There is a culture or myth that in fitness and sports performance, MORE is better. Rest and recovery are as of equal importance as the training or workout portion of the regime when devising a programme. However, because people think they get the training benefits by ‘doing’, they often overlook or don’t understand the importance of rest and recovery.

Recovery is the key! Recovery is critically important when applied to sports training, because without it we do not adapt physically to become fitter, stronger or faster.


Something in our society, whether it is in relation to sport or work, seems to make us think that admitting we need more rest is bad. If you are seen to train every day, for example, then psychologically you could ‘look’ and ‘feel’ stronger for it. If you analyse how you really feel, though, it most probably comes down to your mental frame of mind. The thought, “The harder I workout or the more I do, the better!” The fact that working smarter not necessarily harder will reap the most favourable results, due to eliciting the most beneficial hormone response or gene expression.


When we exercise, we don’t get stronger. When we exercise, we actually break down our energy systems and muscles and get weaker. The more exercise we do, the weaker we can become and the more susceptible we are to illness and injury — termed ‘overtraining’. For that reason, gains in your fitness come from recovering. Thus it is this combination of exercise and recovery that brings you to your new level of fitness. The diagram below illustrates the basic concept of exercise adaptation:


Diagram 1: Adaptation to Exercise



From our initial fitness level we apply a stimulus (weight training, walking, sprinting, etc.), and as training is a catabolic process our fitness level drops. You effectively destroy or break tissue fibre through the effort of working out. Our body then requires rest, in which time the body recovers (or rebuilds the damaged tissue). The human body is an amazing creation and as the base level of fitness is reached, it feels the need to compensate in anticipation of the next training session; this adjustment is what is known as super-compensation or over-compensation.


However, it is very important to note that if there is too much of a stimulus, if the training load is too great, then the body will not adapt optimally. Likewise, if you do not allow your body ideal conditions to recover, especially at this time of year with all the alcohol and late nights, as well as increased end of year work load or stress you can quite easily become injured or sick.


The body will respond best by performing small ‘bite-sized loads’ that are pitched at the correct ability level of the individual and then progressively increase as the body slowly adapts. For instance, a first-time weightlifter should not be attempting to perform a maximal strength programme before acquiring the necessary stabilisation and strength endurance competencies (periodisation phases). Maximal strength exercises will over-load the muscle and connective tissue excessively and create a state bordering injury rather than compensation.


If an individual does not allow their body to recover and each additional training stimulus creates a further decline in fitness and performance (fatigued and over-trained state).


Diagram 2: Over-Training Model



People have different rates of recovery and for this reason it is not possible for anyone other than the individual to predict recovery. There are basic guidelines to follow but knowing when to rest/recover depends on a large number of factors — and when performing at an advanced level, it requires experience through trial and error.


The golden rule to follow is: if you honestly feel tired, then take a rest. Don’t carry out your workout just because your programme — a piece of paper — has it in the schedule. There are many influencing factors placing stress on our bodies and it’s important to be flexible with your training routine.


Phil is founder & master trainer at Body Expert Systems. Contact him on 0934 782763, at his website or through Star Fitness —

Phil Kelly

Phil is an avid sportsman and loves most things fitness. With the final realisation that he would not be an All Black, he turned his full focus to studying the human body in regard to improving movement and posture, developing strength, function and performance, as well as scrutinising the conventional wisdom of nutrition for fat loss and performance. He loves challenging the 'norm' and is dedicated to the prosperity and health of his clients and the community. He has a mission to educate and empower people to "be all they can be" by providing accurate, research proven and industry leading information. 


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