Supercompensation and the importance of rest
With holiday season here, now is a time when people commonly ramp up their training. But could doing less actually be the key to getting better results? Simply put, exercise is just a stimulus for recovery.
Recovery is where all the magic happens. The concept of training is to cause some sort of stress to our body, be it the cardiovascular system or muscles. Your body then adapts to that level of stress placed upon it and improves its systems to meet the level of demand placed upon it. This is known as supercompensation.
Supercompensation can be broken down into 4 stages:
Stage 1: Training
The first stage is the stressor placed on the body - training. This training invariably causes some level of fatigue resulting in an initial decrease in performance if training were to be continued.
Stage 2: Rest and Recovery
The second stage is the recovery phase - be this rest or an active recovery session such as a gentle jog and some foam rolling. During this phase energy stores and performance return to the body’s original baseline.
Stage 3: Supercompensation
Stage three is the supercompensation phase, which is an adaptive rebound above the baseline levels. This results in the achievement of fitness levels above where you originally started. The body has recovered from the training stimulus and adapted to the new levels of stress placed upon it, resulting in greater levels of fitness which is now thinks may be required.
Stage 4: Detraining (if no further training stimulus occurs)
Stage four in this process is known as detraining, and only occurs if no further stressors in placed on the body. This means without further training input, the body will return to original baseline levels as new adaptations are no longer needed.
This process demonstrates the simple way we build fitness. Different physical qualities develop at different rates and the rate at which we achieve supercompensation is also an individual process. This explains why certain people may achieve strength gains quicker than others, whereas others may be able to improve their running times in a quicker period, despite using the same training programmes as others.
Other factors affecting supercompensation include overall health, sleep and nutrition. If the body is not getting the fuel and rest it requires, these processes of supercompensation simply cannot occur.
Rest is the key to achieving training gains. If you don't give your body sufficient rest, you will never progress beyond stage 1, which essentially makes all that training redundant.
So ensure you are planning rest into your training week and giving yourself at least one or two days off, more if you are a beginner. Rest more, and enjoy those training gains.