Principles of Training (Part 2) - Recovery is Adaptation

By Robin Pritchard - Owner of Fortis Training (

Train. Sleep. Recover. Sleep. Adapt. Sleep. Train again…

Reading time: 5-8mins

For: anyone wanting to get stronger/faster/fitter

The previous blog post (Part 1: Master Your Environment) was a brief overview of training specificity and overload. The second part of this topic looks at recovery – why it’s important and what we can do to optimise our body’s recovery. This is a complex subject with many different opinions in the literature. I’ll aim to keep it relatively simple and practical for now, giving you options that you can apply to your own training.

Principle #3 – Recovery

Why is recovery important?

Recovery = adaptation. If we fail to recover adequately between training sessions or bouts of exercise, then we are effectively limiting our body from ‘supercompensating’.

The graphic below outlines a basic model of adaptation, where our body enters a catabolic state (i.e. breakdown) following training. This results in a period of fatigue, where our ability to perform is submaximal. This does not represent a good time to train again, as we will only push our body further into a catabolic state and our body will become more fatigued.

(adapted from IRB S&C)

Following this period of fatigue, our body starts to recover and enters an anabolic (growth) state. In the graphic above, we can see that the recovery phase takes our body above the initial ‘baseline’ level in response to the training session. This is our ‘supercompensation’ where our body has adapted to training. In short, it has recognised the need to improve in order to deal with future training sessions. Ideally, we would then aim to train at the peak of the graph in order to maximise the effects of training.

However, even in an elite setting, ‘ideal’ is not always possible. We have busy lives/schedules that may dictate when we can/cannot train and therefore limits our ability to optimise our training.

Therefore, recovery becomes of great importance – if we can optimise our recovery (i.e. make the peak of the graph higher) and reduce recovery time (i.e. move the peak further to the left) then we can train more frequently and at a higher intensity. If we can train at a higher intensity, then chances are we can perform at a higher level too. Important to note that training at too high an intensity and too frequently can dramatically increase the risk of injury.

So, how do we optimise recovery?

There are a number of ways to improve recovery. One of the most simple is to improve your level of conditioning. Although it sounds counterproductive, actually being more conditioned will allow you to recover quicker as your body is able to tolerate a greater training load. Of course – getting to this point relies on clever progressive overload (covered in part one).

More obvious recovery methods can include good quality sleep, nutrition, foam rolling, active recovery, stretching and ice baths.


Sleep is the most important and effective recovery tool we have.

The positive effect of sleep on recovery is well documented. Good quality sleep allows our body to repair, grow and adapt to training due to the release of growth hormone. Furthermore, a lack of sleep can significantly increase the risk of future injury, illness and reduce cognitive performance.

The recommended dose of >8 hours per night seems about right, though elite athletes may wish to utilise the benefits of an afternoon nap following training (approx. 20 minutes can be enough for a positive performance effect.

This video sums up just how important sleep is…

Key Point: Sleep is the most powerful driver of recovery we have. – use it well!


Nutrition is another well-established recovery tool. This topic can become incredibly complex very quickly. To keep things simple, your diet needs to consist of a good balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein from natural sources and look to avoid refined, processed food. The precise ratio of these three macronutrients will largely depend on your needs on each given day.

With regards to recovery – if you’re completing two bouts of endurance exercise fairly close to each other (0-24 hours apart) then ingesting carbohydrate (preferably sugars) immediately after has been shown to help increase muscle glycogen resynthesis. Effectively, it works to refuel our energy supply for endurance performance. Consuming milk, isotonic drinks (think Lucozade/Gatorade/Powerade etc.) or even fruit juice immediately is important as this is when our body is most receptive. This is because insulin sensitivity is high following exercise, so sugar gets converted to glycogen quicker than when we are rested.

Key Point: Milk is a great cost-effective sports drink which can help with your recovery!

Strength training is closely associated with the ingestion of protein either before, during or after a session. The good news here is that consuming protein at any point (serving of 20-30g should be sufficient each time, dependent on your body mass) with the timing of this not being of such importance.

Foam Rolling, Stretching & Massage

If you’re not familiar with it, foam rolling is basically giving yourself a massage on a circular tube. This is known as ‘self-myofascial release’ (SMR) and effectively works by relaxing the muscle to allow a better range of movement – potentially a similar mechanism to stretching.

When it comes to foam rolling, its effectiveness has sometimes been questioned. Some studies suggest little/no physiological effect of foam rolling, however, anecdotally and from personal experience, foam rolling has a positive effect on how the body feels and the range of motion and movement that is possible.

Ultimately, recovery methods can be very individual – and if an individual feels better having spent 10-20 minutes on a foam roller, then you could argue this is a very effective (and cheap) recovery option (and you can get one here!).

Key Point: If a recovery treatment makes you feel better, then it’s likely to be an effective treatment

Active Recovery

Active recovery is either performed immediately after a training session/competition (cool-down) or the day after. Often, it is a light activity such as cycling, swimming or water-based movements performed at a low intensity for 15-30 minutes. Research suggests that this is another option that has limited influence on performance but may actually boost mood and psychological attributes!

Swimming and pool based activities area popular, non-weight bearing recovery option.

Ice Baths

Another recovery method which has been shown to have mixed results in research. However, I’ve trained guys who swear by them and feel better having immersed themselves in a bath/bin full of ice cold water! Whether or not they actually experienced any positive physical adaptation as a result is impossible to say. However, they felt better – and because they felt better, their perceived ability increased which is likely to have a positive impact on performance. I’m aware this isn’t a particularly scientific argument, although there are numerous studies that have a positive correlation between self-efficacy and task performance.

Other alternatives?

Recovery garments are often a popular, albeit expensive, option. They can be effective, though sleep and good nutrition are still the ‘go-to’ options for me. There are a variety of recovery ‘treatments’ available, some of which are incredibly niche and also incredibly ineffective – so beware when you hear the sales pitch!

I have also heard stories of individuals taking anti-inflammatories following training to reduce the stress response (and in theory, allow them to train sooner). However, we know that this stress response is incredibly important in the adaptation process!

Key Point: Our body needs inflammation to adapt!

*so long as it’s not something that will actually do lasting damage to your body! A ‘common-sense’ approach is required here.

Principle #4 – Reversibility

‘What goes up, must come down’ - or so the saying goes. This principle applies to training – again we can refer to the graphic at the top of the post. We know our body adapts to the environment it is exposed to. Therefore, if our environment becomes sedentary and we have no need to build muscle or develop our cardiovascular fitness, then our body loses the gains we have previously made.

The key to any training programme is consistency. A ‘little and often’ approach generally works better in the long term when compared to an ‘all or nothing’ programme. Smaller, incremental gains tend to stand the test of time better. Consider crash dieters compared to people with a healthy lifestyle. Although they lose weight in the short term, chances are their habits aren’t particularly healthy and they’ll put all of that weight back on soon enough – there’s a reason they’re called ‘yo-yo dieters’. This philosophy also applies to exercise and training which actually makes returning to training harder after long spells away.

Although life can sometimes get in the way, we can always make time for exercise and training in one form or another.

Recovery is Adaptation.

This rounds off the brief overview of the principles of training. It’s a complex topic with a number of permutations which often depend on the individual, their circumstances and their environment. There’s a lot of information which has been left out of this review, though hopefully it’s given you enough to think about and how you approach your training.

Three key points to take away from part two:

  1. We need inflammation to adapt.

  2. Sleep is the most powerful driver of recovery and growth.

  3. If a recovery treatment makes you feel better, then it’s likely to be an effective treatment (despite what the science says)

Now, if you haven’t drifted off whilst reading this – go and get some sleep!

If you have any questions on this post, any other topics you’d like me to cover or you're simply interested in taking your own training to the next level, please email or visit to subscribe to future articles.

#training #adaptation #recovery #sleep #fitness #nutrition

  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black YouTube Icon