Use Proper Stress and Rest To Achieve Your Maximum Potential

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“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle”

I will add to this quote proper recovery.

Recently, I have been reading Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and (running coach) Steve Magness. It’s a book I highly recommend. As an 18-year old Steve Magness competed against several Olympians in the mile in an event called the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon. This was quite remarkable considering that Magness was competing against such high caliber runners at such a young age. He did not win that day, but he still ran the mile in 4:01. Unfortunately for Magness, his running career plateaued that day and he was never able to run a faster mile. Magness attributes this to an improperly designed training regimen that did not incorporate proper stress and recovery; especially recovery. For his training, Magness would run 9 miles in the morning, go to school, lift weights, and then run 9 miles again in the evening, and he would do this every day. Magness shared that he experienced burned out and his running career ended soon after.

However, we get to benefit from Magness’ experience. Yes, I realize that we are not elite runners like Magness, however if we don’t train and recover properly we will plateau, as well, and not achieve our maximum performance.

Proper training includes providing the proper stress to our body, based on our health, fitness, running history, age, goals, and injury history. We need to include some runs that are challenging, but still doable. Our training program should progressively build our endurance and speed, and then include race-pace specific training for our event. We also need to recover properly during our training. This might include a run at snail’s pace. Or, this could be a day off from running, in which we incorporate supportive low- to moderate-intensity cross-training. Massage/stretching, diet, and sleep are also important components of recovery.

As far as the importance of recovery, Deena Kastor, U.S. women’s record holder in the marathon, as well as one of the stars of Spirit of the Marathon, says, “During a workout you’re breaking down soft tissue and really stressing your body. How you treat yourself in between workouts is where you make gains and acquire the strength to attack the next one.” Kastor realized early on in her running career that simply working hard wouldn’t do. Deena follows up intense training runs with significantly easier recovery runs. She also sleeps 10-12 hours per night, has a meticulous approach to diet, and has weekly massage and daily stretching sessions.

The best marathoners in the world, the Kenyans, also appreciate the benefits of recovery and will alternate between very hard training days and very easy (snail pace) days. Research studies have shown this approach to be effective in other sports as well, including Nordic skiing, in which Olympic Norwegian skiers will walk uphill at a snail’s pace on easy training or recovery days.

Several years ago, a friend of mine was using a popular training program to prepare for his first marathon. The program instructed him to run a “practice marathon” during training about a month before his actual marathon. My friend followed the program and actually had a decent time during his “practice marathon”. However, his actual marathon was over 30 minutes slower. Basically, it took my friend a significant amount of time to recover from his “practice marathon” and so he lost fitness before his actual marathon. Plus, it takes a significant amount of time to recover psychologically from the demands of a marathon, typically much longer than it takes to physically recover. My friend wasn’t properly recovered for his actual marathon and his performance suffered as a result.

You need to give your body the time and space to adapt to the training stress. Rest supports growth and adaptation, which can help make you a stronger and faster runner, and can be as productive and sometimes more productive than an additional workout. Rest, although typically viewed as passive, is an active process which allows for physical and psychological growth. I know for myself that I feel much stronger and fresher after a day or two of rest, and I’m sure you feel the same way.

Also, consider that if you are constantly stressing your body with long runs and other intense workouts, not only do you not provide the time and space for physical and psychological growth, you also put yourself at risk for overtraining and breaking your body down, while significantly increasing your risk of injury. For example, a neighbor of mine used to run a marathon almost every month. Unfortunately, this took a significant toll on her body and I would see her barely shuffling along during her training runs. Her training and recovery were not optimized, and as a result she was not able to achieve her peak performance. Instead, she was in a constantly overtrained state and was constantly injured.

So, make supportive recovery an important component of your training to help you reach your maximum potential.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. We would love to hear from you!

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Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Peak Performance. Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. Rodale, Inc. New York, 2017.

What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2010 Sep;5(3):276-91. Seiler S.

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