Surprisingly, doing less can actually mean you’re accomplishing more.
Many endurance athletes, especially those just starting out, have a “no-pain, no-gain” attitude when it comes to training. I subscribed to this mantra for quite some time. It was engrained into me while playing soccer growing up: The only way to get better at something was by spending more time doing that thing.
I got my first hard lesson in proper recovery during my first year at Villanova University. I’d worked my way into a starting position on the soccer team. I was playing well and confidently. Things were looking up for next season. But during the summer I broke my ankle playing on a club team; I spent time on crutches, and the walking boot I wore for six weeks came off just days prior to the start of fall training.
Recovery never occurred to me in my anxiousness to resume my college soccer career. I ended up re-injuring myself after only two games and spent the rest of the season on the sidelines. I stopped playing soccer altogether after that year.
Much later, while training for my first marathon, I reverted to what I knew and did what many first-timers do: Try and do as much as possible. Volume was king. It was all about doing more. Recovery never factored into the equation.
My light bulb moment finally came when I made the jump to triathlon after several years of exclusive distance running. Triathlon training is another beast. You’re talking three disciplines, not just one. If you’re not recovering properly, that next workout is going to suffer.
For guidance, I looked to the best in sport, reading “I’m Here to Win,” by Chris McCormack, multiple Ironman World Champion. My training philosophy was forever changed. McCormack talks about how emphasizing recovery later in his career helped him win his second Ironman World Championship.
I still recognize the importance of high volume training at distinct times, at a specific intensity, and for a specific duration of time. But recovery is one area I find overlooked and under-appreciated far too often among endurance athletes, including me.
That’s because training is a classic example of the law of diminishing returns. Too little training isn’t enough to be effective. Too much is counter-productive and can easily lead to plateaus, overtraining, injuries, negative effects on health, and burn out.
This mentality is based on the premise that we improve only when we train. In fact, the opposite is true. Our body realizes the benefits of training when we’re not training. Recovery is when the body rebuilds muscle (and other tissue) damage caused by training. Without dedicated time and strategies for recovery, we won’t see the maximum benefit of training, and worse, may actually do greater harm to our health.
Click through to the next page to read about the best recovery strategies.