I read a tweet a few days ago from @BenDrury1 that read:
Wouldn’t it be great if we changed the terminology of ‘Recovery Strategies’ to ‘Adaptation Strategies’. Goal is to improve not maintain.
He’s right. Recovery days just don’t seem important enough to do them. Knowing instead that a recovery day is actually the day that adaptation—and therefore greater fitness—is achieved gives such days more credibility. Let’s take a brief look at the undervalued recovery day.
Your training load should be great at times. As a result you will often be tired. That’s why we include rest and recovery days between hard workouts in the first place. As mentioned, it’s during these easy days when the body actually becomes more fit. That’s because a high-dose workout only produces the potential for fitness. It’s realized in the subsequent low-dose (“easy”) day, which may be either a day off from exercise or a short and low-intensity session. This process of alternating stress and rest is necessary to become more fit. If you only apply high-dose and high-density (“frequent”) workout stress and not recover often you will likely experience overtraining. This is not just a little fatigue. It’s much more serious than that. Overtraining is very much like having a severe illness such as mononucleosis or chronic fatigue syndrome. You must avoid it. I’ve seen it end racing careers. On the other hand, if you only rest by doing low-dose workouts and frequently take days off from training you will not produce a positive change in fitness. The principle of progressive overload is violated and race performance will suffer.
This process of building greater fitness by alternating stress and rest is called “supercompensation.” The human body is an amazing organism that can be molded through consistent training to produce an athlete capable of achieving great things in sport. Supercompensation can’t be forced on the body. You cannot make it happen at a faster rate than nature intends. Nature has endowed some lucky individuals with a fast response time. Others respond slowly. This is just the principle of individuality showing up again. We’re each unique in some small ways when it comes to training. The difference between a slow and a fast responder is likely genetic in origin. This is why in order to avoid overtraining while trying to improve fitness you must pay close attention to how your body is responding and not try to artificially speed it up.
The bottom line is that if your workout is hard enough to produce fatigue then you must include a recovery (“adaptation”) day soon thereafter. Otherwise, there’s no reason to do hard workouts. Strenuous exercise without recovery is play, not training.