Last week I did not train at all. I had some very important personal issues that needed my complete attention so training was put on hold. Fortunately, it couldn't have come at a better time because last week was an "easy" week.
Joanna has me training on a four week cycle. We build for three weeks and recover on the fourth. I can't tell you how happy I am when I get my weekly training schedule on that fourth week and it says EASY week. By that point I'm spent.
Anyway, the last time I had a recovery week, someone asked me on dailymile what I was "recovering from." So, I asked Joanna to explain training cycles and recovery. Here is what she said:
Recovery weeks are there so your body can recover from the usual three weeks of intensity building workouts. Without the recovery, you can keep pushing and pushing, but your body will crap out on you after about six to eight weeks. OK, maybe not crap out but your body will slow down and you will be very tired.
Your performance will suffer as your body will not be able to push as hard as you need for any length of time. During workouts your heart rate will either rise really fast and get to its max number when at 75% effort quicker, or you won’t be able to get that heart rate to move up at all.
You are usually at your best performance-wise after a few days or weeks of rest or easy workouts, which is why we taper for our races. As fatigue goes up, performance usually goes down. But there is that little window where the performance remains high while fatigue starts to fall - that is when you want to race or do your monthly testing to see if you are improving. Then once that fatigue falls, you still have a week, sometimes less depending on the sport, to start that training all over again and build for three weeks until the next rest/recovery cycle.
I usually say you can choose to take an easy week now, sleep in and recover, or you can wait until you have no choice but to sleep in and recover which usually is when you are sick, injured or are so tired that even easy workouts seem difficult.
So next time you see a post on dailymile where someone is recovering, it might not be from an injury but that they are taking a break from the intense workouts so they body can heal and be ready for the testing, racing or another training cycle ahead.