33 Rest, Recovery, and Periodization

Dawn Markell and Diane Peterson

For hundreds of years, athletes have been challenged to balance their exercise efforts with performance improvements and adequate rest. The principle of rest and recovery (or principle of recuperation) suggests that rest and recovery from the stress of exercise must take place in proportionate amounts to avoid too much stress. One systematic approach to rest and recovery has led exercise scientists and athletes alike to divide the progressive fitness training phases into blocks, or periods. As a result, optimal rest and recovery can be achieved without over-stressing the athlete. This training principle, called periodization, is especially important to serious athletes but can be applied to most exercise plans as well. The principle of periodization suggests that training plans incorporate phases of stress followed by phases of rest.

Training phases can be organized on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even multi-annual cycles, called micro-, meso-, and macrocycles, respectively. An example of this might be:

Week Frequency Intensity Time Type
1 3 days/week 40% HRR 25 min walk
2 4 days/week 40% HRR 30 min walk
3 4 days/week 50% HRR 35 min walk
4 2 days/week 30% HRR 30 min stationary bike

As this table shows, the volume and intensity changes from week 1 to week 3. But, in week 4, the volume and intensity drops significantly to accommodate a designated rest week. If the chart were continued, weeks 5-7 would be “stress” weeks and week 8 would be another rest week. This pattern could be followed for several months.

Without periodization, the stress from exercise would continue indefinitely eventually leading to fatigue, possible injury, and even a condition known as overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome is not well understood. However, experts agree that a decline in performance resulting from psychological and physiological factors cannot be fixed by a few days’ rest. Instead, weeks, months, and sometimes even years are required to overcome the symptoms of overtraining syndrome. Symptoms include the following: weight loss, loss of motivation, inability to concentrate or focus, feelings of depression, lack of enjoyment in activities normally considered enjoyable, sleep disturbances, change in appetite.

Dawn Markell & Diane Peterson, Health and Fitness for Life. MHCC Library Press. Sept 4, 2019. https://mhcc.pressbooks.pub/hpe295


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Introduction to Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals Copyright © 2021 by Dawn Markell and Diane Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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