A review of the supercompensation chart and exercise recovery illustrates the science behind training. It also shows why you need to allow time for recovery after exercise. Your post-workout time places a large role in improving your endurance and building strength.
Stages of Training
The process of working out can be defined in four stages. When you begin exercise, your workout is defined by your stage of fitness at that point. It will ultimately determine how long and how intensely you can exercise. Your workout will then deplete your available stores of sugar, resulting in the fatigue you feel after exercise.
You will then enter the recovery period. During this time, your body will repair muscle damage done from exercise. It will replenish sugar reserves in your muscles. This period is essential for you to build endurance and strength. This is the reason behind the rest periods advised by fitness experts.
Post-recovery, your body then enters a period of supercompensation. This exact time varies with the individual. Genetics, gender, and age all influence the timing of this stage. At this point, exercising will build additional strength, again resulting in fatigue. Likewise, if you don’t train at all, you will not gain the benefits supercompensation has to offer.
The important thing to understand about supercompensation and recovery is that you will not realize the long-term benefits of exercise with just one workout. Your body treats a single workout session as a stress, initiating the so-called fight-or-flight response. In other words, it acts as if in a survival situation, maximizing energy use in the short term.
When you exercise regularly, your body adapts to increase its efficiency during exercise. You will find that exercise will seem easier because your body can meet your needs for oxygen and energy better. You will experience profound changes in your cardiovascular system.
Your body will produce more red blood cells for carrying oxygen. Your respiratory system will become stronger as will your heart. The cells of your body will contain more mitochondria, the energy centers of the body.
You should not overtax your body during the recovery stage of exercise. Doing so risks overtraining. Muscles which are not fully recovered are more vulnerable to injury. You will likely find that your performance suffers because you simply don’t have enough energy.
You can assist your body with the recovery process by doing light to moderate exercise during this period of active rest. Rather than a vigorous running session, you can walk to keep your circulation going during this time. The increased circulation will speed the delivery of nutrients to the injured site and remove the waste products as well.
During supercompensation, exercise will likely feel easier because you have built up muscle mass and recovered lost energy. At this stage, you can push yourself a little harder to build on the momentum of your increased fitness.
Bear in mind that while individuals vary in their recovery, so too do different parts of your body. The process of repairing muscle tissue will likely take longer than replenishing your sugar stores. You may wonder how you know then when it is time to exercise again taking these principles into account.
Total Quality Recovery Scale
A 1998 study by Stockholm University (Sports Medicine, July 1998; 26(1):1-16) may provide the answer. The total quality recovery scale measures recovery as perceived by the individual. It uses the same principles of the ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) where you rate your effort based on how hard it feels. Both of these systems offer a way to increase your self-awareness regarding your performance and recovery.
Whether you are strength training or doing aerobic exercise, your body goes through a cycle of exercise, fatigue, and recovery, followed by a period of supercompensation where you can build endurance and strength. The key is to listen to your body and not to hurry the recovery process. Doing so will allow you to safely increase your fitness and reduce your risk of injury.