In my lectures and presentations to coaches and students, I often emphasize that I do not consider training as a single isolated event, but as a cycle including the time spent training and the subsequent phase of recovery. For many years, a lot of emphasis has been placed on how to train better, harder, longer, while recovery was somewhat neglected. In the past few years, however, there has been a growing interest on recovery, with major training and sports research centers around the world building recovery facilities and studying how to improve athletes’ recovery.
These ideas on the training-recovery cycle are certainly not new. Here are some quotes from Hitchcock & Hitchcock’ 1860 book Elementary Anatomy and Physiology for Colleges, Academies and Other Schools.
“276. – 4. Muscles require Regular Exercise. – Labor or exercise that is regular and uniform is much the most conducive to health. The muscles will endure a much greater amount of effort if made steadily, rather than spasmodically. Regularity of action is important in every function, but in none more evidently so than the muscles.”
Some, like Thomas Kurz in his 2001 book Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance would call this “the principle of continuty and systematicness in the training process”.
“274. – 2. Muscles need Rest.- The muscles also need rest. That is, after work they need repose to restore the energies which they have expended, and if the amount of rest which they receive is not sufficient to recruit the strength, they will soon become small and weak ; for the lymphatics are so stimulated that the amount of matter removed exceeds what is deposited. But sleep is the grand restorative after severe muscular exertion ; this alone gives back to the muscle its life and strength.”
This statement reminds me of that of J. Mercier in the book Lutter Contre le Dopage en Gérant la Recupération Physique, pp.27-35, 2003, according to which recovery is a “Period during which a certain number of physiological processes, mainly energetic, take place that allow the muscle to restore its capacity to generate force”. Or that of Michael Kellmann in his book Enhancing Recovery: Preventing Underperformance in Athletes, pp. 3-24, 2002: “…the compensation of deficit states of an organism (for example fatigue or diminished performance) and, according with the homeostatic principle, a restauration of the initial state.”
Regarding the comment about the importance of sleep, this is what the expert on sports recovery Shona Halson says: “Ensuring athletes achieve an appropriate quality and/or quantity of sleep may have significant implications for performance and recovery and reduce the risk of developing overreaching or overtraining. Indeed, sleep is often anecdotally suggested to be the single best recovery strategy available to elite athletes.” Eur. J. Sport Sci. 8: 119-126, 2008.
“275. – 3. Muscles should Rest gradually after Violent Exercise.- Experience, however, shows that when the muscular system has been exercised vigorously it should not be allowed perfect rest at once, but by degrees. Such a course would save many an ache and stiff joint to the hard-working farmer and mechanic, and especially to the one who labors till the body is in a state of perspiration.”
What Hitchcock & Hitchcock are talking about is, of course, active recovery. According to A. Barnett (Sports Med. 36: 781-796, 2006), while the effect of active recovery on lactate removal is well established, this does not appear to be a valid indicator of recovery quality and active recovery may be detrimental to rapid glycogen resynthesis.
Finally, and although this has nothing to do with training or recovery, here is my answer for those who wonder why I never wear a tie at conferences and lectures:
“478. – 12. The Neck to be Dressed Lightly.- From the many movements which are made by the larynx in speaking, we infer that it is a matter of great importance that the neck in health should be always loosely dressed. For tight cravats and neckcloths are sure to obstruct the proper function of this organ, and bring on irritation, which may end in bronchitis or consumption.”