Recovery days and periods of low stress training are super important. Most athletes know this and use a 3-to-1 or 2-to-1 recovery model; i.e.: they increase their training intensity for two or three weeks before taking one week of decreased volume and/or intensity. This is a traditional recovery model.
What if that method was challenged, particularly for age group athletes? I say that because many athletes who incorporate this method push super hard for those two or three weeks and crash into their recovery week. They build, build, build, crash, recover, repeat. Often, they are so tired that they need multiple days off or disrupt their training consistency by changing too many things at once.
Don’t get me wrong, recovery is definitely needed. Triathletes need easier training days and complete rest days for a myriad of reasons. Rest and recovery restores our immune system and hormonal balance. They help us repair muscle damage. They help us replenish caloric deficits and hydration status. They provide us with a mental break from the sport. They also help us adapt to training. However, those are not the only factors. Training is how our bodies physiologically adapt (get stronger, leaner, more efficient, etc.).
Bodies that are rested and recovered are better prepared to train and adapt.
Also, resting is not how we adapt, consistently training is how we adapt. The better our training realistically fits into our life, the better we can incorporate proper recovery and remain consistent in our training.
So, instead of progressively building into a desperately-needed recovery week, think of balancing your training. You may even need to decrease your volume and intensity at times to properly fit training into your busy life. Many age group triathletes have busy lives with jobs, families, friends and even other hobbies. Then, they add 20 hours a week of training. That’s another part-time job! This is not only detrimental to health because it adds an increased stress on the body, it also increases one’s risk of injury, and it does not even set an athlete up for a better performance come race day.
It’s no wonder why athletes then crash into a recovery week. It has become the norm to hear triathletes say they just have to get through one more week before they can recover. If you find yourself saying that, you need that recovery break now. Your body is telling you not to push through to the next week.
There is nothing wrong with incorporating recovery days as needed throughout a training plan. I tell my athletes to ask themselves how they’re feeling at the beginning of each workout and to adjust the workout as needed. If you begin and feel fine, complete the workout as prescribed. If you are too tired to perform the intensity as intended, complete the workout for its duration in Zone 1-2. If you feel you can’t even complete the workout in your easy to aerobic endurance training zones, take the day off. This, along with a training plan that fits into your lifestyle rather than becomes your lifestyle allows you to take ownership of your recovery and avoid the inevitable crash. Your training becomes more balanced and allows the all-important consistency to be maintained.
When it comes to triathlon and incorporating recovery in a healthy, sensible manner, take ownership and help guide your own process to make triathlon work for you, not the other way around.
This article was originally published for USA Triathlon September 29,2022