top of page

S.H.I.T Recovery? What Should You Do?

I came across this recovery decision tree framework from Dr. Peter Tierney, detailing the process of a morning self check in prior to training. I like it. I like it for a few reasons.

Creating something like this is an example of someone navigating through a fairly complex topic, and then producing an end product that is digestible and memorable. Something like this is not entirely simplistic, as there is complexity that has been filtered, organised, and shaped to produce something that is actionable. Elegant simplicity. Communicating science & research can be difficult. You need to be able to dilute the message somewhat but not lose context. Do not reduce the key points beyond what is necessary to tell the story. This is no easy task. Especially in a world that rewards and reinforces short attention spans and absolutes.

Primarily, I like this because it doesn't say "DON'T TRAIN". Granted, this is a decision making tree that is based on the premise some of the basics are already met over a longer time frame e.g. appropriate fuelling and adequate sleep. And perhaps some nuance around the stimulant component... But, if you feel SHIT, to strongly consider reducing the training stimulus and not necessarily avoid it altogether is a refreshing take. Some common sense should be cautioned here of course, but this mirrors my own perspective, and a message I think is so important for a variety of reasons.

Training sits on a continuum of a appropriateness based on the 'readiness' of the individual. A training session is either more appropriate or less appropriate based on all the factors that contribute to athlete 'readiness', rarely is it completely inappropriate.

Training is a physical stimulus, which creates a physiological stress response. Now of course, there are times where the physical stimulus in of itself CAN exceed your capacity to tolerate it. For example, what the athletes in the Tour de France are currently going through; they will have physiological markers of fatigue at the end of the Le Tour that is quite frankly unimaginable for most. It is not healthy, I wouldn't recommend it. The task far outweighs the readiness of even the fittest of individuals on earth. All in the name of glory, I guess.... But, for most of us, the fear of things like overtraining, and 'central nervous system fatigue' from doses of training stress is akin to the fear of drowning by adding a glass of water to a swimming pool. There are bigger factors at play. What I mean by that; as long as you aren't totally inappropriate with your training prescription e.g. training for a marathon in 4 weeks time without running a day in your life, then a physical stimulus won't rock the boat that much. It probably isn't the reason you feel shit. And it should not be treated as such. If anything, it helps. You probably need to move more and just look more closely at the environment you are laying training stress on top of, rather than be concerned about the consequence of a training session. And when in doubt, when you do feel a bit sub-optimal, you scale it, not remove it completely.

There is often difficulty when we look at things like overtraining as a phenomenon, and quite frankly, we still have a dogmatic view in our understanding of how we respond to a physical stimulus & resultant adaptation. People get so fearful of doing too much, but do not appreciate the systemic nature of stress. We isolate the training response because it is easily measurable. We often conflate acute responses to training (things like increased cortisol levels, increased creatinine in urine, reduced voluntary activation of muscle) to mean maladaptation (a negative adaptation to exercise over time). Yes, we do see these things when we apply training stress to the system, but often, this is acute - it's a response measured over short time frames. This is further challenged when things like reduced voluntary activation (a marker of central nervous system fatigue) has been shown to return to baseline even as fast as 60 seconds post maximal fatiguing contractions. So then, how does one separate the impact from physical and the psychosocial? The answer: You don't, because you can't. A fantastic study actually found that when collegiate athletes were a week out from their exams, they were 3.19x more likely to sustain an injury in training.

Furthermore, we have to recognise from where our understanding of the consequential biological responses to a physical stimulus originates. This was largely influenced from research injecting rats with hormones, heating them up in cages & tasering them every now and again. We measured & observed what happened to the long-tailed, short-haired little things. This was a product of its time, reflective of the scientific landscape. Last time I had checked, we weren't tasering you in the gym. The consequence of control, choice, and severity of the stimulus seemed to have got lost in translation when applied to the domains of exercise... like saying 'strength training stunts growth', after observing the impact on children subjected to manual labour in the 1940s (... and conveniently missing out malnourishment, neglect, impoverished conditions, and whatever else). The idea that training is the largest piece of the stress pie that we should be cautious of and avoid is quite an interesting notion.

I've trained incredibly hard over certain periods of my life, no training week, month, or year, has made me feel as fatigued and exhausted as periods of anxiety I have had due to life stressors. And yes, I still trained. I just scaled my training appropriately during these times, but training actually often made me feel better. I found it enjoyable, it gave me some much needed clarity, and positive head space. This is probably because I perceived it to be such! We also know that stress responses in general are largely influenced by our perception and control of the stressor. There is also a huge amount of evidence that supports exercise interventions for improvements in mood, energy, and so on.

Ultimately, your recovery needs have to be met regardless of the reason to why you feel like SHIT. But rarely is training, in of itself, NOT appropriate. Instead, you just auto-regulate (adjust the potency of the stimulus). This also is important, because when it comes to forming habits, making better choices, and being consistent, what matters is how you scale the behaviour or action. Motivation is undulating, motivation isn't enough to keep the show on the road. How you scale and adjust a behaviour or action is how you form stable habits.

With this said, there are obviously still better ways to manage your training. The more you train the more diligent one has to be. So what are some of my top tips?

1) Structure your training. Make sure you leave enough time between sessions, specifically between your hot (hard) sessions - 24-48hrs depending on training age.

2) Don't increase volume or intensity by more than 10% per week.

3) If you are starting out, there really is no need to progressively overload straight away. By going from very little to being consistent is already an overload.

4) Use RPE in your training, rather than percentage based / fixed progressions.

5) Have dedicated rest days... actual rest days where you don't do anything.

6) Monitor your physiology. Using something like an Oura ring can be helpful to get measures of HRV and resting HR, which enables you to marry it up with how you feel.

7) Use a 'check in' like the above.

Anecdotally, some of my best training sessions I have ever had has been when I started the session feeling like SHIT.



bottom of page