An Integrated Approach to Recovery
Looking back, it seems that all through my time as a coached athlete, I was always trained with the old standard three-weeks-on / one-week-off model. That basically entailed three weeks of progressively increased training load followed by one week of very light training for recovery. During my junior years, this worked pretty well, but as an adult I found that I was almost always feeling like burnt toast by the third week and then stale and sluggish throughout the recovery week. On top of that, I found that responsibilities outside of training pushed off during the heavy training weeks ended up getting piled into the recovery week, which certainly didn't help with quality recovery.
What I've found as a coach is a better way of integrating blocks of rest and recovery with smaller and more frequent cycles. This smooths out the highs and lows and allows my athletes to make better and more consistent progress. It also integrates better with the rest of their lives by avoiding the highs and lows. There are two basic schedules I use for most of my athletes. Factors that decide which are the type of event we're training for and how the athlete recovers between training sessions. We also look at life responsibilities and schedule outside of training. Ultimately, the two schedules are not that different and we are even able to flex back and forth between them as needed.
Build and Adapt
The simplest schedule I use can be thought of as two weeks of build, followed by one week of adaptation. During the build weeks, we will have 1-2 days of recovery each week. Training load can increase by 5-10% during each of these weeks. We follow this up with a reduced week in order for the athlete to recover and adapt. Unlike the 3/1 model, this is not a complete week of recovery days. Usually, we'll start the week with a day off, followed by two days of active recovery. By the time we get towards the end of the week, we're able to start adding some intensity back in at a lower volume.
The reason this beats the 3/1 scenario is the athlete doesn't get as deeply fatigued. They are able to bounce back quicker and we're back into quality training before the end of the reduced-load week. Athletes also find they don't feel stale and sluggish coming out of this adaptation week. I find this schedule works better for many masters athletes and for athletes training for long single-sport events such as the Leadville 100. In those cases, we will schedule our longest training days immediately before the beginning of our adaptation week. This lets us shed the deep fatigue that can come from long training days and makes sure we avoid chronic fatigue.
The other schedule I use, and honestly use more frequently, is slightly more complicated. It involves smaller, but more frequent blocks of recovery. While I wish I could say I developed this on my own, I have to give credit for this to the great coach Matt Dixon. This is the method I personally train with, and it's proven to be the best approach for the majority of my athletes - both single- and multi-sport. The simplest way to describe this schedule is that we never go more than three days without a recovery day and we regularly group two recovery days together in a row - occasionally three. By doing this we never dig a deep hole of fatigue and we don't have to spend time digging out of that hole. Typically this schedule is applied in a repeating two-week sequence as shown below:
I hope this has provided some good food for thought and perhaps provided some ideas if you're finding that your training schedule isn't working as well as it could. If you have questions or thoughts, please contact me.