The role of the recovery week in training

As a coach, I’m a big fan of implementing recovery weeks into an athlete’s training plan and it’s something that I believe is essential in allowing them to train at a consistently high level and avoid injuries as much as possible. A recovery week is a week (or short period of time) in which an athlete’s training load will decrease in order to focus a bit more on recovery and give their body a chance to adapt to the work they’ve put in over the previous weeks of training. It’s an idea that many athletes are initially hesitant to implement as they are wary of decreasing their training; but once they do it a few times and feel the benefits, it’s something that they begin to embrace and look forward to.

When you’re training, you want to see a gradual improvement in our training over time. But when you’re training hard and constantly pushing your bodies from week to week, it can be hard to find this progression if it feels like you’re always tired. By breaking up your training into little blocks between recovery weeks, it gives us this natural progression from block-to-block. We push hard for a few weeks, recover and absorb the training, and come back again at a slightly ‘higher level’ of training and fitness.

From the mental side of things and my own personal experience; an added benefit of a recovery week is I come back feeling super motivated and ready to work hard, knowing that it’s only for a few more weeks and then I’ll get another period of recovery. Without these recovery weeks, it can be difficult to ever push too much in training as it just becomes a bit relentless and rather than having a planned period of recovery, it becomes something that is forced because of a bit of overtraining or burnout.

Recovery weeks are also hugely valuable for staying injury free or dealing with niggles. These easier weeks give us the perfect opportunity to spend a bit more time focusing on our rehab, mobility, etc. and can give us the chance to fix any issues before they become a problem.

So practically, how do we actually implement these weeks?

I like to have 3-6 weeks of ‘hard’ training followed by a recovery week. During a recovery week, we’d drop training volume to around 50-75% of usual load – depending on the athlete and how much volume they’re doing. Less experienced athletes will usually need a bigger decrease in volume. We’ll usually keep in one lighter/moderate workout for the week to maintain some stimulus, but in general we’ll keep the week to easy runs and cut out any big long runs. I also like to give athletes a bit more freedom during this week to do what they want, as it can be useful to get a mental break from the rigidity of a training schedule.

For runners who are reluctant to take recovery weeks, it’s important to remember that it’s better to take a recovery week before you need it, rather than out of necessity because you’re feeling burnt out. Once you ‘need’ a recovery week, your body has already been pushed a bit too far and will probably need even more recovery time. What we’re aiming for is to hit that sweet spot of allowing our bodies to recover before we hit a breaking point or any sort of burnout.

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