Periodization of Training: Phase 4-Rest and Recovery

Coach Mike Broderick 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of Periodization, it is simply a descriptive term for a training plan which is divided into distinct seasons, or "periods’ of training, linked together in a logical progression designed to permit an athlete to peak at the proper time for his or her goal event. Typically a periodized training plan will have 4 phases consisting of initial base building, sharpening, competition and finally rest and recovery before starting the cycle again. This system follows a natural progression which is patterned on the way in which physiological adaptations occur in the body through training. Through a sequence of increasingly harder training segments, followed by recovery and regeneration intervals, we progressively overload our musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems and stimulate increases in strength and endurance which hopefully result in improved athletic performance. For many runners in the mid Atlantic region, the calendar year can be divided into two distinct seasons for periodized training plans, the spring and fall racing seasons. Many of you have trained through the summer and competed in fall races ranging from 5K’s to marathons and beyond and now is the perfect time to focus on the final phase of training which many athletes ignore to their long term detriment-rest and recovery.

After several weeks or months of focused training and hard work, athletes in any sport need to take some time of reduced training to allow their bodies to heal from the long term stresses of exercise and competition and also can benefit greatly from the mental break from a rigid training schedule. The reduced training volume will allow the body to fully recover and build itself up stronger so that it is ready for the start of the next period of base building. Many athletes mistakenly believe that the path to ever increasing fitness, speed or strength is to maintain an increasingly higher volume and/or intensity of training without interruption, fearing that any break will result in a setback. The truth is that the real increases in fitness and strength occur during the rest and regeneration periods between the periods of hard work when the body is given the opportunity to repair the micro trauma caused by the training activity and rebuild itself stronger to withstand such excesses in the future. During a training season, this alternating pattern of work and recovery is typically accomplished by incorporating a pattern of "hard/easy" days into a schedule which provides days of relative rest following more intense workouts to permit that regeneration process to occur. In a true periodized training plan, this pattern is continued on a larger scale by including an "easy" phase of training to enhance the regeneration and to establish an even stronger base for the next season of training. Following this pattern will go a long way to avoiding the dangers of overtraining, both physical and mental, and allow athletes to start each new training season with renewed physical and mental energy.

In the context of this Periodization model, the rest and recovery phase doesn’t mean that you must give up exercise. It simply contemplates a period of a few weeks of reduced training in your primary sport, for example a reduction by a runner of 25% to 50% of his or her typical mileage and a break from higher intensity track work during the rest period. This will maintain virtually all of your hard earned fitness gains from the previous training season and provide a springboard for the start of the next season.

The late fall holiday season is also an ideal time to substitute some alternative forms of exercise into your routine to provide different physical and mental stimuli for improved overall physical fitness and enjoyment of exercise. For runners, a winter yoga or Pilates class for improvements in flexibility and core strength will provide great benefits when they resume active training in the base building phase for the spring season. If you have the ability to get into a swimming pool this is a great way to get some non impact cardiovascular exercise in the off-season. Water running and aerobics classes are another alternative. The time interval between the end of the fall competitive season and the spring base building season is also an ideal time to take up or resume a strength training program for increased muscular strength and endurance to support your running. Strength training will actually make you stronger while carrying out your sporting activity, not just while attempting to perform the exercises you are utilizing. This additional strength will permit you to exercise in a higher-quality way during the base building, sharpening and competitive phases of your season. The strength increases can also be used by the nervous system to produce more powerful movements throughout your entire training cycle, in addition to lowering your risk of injury and allowing you to train more consistently.

This year, make an early resolution to train like the pros and adopt a periodized approach to your training. Take advantage of the holiday season to follow a rest and recovery pattern and you’ll be ready for new challenges in your sport of choice in the New Year.

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