Recovery: Helping Your Body Adapt by Angie Calder (1997)




In the 1990’s talent alone is not enough to guarantee success in sport. To be the best, you need to work hard, push your body and mind to extremes, and be able to adapt to such rigorous work.

Training hard and training smart are not always synonymous. Unless your body adapts to the type of training you do, the physical and psychological demands can lead to conditions common to many athletes, such as over-training, overuse or burnout. (See Chapter 2-Physiology of Sports Performance and Chapter 8-Sports Medicine). If you are unlucky enough to experience any of these problems, it is easy to feel that your hard work has been a waste of time and effort. For many athletes, the question becomes ‘How can I train hard without getting injured or sick?’ The answer is simple. If you want to perform at your best without experiencing these conditions, you need to follow the formula for success:

Work Hard + Recover Well = Best Performance

Many athletes work hard but ignore recovery training activities except when they are ill or injured. Yet these practices are an essential ingredient of a balanced training program. Indeed, the principle of recovery, one of the basic principles of training, is the one most frequently forgotten by athletes and coaches.



Work alone is not enough to produce the best results. An athlete also needs time to adapt to training. The principle of recovery refers to that part of training where the benefits of the work done are maximized through practices which reduce residual fatigue and enable the athlete to cope with workloads more effectively. This enhances the athlete’s capacity to undertake more work, as well as workmore efficiently. This in turn encourages better adaptation to training.

Training sessions are designed to improve athletic performance. This is achieved in part by progressively overloading the body systems and fuel stores that underpin each of the five S’s of training (stamina, strength, speed, suppleness and skill).

Underlying this progressive overload principle is the understanding that to develop a particular capacity or system, that capacity must first be challenged or stressed. This stress is provided by the training load, which represents the stimulus for change to occur. The work undertaken results in a degree of fatigue or depletion of the physical or psychological systems involved.

Adaptation to training is accelerated when residual fatigue is reduced as soon as possible after training and the challenged systems are restored quickly to normal operational levels.

The principle of recovery is about encouraging adaptive processes after the presentation of the training stimulus. If there is sufficient recovery before the next workload the underlying system or fuel store stressed during training can improve its capacity to cope with the next stressor. Refer to pages 3-20 and 3-21 in Chapter 3-Building Strength for appropriate rest periods between strength training sessions.

The human body tries to adapt to a new stimulus as best it can. However, if the stimulus is presented often enough, the body becomes habituated or bored. To improve, it is important to change the training stimulus from time to time. To encourage adaptation to training it is important to plan recovery activities which reduce residual fatigue from the workload (Figure 1). The sooner you recover from fatigue and the fresher you are when you do your training, the better your chances are to improve. Coaches often measure the success of their training programs by monitoring the speed by which athletes recover and bounce back from heavy training.





If positive adaptation to training results in improved performances then it is also important to recognize that negative adaptation can also occur. Essentially, the wide range of over-training signs and symptoms reflect the extensive influence of the athlete’s immune system when it cannot cope with excessive stress.

Overuse issues indicate biomechanical problems caused by excessive or inefficient mechanical loading. Burnout occurs when athletes are so psychologically drained they lose their motivation, and often, all interest in their sport.

The onset of these conditions varies. No two athletes will respond to training loads in the same way-adaptation rates vary from one individual to another. As a result, it is not always appropriate to prescribe the same workloads for all athletes, but it is essential to monitor their responses to training so that workloads can be varied to suit each individual’s adaptive capabilities.



Workloads need to be adjusted to the adaptation rates exhibited by each individual. The wise coach will gauge this by monitoring the athlete regularly. Coaches should observe cues or signs that indicate how an athlete is coping with training and record them in a coaching log book with the prescribed training program. The coach’s observations should include both sport specific and generic cues of the kind listed in Figure 2. As the coach gains experience the more astute he or she will become at recognizing these signs.



All athletes should keep a daily training diary or log book so they can monitor their responses to training. A training diary or log book is one of the most important tools for athletes as it helps them recognize when they are coping with training and when they are not. Learning to listen to and recognize the body’s signs and cues is the most important skill an athlete can acquire. Every day, athletes should record the four essential markers: the quality of their sleep, their morning resting heart rate, their morning body weight and a daily rating of energy levels. (See Figure 3.) Chapter 1-Sports Psychology contains additional ideas for training diaries.

One of the first signs of over-training is consistently poor sleep patterns. An elevated resting heart rate recorded first thing in the morning (that is, 20 to 40 per cent above the normal range) is also an indication that training, if any, should be minimal. (Refer to Chapter 2-Physiology of Sports Performance and Chapter 8-Sports Medicine for additional information.) Body weight is best recorded each morning before eating and after going to the toilet. This is not a measure of fat stores but most likely to be an indication of hydration levels. Rapid weight loss or rapid weight gain is not advisable, and unexplained weight loss may indicate overstress. Feeling tired after training is a normal response, but feeling constantly tired is a sign that the body is still adapting to its stressors. These four variables take two minutes a day to record and may be the first indication of maladaptation or non-adaptation to training that athletes can recognize (Figure 4). A few days rest or reduced training is usually enough for the variables to return to a normal range. If they do not, the athlete should seek medical advice.


■ Sudden drop in body weight (more than 3 per cent)

■ Sudden increase in morning heart rate of more than 20 per cent above normal

■ Inability to respond to relaxation or meditation techniques

■ Sleep disturbances (plus or minus 2 hours for more than 2 days)

■ Low quality sleep for more than 2 days

■ Feeling constantly tired

From Tim Frick (1993) Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Coach


Many coaches are frustrated by the inconsistent way in which many athletes record these variables. Some athletes ignore recordings of any kind. They do not keep any records, diary or training log in spite of knowing how valuable this information can be. The coach can provide an alternative for the noncompliant athlete. A simple and quick self-assessment method is the Smiley Faces diagram (Figure 5). The variables assessed can be changed to suit different circumstances but the outcome is essentially the same.


Coaches of team sports often have more difficulty with athletes who are reluctant to record their training responses than do coaches in other sports. In an effort to overcome this problem, basketball coaches at the Australian Institute of Sport have combined monitoring of training responses with time management and planning strategies for their athletes. Each Friday every athlete receives a printout of the following week’s training times and sporting commitments. Figure 6 is a daily response sheet identifying nine variables which athletes must rank on a scale of 1 (excellent) to 5 (awful). This daily monitoring process takes the athlete less than one minute to complete and closely links the athlete’s responses to training and other life commitments such as study, work, domestic and social role (Figure 7).


All mammals have body clocks, or biorhythms, that can be manipulated by sleeping times, exposure to natural light, and meal times. Humans are diurnal creatures-most active in daylight and slowing down in the evening and at night. The pineal gland in the brain produces a chemical called melatonin which reinforces this pattern and increases the tendency to sleep. The production of melatonin is greatest during night time when there is no natural light and when our activity levels slow down. There is a corresponding increase in activity levels during daytime when the production of melatonin is inhibited by exposure to daylight.

This daily variation alters the metabolic demands on the body and is reflected by a fall of one degree Centigrade in core body temperature from midday to midnight. Going to bed with a falling core temperature and getting up in the morning as this temperature is rising are normal behavior patterns for our species. Late nights, sleeping in, irregular eating habits or traveling to different time zones (see ‘jet lag’, Chapter 2-Physiology of Sports Performance and Chapter 8-Sports Medicine) can disrupt this natural pattern and lead to unnecessary fatigue in athletes. This extra fatigue loads as their disrupted biorhythms frequently leave them feeling tired.

However, this need for athletes to regulate their sleeping habits does not preclude them from having a social life and enjoying the occasional late night. To cope with this, athletes should be encouraged to standardize their wake-up time wherever possible. Sleeping in after a late night should be limited to no more than one hour over their normal wake-up time, so there is minimal disruption to sleep patterns. Extra catchup sleep can be gained through a short nap (no longer than one hour) and preferably after lunch.

Similarly, the body tunes in to meal times, so it is important to plan for regular eating times. Although we have no shortage of natural light in Australia, some overseas countries have restricted amounts of natural light during winter months and this can affect an athlete’s body clock and mood. Seasonal variations in Australia are not so great that athletes need treatments to offset this occurrence.


Passive rest

Sleep is the most important form of passive rest.

A good night’s sleep of seven to nine hours provides invaluable adaptation time for athletes to adjust to the physical and emotional stressors they experience during the day. Other forms of passive rest involve techniques which help the mind switch off from all the surrounding stimuli. Getting to sleep can sometimes be difficult because of the exciting events of the day, so it is important that athletes develop habits to promote a good night’s sleep (Figure 8).

Meditation, flotation, reading or listening to relaxing music are also examples of passive rest. Some of these are readily accessible to all athletes but a few are less accessible because they require specialist training or are expensive.

Active rest

Athletes undervalue active rest. The end of the training session is an ideal time to introduce active recovery activities, although active rest can also be incorporated throughout the session. Recovery activities are selected to benefit the athlete with one or two interests beside sport that can provide this needed stimulation more readily than the athlete who focuses on sport to the exclusion of everything else. Finding the balance between study/work, training, and social and domestic commitments is one of the biggest challenges for most athletes. Rest days enable athletes to control these demands more readily and maintain a healthy balance in their lives.


Preparing for an event or training session and replenishing fluid and fuel stores used in training requires planning. Athletes are responsible for balancing their nutritional intake in accordance with the demands of their training.

The most important components for recovery relate to fluid and fuel replacement strategies. It is essential to monitor fluid loss so that it is kept to a minimum. Body weight loss of two per cent or more during exercise results in measurable physiological changes which can lead to a reduction in aerobic output. It is important to educate athletes to hydrate in pace fulfill a number of tasks. They can either help recover the

physiological state of the athlete, for example, light walking or cycling to recover the lactate system, (see Chapter 2-Physiology or Sports Performance) or they can focus on musculoskeletal recovery, for example, stretching and exercises to promote a return to postural efficiency, (see Chapter 4-Stretching). Recovery activities can also focus on psychological recovery by using visualization, breathing and meditation techniques during a game or match, for example, recovery between points in a tennis match, or after the training session or game.

Cross training can often be used as a form of active rest provided the work intensities are modest (light aerobic) and the exercises undertaken are different from those normally performed in training. Pool work, either walking, running or swimming, particularly backstroke and side stroke, are excellent for active recovery after a game, as is stretching in a warm pool. These techniques are frequently used by football and basketball teams and clubs.

Rest days are essential. At least one day a week should be a minimal training or a non-training day. This al lows athletes time for physical and psychological recovery, for it is important that they have time to develop interests outside their sport to achieve a balanced lifestyle. The truism ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ reflects the need for variety to prevent staleness and boredom. And with their sweat rates. This can be monitored through urine checks and pre-and post training weighing.

Similarly, athletes need to be educated to eat a sandwich, piece of fruit or drink a sports drink after training. There is an opportunity immediately after strenuous exercise to replenish muscle fuel stores at a faster rate than by delaying carbohydrate replacements.

Minerals and trace elements are important for muscle regeneration. However, increasing their intake by using synthetic supplements may not be as effective as increasing dietary sources. This is because of the way some elements and metals react with other foodstuffs in the gut.

All of these issues are dealt with in more detail in Chapter 6-Sports Nutrition.

Athletes who experience considerable muscle damage or who are constantly fatigued need professional nutritional advice. Iron deficiencies or problems with absorption are not uncommon in athletes of both genders. If an athlete is consistently tired the following checklist may help to eliminate possible causes and direct the athlete to seek professional help if fatigue persists (Figure 9).

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