Recovery: Protect the Quality and Intensity of Important Training Sessions
A well designed training program makes time for recovery workouts and sessions each week. We place these sessions between hard and heavy days in order to protect the intensity and quality of the “hard” days. Now “hard” is a very broad term. It can mean a heavy strength day, an intense power endurance session, a difficult power session on the track, or 70 miles of hard riding with lots of climbing on a road bike. The design of these recovery workouts is also critical. If you have a heavy strength day the day before, you don’t want to program a high volume of lifting for your recovery session right after a destructive workout the day before. Instead, plan an easy cardiovascular effort at a low intensity to help facilitate more blood flow and nutrients to the musculature.
Now, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole of whether or not aerobic training has a positive effect on strength and power production. This has been hotly debated over the years and to paraphrase a huge amount of research on the topic, yes, aerobic training done in proportion to strength training has a positive influence on strength and power. First, performing aerobic efforts on recovery days increases capillary density of the affected skeletal muscle. This results in more blood being delivered to the muscle itself as well as faster recharging and replenishment of the PCr energy system during strength or power efforts. Both increased blood flow and energy replenishment will have a positive effect on strength and work tolerance. Second, aerobic efforts done at a recovery pace helps improve body composition and fat oxidation as a fuel substrate at rest and low intensities. In order for this to take place, the effort must be kept around 60-65% of MHR for the body to reply on mostly fat as a fuel source. The more the oxidative energy system is trained, the better and more efficient the body becomes at utilizing fat as a fuel at rest and lower to moderate level intensities. Lastly, building and maintaining an aerobic base is a critical component to being a capable athlete in any endeavor. Aerobic style recovery days build this base by enhancing the before mentioned physiological characteristics: Physiological Adaptations, Energy System Utilization, Energy Replenishment, and Improving Body Composition.
Another style of recovery sessions includes light lifting for lots of repetitions. IE. 100x TGU @ 20# KB. We utilize these type of workouts to help the athlete smooth out technique, improve work tolerance, and drive some blood to the musculature. Another popular session listed in our training schedule session includes: 3×20 DL @ 30% of 1RM. The deadlift aids in improving posture and strengthening connective tissue when done properly. We also recommend the use of the SOTS Press, KB Complexes, Javorek Complexes, and Pull-Ups on recovery days.
How much work on a recovery day is too much or not enough? That depends on the individual and their level of fitness. More advanced individuals with a longer training history can obviously handle more volume. The key word here is volume not intensity. The purpose of these days is to facilitate recovery for the real work and not to overshadow the days where quality is required. In terms of prescription, if your programming is strength or power heavy, utilize recovery days with an aerobic emphasis. If your training plan is designed around an endurance emphasis, utilize more lifting movements with lower intensity and higher volume. Watch form closely. It’s important to remember that recovery days assume a supportive role for your sport specific training. If you’re a strength athlete, you can never get rid of endurance in your training, and if you’re an endurance athlete, you will never get rid of strength or lifting movements in the gym.
After a tough day in the gym, a recovery session within the next 24 hours should
be an integral part of any well designed training program.
Protect the quality of your meaningful gym sessions. If you’re planning to get some
serious strength or power work done, don’t let your recovery day overshadow the
work that needs to be done the next day or later in the week. You can’t go hard every
day of the week and expect to perform at your peak every single time.