The Importance of Rest and Recovery for Endurance Athletes

by | 20 Sep 2019 | training

For many of us out there, fitness is a huge part of our lives. Training isn’t a chore, it’s a habit, something that we can’t live without, and it can often be harder to have a rest day (and we mean proper rest) than continuing to train as normal. We might feel guilty. Either that we could be doing more or that we’ll slow our fitness progression by not training each day. However, in order to ensure continuous progress, rest and recovery are just as important as each training session itself.


The intensity of the exercise affects recovery much more than the duration of the exercise. Whilst endurance training is all about building up stamina to be able to perform over longer periods of time, interval training and repeated sprint works will almost certainly be found in endurance training schedules. They are an integral way to help mix up training. Not only do they break up the monotony of cycling hour after hour, or swimming length after length in the pool, but they help to keep the body guessing and avoid reaching fitness plateaus. Given this, guess what? Rest and recovery are just as important for endurance athletes as they are for any other athlete.


What Happens During Rest and Recovery?


Well, it’s the time in which the body can adapt to the stress of exercise, replenish its energy stores and repair any damaged tissues. Muscle tissue breakdown occurs from training (if you work hard enough!), and sufficient rest, recovery and intake of proper nutrition enables the body to heal. Without appropriate recovery, the body with continue to breakdown from intensive exercise and symptoms of overtraining can occur. We want to stay well away from that…


Short-term recovery occurs in the hours immediately following intense exercise. Here, low intensity exercise (i.e. a cool-down phase), followed by stretching and the replenishment of energy and fluid stores lost during exercise are crucial. If you are training especially hard, sleep is also an integral part of training. It’s often the first thing to be sacked off. If you’re putting your everything into training, the same should apply to the recovery that should come with it.


Thinking longer term, recovery can (and should!) be built into seasonal training programs. If you’re a serious athlete that’s training hard all year round, recovery days and weeks are a must. You don’t want to burn yourself out. As you most likely know, the body can adapt wonderfully well and once it adapts to a certain type of stress. It requires additional stress to continue to make progress. That’s why variety in training plans is key. But unsurprisingly there are limits to how much stress the body can actually tolerate. If these limits are stretched, injury becomes a high risk. That’s why coaches and personalised training plans will intentionally increase time and intensity at a planned rate, allowing for adequate rest through the programs.


Train Hard, Rest Easy

If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s essential for athletes (whether high level or not) to realise that the more they train, the greater the need for planned recovery. Try using a training log to monitor yourself. Look at how you feel in terms of motivation. How does your body feel before, during and after workouts? This can be a good way to determine recovery needs, and if necessary, you can modify your program accordingly. Train hard, and rest hard, right? Well, rest easy, but you get the picture.

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