How much training is too much and how long do I need to recover between sessions?


By: Gym Jones

I have seen the recommendations regarding specific recovery practices in the Q&A section but I am curious about recovery in general. I want to understand how much training is too much, and how fast I can realistically expect to recover from hard sessions.


We advise to go by feeling and in the seminars we do teach a "formula" for recovery, which is a simplified way of looking at it from a behavioral perspective, not from the, "I've ruined myself what do I do now?" point of view. We also insist that, until you know how fast and how deeply you recover from various types of training you’ve no business trying to schedule or plan your training. 

Do you recover faster from high volume training than from high intensity training? Which produces the best results for you vis-a-vis progressing toward your objective? And how does training frequency factor into the process? Again, you need some answers albeit not definitive since these are constantly evolving.

In 2002 some smart folks in France did a neat little study on recovery, the results of which I think most will find shocking. When (untrained) subjects trained 3x per week the average post-workout recovery time was 22 hours. When the subjects trained 5x per week the average post-workout recovery time was 3.6 days. These are average numbers and standard deviations would spread recovery time across a wide swath from a few hours to a week.

What does “recovery” mean? For the purpose of the study recovery was defined by the ability to reach a previous level of performance, which has holes but it’s what they used. Simply being able to repeat a previous performance does not indicate full recovery. No matter though because the meat of the study is this: 

Performance improved consistently across the eight weeks of 3x per week training. 

Performance was highly variable during the four-week period of 5x per week training meaning the accumulation of fatigue prevented consistent gains. 

When allowed adequate recovery the body adapts to the training load. If you can recover in 24 hours but give your body 48 hours before the next training session that workout may be done with meaningful intensity, i.e. enough to cause positive change. However, when denied adequate recovery the body ceases to adapt and, in fact, becomes weaker. Stacking workout after workout on top of under-recovery eventually leads in the opposite direction one intends to go.
Some interesting points to note from the study: 
1) The individuals were untrained to start (genuine athletes might adapt and recover faster) 
2) The eight-week period of low frequency training did not prepare them to increase their volume to 5x per week 
3) The training protocol never varied (the repetitive stress certainly affected recovery speed) 
4) The test was done in a vacuum, more or less 

But these points don’t matter because the study is more valuable as a signpost, than as a definitive statement or proscription. Simply compare your training and recovery behavior against the idea that less may produce better results. More (training) is not always the answer.

On the other hand, read the Work Tolerance article in the Knowledge section or listen to the audio version of it to understand how tolerance and recovery progress through the constant application of stimulus, and then by allowing long- and short-term intervals to allow adaptation. What you ruins you now will be a warm-up in the future. The recovery means that are adequate now will not be enough in the future. 

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