How important are recovery days for endurance athletes?

Recovery days for athletes; probably the most underestimated aspect of the training process. But, before we touch on the importance of rest days, let’s first determine what recovery — or rest days — are. 

What are recovery days?

One would assume that a recovery day is a day off from training; in reality, it’s much more than that. To clarify, it’s an opportunity for the body’s cardiorespiratory, nervous and circulatory systems to adapt to the stimuli of the workouts. All in all, that’s how an athlete can actually reap the benefits of training.

The role of recovery days in the training plan

Recovery days — and days with light exercise — play a key role in maintaining the optimal balance in-between the steps of the load-recovery cycle; which, by the way, is one of the key principles in sports science. However, it seems that, more often than not, amateur athletes cannot understand the necessity of optimal training balance; even though the best athletes in the world implement — and promote — rest or recovery days in their training plan. Often, amateur athletes believe that recovery days will keep them away from their goals. This couldn’t be further from the truth, since rest days are an integral part of a training plan. 

Activating the performance enhancement mechanism

It goes without saying, the inner workings of sports performance enhancement cannot be triggered without rest. To elaborate, first, the athlete executes a workout that brings training stress upon the human body; that is, both metabolic and mechanical stress. Then, the stress sets off a series of complex procedures that help the body adapt to the training stimuli. In turn, these adaptations help the athlete achieve performance enhancement. Of course, a structured plan is required for this to happen; but, for the time being, we’ll just focus on the importance of recovery days. That said, without adequate rest, the body cannot repair and refuel; as a result, the mechanism for performance enhancement can’t be activated. 

Mechanical and metabolic stress — avoiding injuries

Apart from performance improvements, another important aspect when designing a training plan is protecting the athlete from injuries; and, in general, keeping the athlete in a healthy condition. Now, as mentioned, training provides two types of stress: the mechanical and the metabolic stress. So, what exactly are these two types of stress, and how are they connected to recovery?

To begin with, mechanical stress is the physical damage that happens on the structures of muscle proteins. In this case, recovery days are necessary to help the system activate the required mechanism and repair the muscle damage; and, subsequently, prepare the body for the next session. Naturally, if an athlete isn’t getting adequate rest, this will inevitably lead to injury. 

On the other hand, metabolic stress is the depletion of muscle glycogen, the production of catabolic hormones, the fatigue of the autonomic nervous system, etc. Here, the lack of rest days will lead to overtraining syndromes. 

Preventing mental fatigue

As you’ve already gathered, not implementing rest days in a training plan could jeopardize the athlete’s efforts; to say nothing of their physical health! Another important aspect, often overlooked, is the athlete’s mental and emotional stability. To explain, executing a demanding plan without — or with inadequate — recovery, may lead to a mental breakdown. Signs of mental fatigue to look out for in athletes include loss of motivation, and putting off exercise. Fortunately, recovery can prevent this undesirable phenomenon. 

Making the most of recovery days

It’s not by chance that almost every sports science university in the world teaches the importance of recovery days. Everything in life needs recovery periods to perform well, and not ‘break down’. Just think about it for a while; could you possibly work nonstop without holidays? Of course not! 

To wrap up, the message is simple: rest days are not to be avoided, but to be enjoyed as a natural part of the training process. Make the most out of them! 😉

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How important are recovery days for endurance athletes? was last modified: July 27th, 2022 by Aris Myrkos