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How to Master the Recovery Week

First of all, if you have been training for any amount of time and are not familiar with what a recovery week is, I have to ask…how’s your training coming along?

Without giving the body time to rest, recover, and rebuild, the body will never adapt to the training stress you are putting it through. This is why we often times refer to a recovery week as an adaption week. If you never take time to fully recover, you will continuously either run at a lower performance level than you are capable of, or you will train yourself into a deficit that will force the body to take recovery by way of illness or injury. During our initial assessment of a new client’s past training regimen, we often find that a well planned recovery week was either non-existent, or not executed correctly. More times than not, we see big performance gains after the first scheduled recovery week. On more than one occasion, an athlete’s very first week with us has been a recovery week.

At the same time, there is a state of being too rested. We pretty much refer to this as detraining. To perform at a high level, you have to balance the stress of training (and don’t forget life stressors), with the right amount of recovery. For those that use TSS and the performance management charts within TrainingPeaks or WKO+, most people have their peak performances with a TSB (Training Stress Balance) between +10 and +20. This is not the case for everyone, however. Most younger athletes fall in the lower TSB values and older athletes might need to see a TSB of 25+ for a few days before they knock out a stellar performance.

With that, here are some tips on how to correctly execute a recovery week:

Plan them in advance – Most of the time, if you do not set them ahead of time you will forget about it. Before you know it, you have gone through 6 hard weeks of training with little to no real recovery. At some point, the quality of your workouts fall so much, you are wasting your valuable training time.

Stick to the plan – Regardless of how good you feel or if you missed a few workouts the weeks prior, DO NOT skip your recovery week. The only time we allow athletes to change a recovery week is if the week prior was basically an early recovery week due to life circumstances.

Cut your volume by 30-40% – The rule of thumb we use is that a recovery week should be about 30-40% of the duration of the largest training week in your last block. Again, doing too much or too little can derail your recovery week. Too much slows or negates your recovery. Too little can result in detraining, or at the very least, hurting the quality of the workouts once you get back to training normally. DON’T DO NOTHING!

Intelligent Intensity – Intensity can increase your training stress exponentially. Short bouts of exercise can be as hard on the body as super long duration activity. We generally treat a recovery week much like a race week. We assign just enough intensity to keep the body primed and preserve our top end fitness. All high intensity intervals should be short, and followed by lots of recovery. Keep a little intensity in every other or every 3rd day.

Rest week doesn’t have to mean 7 days – Yes, it fits into the training calendar very nicely. But, if you are a younger athlete, or you are a time crunched athlete doing minimal volume, a lot of people can recover in 4-5 days. If it fits better in your life to do 7 days, it doesn’t hurt to have those 2 extra days of low intensity exercise. We often times use the end of a recovery week for testing, which keeps the weekly volume and overall weekly workload down.

Ease up on the running! – Running is tougher on the body compared to most activities, so during a recovery week it is best to cut the number of runs you do that week. Take at least 1 extra day off from running, with a minimum of 2 runs during the week. As a side note, just because you are running less, doesn’t mean run a faster average pace. Faster pace means higher impact. Save the fast pace for a couple pickups during these runs, enjoy being active, and you can let your feet fly the next week.

Recover every 3rd or 4th week – Again, this is just a rule of thumb that holds true for most of our athletes who have normal family and work lives. As we get older, its harder for us to recover from training, so most athletes who are 45+ fair better with a recovery week every 3rd week instead of every 4th. Younger athletes, and those with flexible schedules can usually push the body for 3 weeks before needing a recovery week.

Take a day off – There are those that fair better training without a weekly rest day. Others have to have one in order to have more built in recovery. On a recovery week, you should have at least 1 full day off. If you already have 2 or more off days built into your schedule, just stick with those days.

Take the mental break – This might be the most important for those with hectic schedules. Take the week to be extremely flexible with your training. If you don’t feel like training on a given day…don’t. Just move that day to an assigned off day. Don’t let training be a source of mental stress this week. Cover the Garmin, or leave it at home! Spend some extra time with your family. Go on vacation. Whatever! As long as you don’t do nothing all week, you won’t lose fitness. In fact, you will ultimately gain fitness!

Hopefully with these tips, you can start planning and executing your recovery weeks with great precision. Remember, if you never recover, you never adapt. If you never adapt, you never improve.

Trust Your Training


To find out more about how BPC can help you better balance your training stress to produce great results, give us a shout!  Performance is our business. We are here to help!

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