hard training weeks for every rest week during the competitive season.
Planning a rest week into your training program every third or fourth week is quite common. I advocate that most athletes train hard for three consecutive weeks for most of the off-season, and reduce to two consecutive hard weeks in the pre-season, in-season, or during periods in the year of very high intensity training. While solid arguments can be made to favor either an intensity or volume deload, I favor a intensity deload in the weight room and a volume deload for any modes of conditioning. A general recommendation of a 20% reduction in either intensity or volume will not cause detraining to occur, but will provide a sufficiently easy week of training to allow the body to recoup and adapt. Circumstances necessitating peak performances may utilize a 30-40% reduction in intensity or volume.
The key to effectively programming rest weeks within your training is to stay ahead of the fatigue. Much like cliché “if you wait to drink until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated,” if you wait to take a rest week after performances begin to stall, you are probably already in a fatigue debt.