How you Train and Recover Matters

How you train and recover matters. Over time, both good and bad, training and recovery habits compound to drive you in the right or wrong direction.

The below four training types are fitness level agnostic and can be commonly identified across all levels and types of training. The ‘Over Training / Injury Zone’ highlighted in each diagram below exists for everyone but depending on your own personal fitness level it may take more or less effort to reach it. The four commonly identifiable training types are as follows:

      • Optimal Training
      • Sub-Optimal Training
      • Inconsistent Training
      • Over Training

Optimal Training

Optimal Training DiagramAs the name suggests, this is optimal training. This is where everyone wants to be and with the right coach and mind-set this is where you should be. Optimal training has two key identifying traits:

  1. Train Hard – Those performing at an optimal level are consistently training hard and pushing themselves close to their limit without over doing it.
  2. Recover Properly – After a hard training session you are actually less fit than prior to it in the short term. It’s the recover phase that makes you fitter. To consistently perform at an optimal level you must also consistently recover at an optimal level. Every correct recovery allows you to again empty the tank in training and push yourself further again.

You can see from the graph the Optimal trainer is consistently training hard and recovering properly which is making them fitter and fitter over time.

Sub-Optimal Training

Sub Optimal Training

Sub-Optimal training is unfortunately the zone that most fall into without the assistance of an experienced coach or indeed when the motivation is not there. Sub-Optimal training is identified primarily by the following:

  1. Not Training Hard Enough – The key identifier of sub-optimal training is not pushing yourself hard enough. Skipping sets, skipping exercises, working with weights or resistance that  does not challenge you, or simplifying exercises are all habits that can lead you to sub-optimal training.
  2. Recovery – Recovery here could be optimal. Rest and nutrition on point but you are unable to get the maximum benefit due to not pushing hard enough in training.

You can see from the graph the Sub-Optimal trainer is consistently training but the intensity of that training is far too light. Even though the sub-optimal trainer may be doing everything correct in the recovery phase, because they have not been pushing themselves hard enough they make only small fitness gains over time.

Inconsistent Training

Inconsistent Training

Inconsistent training is also unfortunately a zone that may be all too familiar to a lot of us. Inconsistent training is identified primarily by the following:

  1. Bespoke Training – Some Sessions are smashed, some sessions are below par, some sessions never happen at all. Either no plan exists, or the plan is not followed as it should be. Either way the training is just not consistent enough for you to improve over time.
  2. Bespoke Recovery – Similarly, the recovery is far too bespoke. Sometimes you do exactly what you need to, sometimes you don’t bother.

You can see from the graph the Inconsistent trainer is a bit all over the place. Unfortunately the inconsistent trainer is often also the one that is looking for the perfect plan and is happy to change in search of it. The inconsistent trainer usually does not have clear goals defined and agreed with themselves.

Over Training

Over Training

Over Training is something that most have done at some point or other, I certainly have. Sometimes it can have devastating effects, sometimes you get some early warnings.  Over training is identified primarily by the following:

  1. Training – Training beyond your current level. This is particularly common in people that may have been out of training for a few years and feel that they can still train the way that they used to from day 1. You have to respect the determination of those that over train, it’s not easy training when your not fully recovered. There is a mental determination but it’s not channelled in the right way.
  2. Recovery – Ain’t no time to recover, I’m getting fit here gawddammit!

You can see from the graph the Over trainer is not recovering enough from their sessions and is dangerously pushing themselves closer and closer to the injury zone each time. The Over Trainer will inevitably find themselves unable to train for a period due to injury or at best, taking an extended break to allow proper recovery from exhaustion.

Comparison Over Time

Comparison Over Time

What’s most interesting is if you scale these different common types of training over time. The above graph shows only the start and end point of each type. Four people with the very same initial fitness level can end up in four very different positions due to their training and recovery routine.

Optimal Training is clearly the best and will reap the best fitness rewards. Over training leading to injury is clearly the worst and should definitely be avoided. However what might surprise some is the difference between sub-optimal and inconsistent. The egoistic gym warrior that pops in and smashes a session, not to be seen again for another month may make fun of the sub-optimal trainer that doesn’t look to be pushing themselves particularly hard but scale both methods over time and the sub-optimal trainer that has maintained consistency will always end up fitter than the inconsistent trainer. Consistency is absolutely key. Once you become properly consistent you can then worry about becoming optimal but get consistent first!


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