SUPERCOMPENSATION: HOW TRAINING & RECOVERY INTERACT

Have you ever hit a plateau in your training, where you continue to work hard but no longer see the same benefits?

Do you feel like you put in enough time to get better but aren’t seeing results as fast as some other people?

There are some very clear scientific answers for both of these challenges, and they can be found by understanding the supercompensation training model.

In this model, the training phase represents any stimulus to the body that is greater than it has seen before. This can come through strength, speed, or endurance work.

It is important to note that you will not enter the training phase unless the work you do is above and beyond what your body can comfortably handle today.

The recovery phase is a ‘backing off’ time where you are either toning down the intensity of training or resting completely.

During the supercompensation phase your body may continue to be in a lower training period or at complete rest, but is adapting its tissues (muscle, bone, ligament & tendon) to become better prepared for higher level physical stress in the future.

When athletic development is done correctly, meaning you push hard enough but know when to back off, you will go through a series of these training-recovery-supercompensation cycles, and the model will look more like this:

To make dramatic physical improvements, picture this repeated thousands of times over the course of about a 10 year period. This is how elite athletes are forged.

Simple, right?

Not exactly. In most cases it is a coach (performance coach or team coach) who is in charge of how hard you train, how often, and so on. And there are no alerts that go off to tell you when to ramp up and when to back off.

Making matters more complex, individuals have different capacities for training intensity. So some athletes can continue to improve from longer training periods but others cannot, and need recovery blocks more often.

This is part of why coaching is considered just as much an art as it is a science.

In my experience, there are two big reasons why an athlete is not following the most efficient path to athletic development:

Athletes are not in a recovery phase often enough. There are a variety of reasons why this could occur (too many competitive seasons, poor recovery habits, overzealous coaches, etc) but the common link is they are physically burned out too often to let their bodies properly adapt to the training load.

Athletes aren’t pushing outside of their comfort zones. Conversely, some athletes do not understand the concept of progressive overload in their training. This means that in order to make training gains you must endlessly fight to do a little more than you could before, thus forcing your body to adapt to a new and higher level of stress. A smart coaching model would follow these steps as efficiently as possible:

Work hard to create an initial training stimulus that forces your body to adapt to a reasonable amount of stress.

Tighten up recovery habits (nutrition, sleep, foam rolling, relaxation methods) to lengthen the training window for as long as possible.

Continue to challenge the strength, speed or endurance limitations for a period of time (2-4 weeks typically) by progressively increasing the training stimulus.

Watch for signs of stagnation (early fatigue, change in energy level/enthusiasm) and begin backing off or adding more recovery days.

Watch for signs that your athletes are back to their pre-fatigue selves and ramp up training again at a slightly higher level.

Repeat these steps as many times as possible.

A sound training program will make transitions at the appropriate times and will speed up the adaptation process.

As an example, well-timed training/recovery cycles could be followed about every 5 weeks to create 3 periods of supercompensation in about 3 months. But those who push too long, or not at all, may be lucky to get even one cycle in that period.

You can train hard while also training smart as well.

Do both, and your results will accelerate.



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