Recovery strategies in sport and exercise
Recovery strategies in sport and exercise

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Recovery strategies in sport and exercise

1 Why is recovery important?

In order to understand why recovery is so important we need to understand how the body responds and adapts to training. The next activity will help you to do this.

Activity 1 Adaptations to training and the role of recovery

Allow 20 minutes

In the following video, Nick Grantham, a Performance Enhancement Specialist who works with a range of sports governing bodies and professional athletes, talks about the importance of sports recovery. Watch the video and consider the role recovery plays in a training programme.

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Transcript: Role of recovery

My name is Nick Granthan. I'm a performance enhancement specialist. I work with a range of national governing bodies in sports as well as individual athletes.
Recovery is a key part of an athlete's training, because you don't actually get fitter from training. You get fitter from recovering from the training, so in order for our bodies to adapt, we have to go through a natural process where we present a stimulus; that causes the body to go into fatigue. At that point in the fatigue, we need time to recover so that the body adapts and comes back stronger, and fitter, and enhanced, ready for a better performance. Recovery really is actually the crucial part of an athlete's training, and it's often overlooked.
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Conduct an online search to help you answer the following questions:

  • What is the overload principle and why do you think it is it so important to training and recovery?
  • What types of exercise-induced adaptations occur in response to training?
  • Why do training and recovery need to be balanced?


Overload is a principle of training that suggests that fitness can only be improved by increasing the training load. The overload principle is central to our understanding of training and recovery. The video provides a nice summary of this and states that training provides a stimulus which overloads the body, and through recovery the body adapts and makes training gains (e.g. gets stronger). Recovery can therefore be seen to be an essential part of the process of adaptation to training.

Training sessions can be viewed as a form of physiological stress which cause both short-term (acute stimulus) and long-term adaptations (training stimulus). Short-term adaptations to a training session are temporary physiological changes, such as an increased heart rate, which return to normal after exercise. Long term adaptations are the physiological changes that become more permanent in response a training programme such as an increase in muscle strength. These adaptations can be split into three categories – morphological changes, metabolic changes and neuromuscular changes (Lambert and Mujika 2013). Obviously the type and extent of change will depend upon the nature of the exercise training programme.

Given the knowledge that training sessions lead to long term physiological adaptations (training gains) that occur during recovery it makes intuitive sense that training and recovery need to be balanced appropriately in order to maximise training adaptations. Inadequate recovery can lead to maladaptation, fatigue and reduced performance.

Activity 1 indicates that recovery is an essential part of the training process. It is a normal response for the physiological stress placed on the body during exercise to cause what is termed ‘exercise-induced muscle damage’ (EIMD). The delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) commonly experienced following intensive exercise is a symptom of EIMD.

Other symptoms of EIMD include reduced muscle strength, reduced range of motion, swelling and intracellular protein in the blood (Hill et al. 2014). These symptoms are temporary, but require a period of recovery to repair. If an individual moves into their next training session without being fully recovered from the previous one, their ability to perform at their best will be inhibited. Therefore, any strategy aimed at increasing the speed of recovery is potentially advantageous.

As well as being important to making physiological changes in response to training, recovery is also important in limiting negative responses to training overload. Positive responses to overload (i.e., training gains) are an appropriate response to training, but if the body responds negatively to overload (i.e., no gains in performance, or regression) the individual may be suffering from overtraining syndrome or burnout. It is beyond the scope of this course to discuss these conditions in detail, but if you want to know more the article Overtraining syndrome – a practical guide [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Kreher and Schwartz, 2012) is a useful starting point. Overtraining and burnout can occur when an individual repeatedly trains whilst fatigued. Fatigue is therefore entwined with recovery.

This section has demonstrated how important recovery is in adapting to the training loads placed on the body and combating fatigue. Increasingly sport and exercise participants have begun to integrate specific recovery strategies into their training programmes. In the next section we introduce some of these strategies.


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