Recovery is one of the top 3 most important factors to consider and think about as a coach writing a program and as an athlete doing your training. In fact I would say together with progressive overload as one unit they are the most important (and only) pair of training principles that work in unison as a whole and when one is missing the other will fall. And when that happens training goes down the crapper.

The reason for the importance of recovery is because if there is no recovery there is no progress and therefore no matter how specific your training is it wont matter. No matter how exact your plan for progression has been it won’t matter. Really nothing else matters.

But here’s the kicker – recovery itself isn’t enough there has to be supercompensation. That means that your training has to be planned (by coaches) and executed (by athletes) in such a way that your body not only recovers from the stressors you gave it but it actually goes above the previous readiness level it was at. There is no point in training the body over endless hours of hard training then recovering just enough to where the body was in the first place before introducing new stressors again. In a case like that all that will happen is the athlete will hit a wall at best.

So let’s leave that concept there and not go any deeper because that’s not really the point of this article. Let’s agree that at a surface level:

  • The training principles of recovery is important.
  • Simply recovering to the same fitness level you were before the training is not enough, supercompensation is the name of the game.

With that out of the way here is one common way people screw up their recovery and either get injured or hit a wall for a long time and can’t figure out what’s going on:

Grinding lifts

In training there are two major systems that get stressed: the central nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. The latter recovers pretty quickly hence why bodybuilding (hypertrophy) specific training as a whole is easier to recover from even with the inclusions of drop sets and sets taken to failure and so on.

The former, however, is a different story. The nervous system takes longer to recover, specially the stronger you are, and the more stress it experiences in terms of how heavy the weight on the bar is in relation to your 1RM the more of a hit it takes. Furthermore, the closer this weight is taken to failure the more it has an effect on the CNS’ ability to recover quickly. For this reason during a strength building block of training all sets of all lifts should have anywhere between 1-2 reps left in the tank. The further out you are from competition within a strength building cycle(s) the more towards the 8RPE side of things you need to be and the closer you get to competition the more you will and should experience intensities towards the 9RPE. But pretty much never ever should you plan your training around taking a set to failure or a planned grindy lift. At least that’s how we do it here at Adonis Athletics.

There is one other factor that ties in with grinding lifts that is often overlooked. How crisp and clean does a grindy rep look? On a scale of Pretty to Horrible it’s right up there with “horrible”, right? A grindy rep is almost never pretty, and if you are constantly grinding reps what that’s doing is simply teaching you incorrect movement patterns again and again. And the thing with movement patterns is they become programmed into how the body moves and when that happens it’s hard to unlearn…trust me I know from personal experience. It’s a headache and a massive waste of time.

To prevent that all you have to do is stop when the reps are not crisp any more. When technique sucks don’t keep going, don’t keep grinding and draining the body’s resources and energy systems more and more to the point where it’s going to take 1-2 weeks to simply just recover back to where things were let alone for any supercompensation to occur.

There is one final benefit of leaving room in the tank. Imagine you are a competitive strength athlete, let’s say powerlifting is your thing. And let’s say in all your training you never missed a single rep on the squat. You increased weight week after week and every week you got the lifts. Technique may have needed constant work and tweaking along the way to make things sharper but you never missed. The weights were challenging but were picked just right that even when you were out of groove, even when you were slightly off balance you made the lift. How high is your confidence going to be going into a meet versus if you had done a training block where you were constantly grinding lifts or worse yet failing a couple of reps every week? The mental edge you will have going into a meet after having hit every single rep of every single set during training is going to be vastly different to the mental state you will have going into a meet after an uncertain and rocky training block leading into it. You have literally trained to make lifts every single time. All you know is how to successfully finish attempts.

I know the old saying is, there is no such thing as over-training, or whatever other mildly inspirational but severely blown-out-of-proportion quote you may have heard in a Rocky movie but believe it or not you want to be able to learn to stop JUST before that tipping point where you go from stimulation to annihilation of the body. Stimulation is what you want, it signals the body for some change whilst being light enough to recover from. Annihilation is havoc, you are waging war on the body and it will take quite some time to rebuild itself. Time you probably don’t have specially if you are a competitive athlete – you need to be able to train, supercompensate and train again and make that cycle turn as quick as possible.

There is probably one time you can push things closer to failure and hammer the body a little harder and that is the week before a deload week. But even then it should be in the form of higher volume not jacking up intensity and being in danger of missing a lift.

Always leave one in the tank.