So what is effective recovery all about? I often hear people say that they are running to get fit, the normal person in me congratulates them for taking that step, while the pedantic physiologist in me thinks running doesn’t get you fit, rest does.
The body adapts to the demands being placed upon it, that’s why not many people get out of breath sitting on a sofa. The physical demand is minimal and the body can cope with the demands being placed upon it. If we take a sedentary person and ask them to run 5k they may very well struggle as their body isn’t conditioned to running. However, their body was stressed during their exercise session and following full recovery their fitness level will improve slightly in several different areas (cardiovascular fitness, strength endurance etc).
This process is known as Supercompensation.
Supercompensation has stood the test of time, in such a young area of science very few sports scientists have argued against Russian scientist Nikolai N. Yakovlev’s (1911–1992) original work in 1949-1959. The body requires time to recover from the stress placed upon it in order for the supercompensation to occur. Because the human body is an amazing organism, it prepares for the next training session by recovering and then undergoing a short period of supercompensation where it is stronger than it was before the original training session. It’s during this window that your next training session should occur. If you leave the next training session too long your fitness level will decrease. The recovery period following exercise is typically 24 hours following the exercise period with the supercompensation increasing in intensity between 24 hours and 48 hours after the exercise (stressor) session has finished.
If you’re reading this thinking “I’m fit so my recovery period will be less and therefore I can run sooner” think again. Yes you’re fitter, but the stress you place on your body is relative to the intensity of the workout. Just because you are twice as fit as the couch potato doesn’t mean the stress you place upon your body is relatively speaking any less when you’re out there running twice as fast. You’ll still need a minimum of 24 hours, preferably 48 hours recovery before your next run.
There are exceptions to the rule, obviously a full ironman is going to stress the body immensely and subsequently the recovery period is longer. People are individuals, they recover at different rates based upon a number of factors such as quality of diet, amount of sleep (more the better), stress (mentally and physically, often job or life related), other training (a different activity still stresses the system) etc.
You can deliberately train during the recovery period in order to achieve an improved level of supercompensation but this can be risky business as training while fatigued increases your risk of injury, the recovery following this has to be of very good quality and of sufficient time to ensure supercompensation occurs. Training too soon is known as overtraining;
This is the real danger when it comes to training and one we see all too often at Advance Performance, people training too early, not allowing the body to recover and achieve supercompensation. Or, alternatively they place huge amounts of stress in a training session on an untrained system (too much too soon). Inexperienced runners tend to be particularly guilty of this. That said, don’t rest for too long, as the diagram at the top demonstrates fitness levels start to drop off if left for too long.
Listen to your body, if you’re in pain for any reason visit a good physiotherapist or sports therapist and find out why, don’t soldier on and run yourself into early retirement.
Above all else remember an individual doesn’t get fitter when they train, they get fitter when they rest.
Enjoy your running