The Most Basic Law of Training
Coaches and athletes alike consistently ask me what I consider to be the single most important training law or principle. This is an excellent question, and the answer has been embedded within, yet hidden beneath the surface of all of our discussions on training.
However, while we’ve consistently talked about a wide variety of very specific training strategies related to the art and science of optimal training, we have never focused solely on discussing the most basic general law of training – upon which the ultimate success of any of these specific training strategies is dependent.
This basic law or principle is the first and most basic physiological concept that needs to be understood by both runners and their coaches who want to optimize short- and long-term performance progress. Unfortunately, precious few runners and coaches follow this basic law of training when designing their respective training programs. Under-estimating the importance of this most basic law will surely result in ineffective training – even if all other training strategies in a runner’s program are highly sophisticated.
This training law is an essential part of the “foundation” of the training “house plan.” No matter how well-designed or well-furnished the rest of the house (or training plan) is, without a firm foundation, it will collapse. A builder (or runner) can invest heavily in the materials (by working hard) on all of the other parts of the house ( specific training strategies) and still have it collapse (or fail to achieve their potential) if the foundation is not strong and supportive (by not adhering to this most basic law of training).
In my experience, neglecting this most basic scientific training law probably results in more major training failures than all other training mistakes combined. Conversely, the simple mastery of this one key training principle can enable any runner to steadily improve.
The Most Basic Law of Training
The most basic training law is simple: Each and every training stress should be followed by an amount of rest (or recovery) which is appropriate to allow for optimal performance progress.
Optimal progress or improvement is the result of balancing optimal training stress with optimal training rest or recovery.
Put into an equation it looks like this:
Optimal Training STRESS + Optimal Training REST = Optimal Performance PROGRESS
It has a nice ring, doesn’t it? Optimal STRESS plus optimal REST equals optimal PROGRESS.
While almost every runner or coach is aware of this most basic law of training, failure to effectively practice it usually occurs from overemphasizing the “stress” ( or hard work) part of the equation and underestimating the equal importance of the ‘rest’ (or recovery) part of the equation.
Therefore, understanding what constitutes optimal rest (or recovery) from hard training sessions ( or stress) will be the primary goal of this article. We will achieve this goal by providing you with (1) a basic understanding of the physiology of stress and rest, as well as (2) a set of tools, methods and guidelines to help you balance stress and rest for optimal training progress.
Although the concept (stress plus rest equals progress) is simple enough to understand, it can in fact, be very complex. This is because each person’s body is different (general health, basic muscle fiber type, body weight, running economy, injury history, fitness level, training history, etc .. ) and therefore, responds to different types of workouts (long runs, tempo runs, interval workouts, speed sessions, etc.) and other external stresses (suboptimal weather conditions, altitude, job stress, family commitments, financial concerns, pollution, allergies, ~ inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, etc.) in different ways.
All of these factors make it very challenging to gauge how to best apply certain types of training stress (key workouts), manage various life-style stresses, and use the proper amounts of rest and recovery in order to ensure optimal adaptation that ultimately leads to better running performances.
Rest Is Absolutely Critical
Rest can not be separated from stress. They are both equally important factors in the same training equation. Stress and rest each are parts of the same whole: making up any complete cycle of effective training.
Whether you realize it or not, rest (or recovery) can be, should be, and is taken after each and every unit of trammg that you perform. Rest is taken between hard speed repeats on the track. Rest should be, and is taken on the easy day ( or days) that follow a hard workout day. And an easy month of rest is often taken (and recommended) after any racing season.
Likewise, in sleeping every night, rest is a natural part of the cycle of life (especially for athletes). You could not function very well (or even stay alive) for very long if you did not sleep. In the same way, if all you did was train hard every day, it wouldn’t be very long before you became injured, exhausted, and/or “burned out.”
The Basic Physiology of Training Stress & Rest
We all know that either no training stress or too little training stress will not improve your running performance. Likewise, too much rest could eliminate any performance gains you’ve worked hard to achieve. Finally, too much stress – or too much stress without enough rest is actually counter-productive because your body will become very tired, “run-down,” and even chronically over-trained.
The diagram in Table 1 illustrates what happens when training stress (in the form of a difficult workout) is performed. This is an easy-to-understand (although somewhat over-simplified) version of N.N. Yakovlev’s wellknown explanation of the “over-com- • pensation” cycle of training.
Note that in the diagram, this sample runner’s starting fitness level is about20:00 for 5K. However, upon performing a challenging workout (training stress), fatigue follows (see downward-moving blue line) which causes a temporary drop in fitness so that after about a day or so, the runner can only run about 20:50 for 5K. (If you don’t believe this, try running a challenging workout the day before a race and see for yourself how slow you race compared to your normal race times ! )
After physiological fatigue (from chemical imbalances, cellular trauma, and muscular breakdown) reaches its maximum, the body eventually begins to recover from this training stress-induced fatigue (see upward-moving blue line), so that by the end of the third day, this runner has actually begun to exceed his or her previous level of fitness by more fully recovering from, and adapting to the applied training stress.
As a result, this runner will be able to either (1) perform better workouts and races, and/or (2) perform the same workouts with less effort ( or greater ease).
“Over-compensation” occurs when the body has reached the point of greatest adaptation after an optimal recovery cycle from stress. Simply put, over-compensation is the body’s way of preparing for future stresses (in this case, challenging workouts) by adapting to a new and higher level of fitness.
By looking at the diagram, you can see that the maximum benefit gained (as a result of this training stress and recovery cycle) occurs on about the fourth day. At this point, the body’s over-compensation response has reached its peak – or optimal training progress .
It is at this time that the runner has fully recovered and adapted to the hard training performed on the first day and (as shown in the diagram) his or her performance capacity has improved to 19:50 for 5K.
This is the ideal point in time for this particular runner to again apply stress by performing another challenging training session. As shown, if he or she continues to rest another day, his or her fitness will begin to decline, and eventually fall below his or her original fitness level.
However, if another optimal cycle of training stress and recovery is applied at this point, performance potential can be further improved from that already improved fitness level.
Theoretically, small training progresses on top of previously achieved training progresses will produce a continual increase in one’s fitness level – or performance potential.
Obviously, this progress will eventually plateau so that it will be necessary to take an extended period of rest in order to rejuvenate the mind and body from the cumulative stress of a long training and/or racing season.
Mileage-Based Training Stress
In order to be able to best manage the stress/rest relationship in your own training, we’ve developed several tools that can help give you a better understanding_of what types (or levels) of training stress require what amounts of rest or recovery.
Table 2 is a chart of different levels of stress associated with different amounts of daily mileage. It is based on any runner’s average weekly mileage and the number of days of running per week (see two left columns).
The four columns on the right side list the number of daily miles of running which represent (]) an average mileage day, (2) an easy or rest day of running (significantly lower-than-average mileage day for recovery from a more stressful training day), (3) a moderate- stress mileage day (above-average daily mileage), and (4) a high- . stress mileage day (a significantly higher-than-average mileage day).
For instance, let’s look at the 30- mile-a-week runner who runs 6 days a week. Reading across from the left, this runner has an average training day of 5 miles. His or her easy or rest day would be between O and 3 miles of running. A moderate-stress training day (based on mileage alone) would be 6 to 7 miles. Finally, a high-stress training day would be 9-11 miles.
For another example, let’s take someone who runs 45 miles a week on 7 days of running per week. Looking at the chart above, this runner’s average day is 6.5 miles; their easy, rest days would be 3-4 miles; their moderate- stress mileage day would be 9- 10 miles; and their high-stress mileage day would be 12-13 miles.
Variations in daily training mileage above or below a runner’s average day of training would obviously be either more or less stressful than what that runner’s body has become accustomed. Hence, daily training mileage that is less than average represents a recovery day. Likewise, running more than the average daily mileage will place a greater amount of stress on the body and would be a moderate- or high-stress mileage day.
Intensity-Based Training Stress
Variations in the level of daily training stress not only occur as a result of different daily mileage, but also take place as a result of variations in the daily intensity of training. Any of the challenging workouts that performance- ori ented runners regularly plan into their training (i.e., fartlek, intervals, tempo runs, speed work, time trials, races, etc.) – represent a significant increase in the intensity (and stress level) of trainingversus normal training days.
General Rest Guidelines
Since, these types of high-intensity training days also place increased stress on the body, we need to be able to identify the various levels of stress associated with them. We will only benefit from these days of greater training intensity (and stress), by balancing them with easy, low-stress days of rest so our bodies can fully recover and move to a higher level of fitness.
Table 3 lists both mileage-based and intensity-based days of training stress. It provides some general rest (or recovery) guidelines based on various levels of daily training mileage and/or training intensity.
Table 2 lets you determine what constitutes various daily mileage-based stress level. Table 3 provides the suggested number of easy, rest days ( either pure recovery days or average training days) that should follow moderate- to high-stress days. These stress days (which include race days) can be based on the stress of increased mileage and/or intensity.
Looking at the top of Table 3, a “Moderate-Stress Mileage Day” requires only “1 Easy Mileage Day” for recovery. In addition, the second and third lines show us that both a “High-Stress Mileage Day” and a “Moderate-Stress Intensity Day” each require “2-3 Easy Mileage Days (although one of those days can be an Average Mileage Day).
However, a “Very High-Stress _Intensity & Mileage Day” might require 3-5 Easy Mileage Days,” while 6-7easy, recovery days (1 of which can be a “Moderate-Stress Day”) are suggested following the stress of a lOK race. Obviously, the suggested recovery cycles are in direct proportion to the level of mileage- and/or intensity-based training stress that you choose to undertake.
Table 3 is primarily geared to runners ages 35- to 50-years old. Since younger runners’ bodies recover more quickly, most of them can probably use the lower number in the range of suggested recovery days that are listed in the chart below.
Nutrition (immediate fluid/carbohydrate replacement, vitamins, adaptogens, overall diet composition, etc.), therapeutic recovery practices (massage, rolfing™, whirlpools, stretching, etc.), muscular differences (imbalances, fiber types, connective tissue strength, etc.), as well as training capacity and injury history – all play a major role in how much recovery each individual runner requires. as well as training capacity and injury history – all play a major role in how much recovery each individual runner requires.
Keeping a Training Log
Although these guidelines are safe ranges to use, it is essential for each individual to know their body well enough to find the optimal stress/rest patterns that seem to work best for them. This can be done by continually monitoring how your body feels and responds to different types of stress/rest cycles.
For instance, three easy days following a moderate-stress intensity day (i.e., hard track workout) may work better than two easy days. In this case, two easy days might still leave you a little tight and/or sluggish. However, another runner might find that two easy days after this same workout is better than three easy days. This is because they may find that three easy days is too much rest – since they seem to make more progress on two rest days.
Every runner is different. Your own optimal recovery cycle will vary depending on how many easy or rest days allow you to gain the most progress after a stressful workout. Keeping detailed notes in a training log (diary) seems to be the most systematic way to learn more about your body. In fact, most runners can use their training log to adjust and improve their optimal stress/rest cycles within three to four months of careful observation and analysis. V For instance, three easy days following a moderate-stress intensity day (i.e., hard track workout) may work better than two easy days. In this case, two easy days might still leave you a little tight and/or sluggish. However, another runner might find that two easy days after this same workout is
The diagram in Table 1 illustrates this concept, but it is only an example. Each runner’s point of “Optimal Training Progress” after any given training stress varies depending on a wide range of factors such as age, training ability, muscle fiber type, nutrition, and life-style stress.
Keeping detailed notes in a training log (diary) seems to be the most systematic way to learn more about your body. In fact, most runners can use their training log to adjust and improve their optimal stress/rest cycles within three to four months of careful observation and analysis.
Resting heart rate in the morning, leg heaviness, muscle tightness, heart rate during running, heart rate oneminute after running, and overall energy ( or fatigue) level are some of the key areas you will want to monitor and record in your log. For example, if your resting heart rate in the morning is more than six 6 beats higher than normal, you are probably not recovered and would be wise to take additional rest days until it returns to normal.
Weekly Stress and Recovery Patterns
As we’ve just discussed, optimal training requires a delicate balance of daily stress and rest. Likewise, the body needs to stay in balance throughout each weekly cycle of training. As a result, it is important to employ a weekly training pattern that keeps your body well-rested but making progress each week.
Table 4, lists seven different weekly stress/rest training patterns or cycles. Most people operate on a weekly training cycle because of practical considerations such as typical work, school, and/orgeneral life cycles related to our calendar.
It is often less constraining (and usually more optimal) to train in cycles that are 10-20 days in length, since you can then fit all of your key stress/rest workout cycles into whatever time frame is optimal instead of forcing them into the standard 7 – day (or weekly) cycle.
However, since most of our readers are limited to the life-style constraints of a weekly pattern, we are presenting seven possible weekly training patterns for you to choose from.
Pattern #1 is the traditional hard day/ easy-day training pattern typical of most high school and college programs – where one easy, recovery day is taken for every hard training day (except for two easy days prior to a weekend race). Weekly mileage should remain relatively low in order for this pattern to work well.
Pattern #1 is most practical for physically mature, injury-resistant, and/or elite • runners. When weekly mileage is fairly (‘”‘ high, this hard-day/easy-day pattern can cause injury and burnout problems even in younger, elite high school, college, and post-collegiate runners. Older, less talented, and/or more fragile runners should not attempt this pattern, especially while maintaining relatively high weekly mileage (morethan 40 miles per week).
Pattern #2 is probably a better weekly pattern for most older runners (above 30-years old), who want to run two hard workouts a week. Pattern #3 is for those who want to get in three somewhat stressful training days but can not handle three hard days, hence one hard (or high-stress) day and two moderate-stress days.
Pattern #4 might be used during a build-up period or general conditioning phase of training or by the runner who wants to perform stressful workouts but for whatever reason (injury history, preferences, etc.) does not want to do anything really hard or highly stressful.
Pattern #5 is the most stressful pattern that masters runners ( over 40 years old) should ever attempt to handle. Pattern #6 may be the most well-rounded and recommended pattern for older runners holding fairly high weekly mileage levels ( 40 miles per week or higher). However, Pattern #7 is a safer alternative formasters runners (especially women) if weekly mileage is high (40 or more miles) and there is a tendency to get injured.
Notice that we did not list the days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.) of the week on this chart. This means that Monday is not necessarily Day 1 and Tuesday is not necessarily Day 2 and so forth. Instead, we listed 7 generically-numbered days for a very important reason.
This allows you to first pick a stress/rest pattern that works best for you, and then to fit that pattern into your weekly schedule of work and family commitments. In other words, since each person’s weekly schedule of commitments are unique, each person can start their weekly pattern on any of the numbered days.
For instance, if you think the stress/rest cycle in Pattern #2 works best for you, then you would select that pattern as your basic weekly training cycle. Once you have decided on the best weekly program for you, you can then consider how to overlay that pattern to fit your weekly work, family, and/or school schedule.
If Pattern #2 has two hard days ( on Day 1 and Day 4 ), and you need to do your long run (which is a High-Stress Mileage Day or Hard Day) on a Sunday, then Sunday’s long run would have to fall on either Day 1 or Day 4 in the weekly pattern.
In this particular case (see Table 4), let’s say you decided to use Day 4 (a hard day) as your Sunday long run because you need three non-stressful recovery days after your long run (note that Pattern #2 has three easy days following the hard day on Day 4). Therefore, Day 5 (an easy day) would actually be Monday (instead of Friday, the usual fifth day of the calendar week); Day 6 (an average day) would be on Tuesday; Day 7 (an easy day) would be on Wednesday; Day 1 (your other hard day – i.e., hard track workout) would fall on Thursday; Day 2 (an easy day) would be on Friday; and Day 6 (another easy day) would fall on a Saturday.
In this way, you’ve first identified the weekly stress/rest training pattern that is optimal for you and only then do you adjust it to best fit into your life-style schedule. This basic approach can be applied to each of the weekly stress/rest training patterns that you might choose from in Table 4.
This article has provided a general overview of the first and most basic law of training: optimal stress coupled with optimal rest produces optimal progress. Although this simple training law is not new to most runners, it is rarely put into practice in an effective way. Distance runners (or coaches) who wisely balance well-planned training stress with equally well-planned rest or recovery will have a much higher probability of achieving their goals.
Table 1 illustrates the way our bodies respond to a hard training 7 stress and recovery cycle. Finding the optimal amount of recovery that your own body needs for each type of training stress is necessary in order to reap the most benefit from your hard (stressful) training sessions.
Table 2 lists the daily mileage levels that make up (1) an easy or rest day, (2) an average mileage day, (3) a moderate-stress mileage day, or (4) a high-stress mileage day – all based on your average weekly mileage and the number of days you run each week.
Although daily mileage is one form of training stress, daily intensity or the difficulty of certain challenging workouts is another way to gauge the amount of training stress you place on your body.
Table 3 provides a range of suggested rest ( or recovery) guidelines for different types of training ( or stress levels) related to various daily training mileage and/or intensity levels. Each type of moderate- to high-stress training day (including frequently run race distances) lists a suggested recovery cycle for that particular type, or level of, training stress.
A range of easy, rest days are listed because each person’s physical and mental make-up is different, and therefore each individual requires different amounts of rest following different types of training stress.
Finally, Table 4 provides seven different weekly stress/rest training patterns. You can use this table to choose an optimal weekly cycle of stress and rest that enables you to gradually and safely improve your fitness or performance level.
Keeping a detailed training log on how your body responds and adapts to different combinations of stress and rest will help you determine which patterns work best for you. Some key areas to watch closely in order to monitor your recovery from stressful training sessions are your (1) resting, training, and posttraining heart rates, (2) general energy and/or fatigue levels, (3) muscle soreness and/or tightness, and (4) leg sluggishness. By doing this, you will be able to observe those stresses and rest trends or patterns that work best for you.
Once you determine the optimal weekly stress/rest pattern that works best for you, you can then easily match it to your weekly schedule of work, family, and other commitments.
This article is not a quick-fix for your training frustrations, but it will help you learn and understand more about your own unique response to training stress and recovery.
By doing your best to better understand and apply some, or all of the practical tools, charts, suggestions, and guidelines we’ve discussed, you can slowly but surely reduce your training frustrations, begin to train smarter and more effectively, improve your overall fitness and performance dramatically, and ultimately achieve some reasonably challenging running goals.
Reprinted with permission from Peak Running Performance. Learn more from Coach Guy Avery https://www.coachguyavery.com