Recovery Weeks Throughout A Training Cycle
A sound recovery strategy is not only what you do immediately following a race or workout but also what you do in the days, weeks, and months after and between these harder efforts. While individual recovery days consist of easy running, crosstraining, or total rest in order to absorb one harder effort and prepare the body to take on the next one, a well-timed recovery week allows you to do the same thing, but on an extended scale.
With each week that you increase your overall mileage, stretch out your long run, or add more challenging workouts, you provide yourself with new or additional stimuli for improvement. You also become progressively more tired from the increased training load, and if you ignore this accumulation of fatigue, your performance will eventually start to stagnate or suffer. The likelihood of illness or injury also rises if you continue to add to your training load without periodically scaling back volume or intensity. In my experience, most runners tend to get stale, sick, or hurt after they’ve strung together too many weeks in a row—usually more than three—without reducing their overall training volume by 20–30 percent for at least seven days.
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Just as you would take a day or two to absorb the benefits of a single hard workout, you should also take an extended period of recovery days to absorb a string of challenging training weeks.
I write training schedules in four-week blocks. Each of those blocks has a different training focus, whether it is increasing volume, building strength, improving speed, sharpening for a goal race, or doing some combination of these. The one trait the blocks have in common is that they all conclude with a recovery week, the aim of which is to absorb the previous three weeks of increased volume and intensity — three weeks of increased volume and intensity followed by one week of a lessened training load. Since the intensity of the runs in my beginner schedules doesn’t vary from day to day or week to week, and the increase in weekly running volume is incremental, it’s not necessary for beginners to scale back the training every fourth week. It’s more important for them to continually increase the length of the weekly long run and overall weekly volume.
The recovery week at the end of each four-week block represents a 20 to 30 percent reduction in volume from the highest weekly total achieved in the preceding three weeks. The long run also gets cut down, and most of the week’s running is performed at an easy pace. This seven-day stretch of reduced volume and intensity every fourth week is necessary for absorbing the previous three weeks’ workload while also gearing up for the next block of increased training.