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The importance of recovery

Over the years I have been very misunderstood by many pundits who have not even taken the time to visit our coaching camps to see what we actually do. However, I have talked with and visited many great coaches who have that most important feature that makes them superior coaches - and that is curiosity.

They look at my results and ask why?

So, when I say to you the most important principle of my success in Triathlon is my true understanding of recovery, it is ridiculed by the mass of naivety that passes for Triathlon experts.

So, let us begin with the founding statements I had drilled into me by my farther some 45+ years ago. The statements that kept me at the top of international level coaching of any sport I took on:




Which one do you want for your athletes? That my friends is profound “science”! So let’s be very clear. I believe that if there is no recovery, then there can be no progress.

In this sport of 3 elements (and 5 for Ironman), recovery is a very complicated undertaking. So, one needs to know the sport. Can recovery happen in one facet, while working hard on another? My thoughts are a very definite YES! Can recovery happen when one is tired? YES!

The puzzle for the individual to work out is how much stress is enough to stimulate performance, and the amount of rest needed for that to occur. Here is where it is complicated, as it changes with three things:

  • Fitness of the athlete

  • Age of the athlete

  • Mental capacity of the athlete.

Get one of them wrong and you hinder your ability to perform at your highest level.

A coach needs to adjust for each individual, and also over the course of their career. Adaptions made over time can mean that an athlete who worked best on a lighter load, will after 3 years cope with and require additional work to perform at a higher level. If the athlete is with you long enough, you will then see that as they get older, they may do better and keep improving by adjusting their workload to once again do less.

When one reads this, you may think I’m trying to confuse, however it is this complicated. This is why there are only a few master coaches in a sea of mediocrity. It is a fact that every athlete has a different stress level, and this fluctuates.

A great coach finds this and then manipulates it. Recovery is his/her tool to control it.

The next job for the coach is once finding the level is to persuade the athlete that this is best for them. What is best physically might not match up at all with the psychological abilities/requirements some athletes have. I have witnessed many athletes who did great things only because they were dragged kicking and screaming to their results. Not by pushing them harder, but by using recovery they don’t want, to save them from themselves.

As noted in my previous blog, my biggest problem, is athletes not knowing their threshold levels to stress even after showing them with great performances. Their paranoia is such that the more is better syndrome lives extremely close to their pillows, and it takes only one word or performance from a competitor, to start their alarm bells ringing, “I gotta do so much more “. We use some recovery every day in our workouts.

Here are three examples of programs I sent to serial winners one morning while planning training:

  • I want you to go to the pool. Run 20 minutes from there, then swim 200m and 15-minute spa.

  • I want you to ride your city bike to the pool. If you are bored do an extra 20 minutes on the city bike, then swim 400m easy. Have a spa and ride home.

  • Coach, I can’t do nothing. It drives me crazy! One workout a day doesn’t do it for me. Then ok, 'What about a run day. 3 runs what do you think?' Coach that sounds fantastic, how do they look? '20 minutes before brekky. 20 minutes max before lunch. If you still feel the need then 20 minutes max before dinner.'

These are actual workouts and will help all three be better athletes.

Recovery is everything.

Your job as an athlete is to embrace it. The Coaches job is to work out how much. If you give some too much recovery, they become bored; and as such I’m a master of camouflage, to give athletes recovery while they think they are training.

When discussing 'stress', people tend to look for the red line. We don’t. The red line is for anaerobic events. Triathlon (excluding the new team format) is aerobic after the start. Thus, we look to find the white line. And that to me is B.A.P. - Best Aerobic Pace. With stress that’s what I’m looking for. We do a lot of B.A.P. when our body is ready. Our recovery we have done previously allows for this.

Ironman is a different set of operational tools. The pain is not pain, it is lingering discomfort. There is plenty of gains to be had, if training is done right, without pain. The key is consistency. Not how hard you go. In fact, I think going too hard actually limits Ironman performance.

I'll finish just as I started:

Stress + recovery = adaption

Stress + stress = DETRAINING and thus poor performance

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