“Keep your easy days easy and your hard days hard.” This is the mantra of coaches around the world in many different sports. If you have been doing triathlon for a long time you will have heard your coach or fellow athletes emphasize the importance of recovery. However, all to often, most people don’t understand why recovery is important and so they focus really hard on their training session and ignore the importance of recovery. Unfortunately, the science says that you need both to see true fitness gains.
The figure below is referred to as the super-compensation curve* ( Nikolai N Yakovlev) and it demonstrates how fitness gains are made. At the start of the curve, a stress is applied (your training session) followed by a “recovery period” in which you return to a higher level of fitness than before you started.
Now armed with this knowledge we can begin to see how fitness gains are made over the course of several training sessions. In figure 2, three training sessions are performed after proper rest and recovery resulting in a higher level of overall fitness.
If these same sessions are performed without proper recovery, fitness loss can occur (see figure 3.)
An important point to remember when looking at these charts is that different training sessions take different times to recover from (this is not shown in these curves.) A V02 workout may take up to 72 hours for full recovery while an aerobic effort will take much less time. A coach will take these ideas into consideration when building your plan. A hard day might be followed by a restorative, active recovery day or simply a day off. The coach is counting on you to pay attention to the plan so that you are ready for the next key workout.Now that you have a basic understanding of why recovery is important, what can you do to ensure you are ready to reap the benefits of your training plan?
Don’t go too hard on easy days, easy days are there for a reason. Day’s off, active recovery or easy days help the body recover from hard sessions.
Sleep, sleep and sleep. If you Google “benefits of sleep for athletes” you can spend hours reading studies or you could go to bed, and repair your body for the next workout.
Focus on nutrition and hydration. A well balanced diet and proper hydration are vitally important for both performance and recovery.
Massage. Even using a foam roller regularly can result in improved recovery.
Keep emotional stress low! The body doesn’t differentiate emotional stress from physical stress. If you are struggling with something you may need some extra time to recover. Let your coaches know or plan on more recovery if you are following a pre-built plan.While you don’t need to be an exercise physiologist to race well, a basic understanding of the science can help you make the correct choices during the season. And don't forget, “Keep your easy day’s easy and your hard day’s hard.”
Coach Bill Ledden is a USA Triathlon and USA Track and Field Certified Coach. As a finisher of three Ironman races while traveling over 100,000 miles a year, he specializes in helping busy athletes reach their goals.
Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport. His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.
Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.