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TODAY'S TOPIC: HOW SUPERCOMPENSATION THEORY RELATES TO RECOVERY
A study in Medicine & Science in Sports found that cyclists who followed a high-intensity training period with four days of recovery were much better off completing a one-hour, low-intensity ride on each of those days, rather than a longer, three-hour one. In fact, the cyclists who logged more time on their bikes during their designated recovery time actually started to see a deterioration in their fitness gains.
“Supercompensation theory expresses that your body will bounce back even stronger and fitter than it started, adjusting itself so that you're able to train at a higher level and handle more stress during your next session,” says Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. “Your body initially responds negatively to the stress of training, with fatigue, a drop in performance and a breakdown of muscle tissue, so the only way supercompensation really plays out is if you allow for proper recovery to take place in between those tough workouts. If not, as the study indicates, it could have the opposite effect.”
If you’re only doing high-intensity workouts all week, then you’re never giving your body time to rebuild and regenerate. On the flip side, if you allow too much time to pass in between hard workouts, then you’re not capitalizing on supercompensation (the fact that you can handle more stress now), and detraining occurs. “Ideally, you want to follow a program with two to three high-intensity training sessions each week, where you’re working toward a specific goal, so you have the impetus to bounce back and adapt to the stress,” notes Berenc. The time in between those sessions (48 to 72 hours) should be considered your recovery period.
Getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, consuming whole foods that are high in nutrients, and practicing things like massage, foam rolling, and meditation regularly can benefit everyone, says Berenc. What you do in addition to that should vary based on the type—and intensity—of training you're doing, he adds. Choose low-impact workouts that involve active range of motion of the body part you just trained, without adding stress (such as cycling the day after leg day). “And remember, the more energy you put out, the more you have to give back to your body,” he adds. “Rate your workouts using the rate of perceived exertion (RPE, or how hard you worked on a scale of one to ten). The higher you land on that scale, the more recovery you’re going to need afterward.”