This distinction may seem merely a confusing way of ordering words in a sentence but understanding the specific difference is vital in your understanding of how effectively you train.
We are all aware that if we don’t add additional stress or overload to our training then adaptation won’t occur and our fitness will most likely plateau. Training programmes should, however, aim to be optimal rather than maximal we should always be aiming for the most training we can do while adapting to that training.
Effective coaches therefore carefully plan the combination of the 4 elements of training:
- volume of training
- intensity of training;
- frequency or density of training
- recovery from, and adaptation to, training.
Of these often the most neglected is the final one – recovery. Neglecting recovery is counterproductive as it is not the active part of training that makes us fitter but the positive adaptations that occur in the recovery.
By planning your recovery time and activities you will experience a four-fold benefit. You will:
- derive better performance from the same training
- be able to progress your training at a faster rate because both your performance and training capacity have improved
- actually begin to train the adaptation process as the cells respond more quickly and more profoundly to the volume, intensity and frequency of your planned training and
- be less susceptible to injury and illness associated with over-reaching or over-training responses.
Many coaches and athletes focus disproportionately on the active part of the training as the key to improvement but as explained above it can be seen that instead of ‘recovering to train’ you should ‘train to recover’.
Those coaches and athletes who ‘recover to train’ have a focus entirely on the sessions that they do and rest is seen, at best, as a necessary evil. These individuals are still stuck in the mind-set that merely completing a session is sufficient to improve performance, which we have seen isn’t true.
When you ‘train to recover’, however, each session is seen in the context of the recovery opportunities that follow them. Training for recovery should never be confused with training less. Instead, these coaches and athletes create a better way of balancing the train/rest/recovery conundrum, making their training more efficient and more productive, with an individual’s adaptation guiding the process.
Ask yourself now a simple question, “Is it better for me to train maximally, or optimally?” If you are ‘training to recover’ and modifying the planned training to accommodate the recovery and adaptation process, you should be training optimally. It is often said, “It is better to do 90% of what an athlete can do, and adapt fully, over a season, rather than to risk doing 101+% and not adapting optimally or even worse getting injured.”