Sunday, March 28, 2010

March Madness, Training, and Physiological Recovery

If you are a college basketball fan like me, then this weekend was tremendous. Twelve highly-competetive basketball games over four days, culminating with the Final Four teams. If you are a Butler, Michigan State, West Virginia, or Duke fan, then you are pretty happy, today. Your teams advance to Indy to play for the National Championship.

As a basketball fan I enjoyed the excitement, however as a basketball player and exercise physiologist, I observed an interesting phenomena. Physiological fatigue hampered Kansas State in their game against Butler. I think that Butler has a very talented and well-coached team, but Kanas State is an impressive and athletically gifted team from perhaps the best conference in college basketball. Two days earlier, they scored 101 points and beat Xavier in double overtime. Fatigue carried over to their game versus Butler. Butler, who defeated the number one seed and had the same amount of rest, though, was the quicker and sharper team.

Kansas State was much lower on their recovery curve. Forty-eight hours just wasn't enough time to recover and their performance showed that. The same is true for you and your training. Recovery is such an underappreciated physiological quality. We talk so much about training and for a long time, coaches and trainers believed more was better.

We need to view training as a stimulus to induce physiological adaptation. Training is not a more-is-better process. Better is better. Meaning, are you objectively improving performance or fitness-wise? The training-improvement curve is U-shaped. It is easy to do too much, as easy it is to do too little.

I have had some very motivated clients ask me, what else can I do in addition to the three, 45-minute sessions per week they were performing. I told them to rest or sleep. They are getting adequate stimuli, they just need to recover (supercompensation) to continue to see performance or fitness improvements. Vern Gambetta has a good saying: one workout cannot make an athlete, but one workout can break an athlete.

So often, exercise training is regarded as painful, gruelling, and soreness-inducing. Boot camp training has a that connotation. Many gym rats share stories about how sore they are from their most recent, painful workout. The stimulus was too much and recovery is prolonged.

Now, I am not saying never do anything intense again. I think that high-intense exercise provides an unmatched stimulus to improve your health and performance. But, you must keep perspective. Your goal (hopefully) is to improve your health and performance, not just get tired and sore. Instead of pursuing fatigue and soreness, you need to learn to balance training and recovery. You need to view training as 'practicing' to improve your physical attributes. Knowing when to push and when to hold off is more of an art than a science. Over time, if you want to stay healthy and continue to see improvements, you need to appreciate and understand the physiological stimulus-recovery cycle (chart above).

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