The importance of recovery

Let's talk recovery - person in running shoe holds ankleAn easily overlooked and often misunderstood aspect of training is recovery.  We know that there are many benefits with consistent training, but we also know that we can accidentally over-train.  Overtraining occurs when there is an increase in training (or non-training) stress that causes long term decreases in performance and capacity.  These changes can be related to physiological and psychological factors and can take several weeks to several months to result in performance changes (1).

It is easy to get caught up in continuing to increase some aspects of your training to keep seeking improvements.  There is an important mantra to exercise, “something is better than nothing, and more is better than less, to a point”.  We can get caught up in the first two parts of “something is better than nothing”, meaning just be active, do not make it feel like it must be a big ordeal.  Just move! “More is better than less” means there is a dose response relationship to exercise.  The more you do it, the better the results or benefit.  However, the part we can forget is the “to a point”, meaning it all takes balance, that there will be an increase in all these areas but without careful strategy and recovery, you could see the opposite effects or decreases in performance and ability, leading to an increased risk of injury.

Here are a few ways to be more aware and thoughtful when it comes to recovery.

Adjust your training

Overtraining can happen when our rate of overload, or how much stress we continue to apply, exceeds our rate of recovery.  Often meaning we are doing too much, with too high an intensity, with too little rest.  To adjust your training, add more rest between sets or reps of strength exercises, or add more intervals of cardio.  Add more days of rest between bouts of intense exercise.  Or adjust and vary the intensity throughout the week.  Not all workouts need to be high intensity and long duration.

Types of recovery

Although we are talking about recovery, this does not mean after the workout that we should be on bed rest until the next workout.  There are plenty of ways to work on recovery and everyone will have different responses.  Active recovery is a common post-workout or cool down form of recovery.  This form of recovery can help with blood flow and keeps the activity at a low impact and low intensity.  It should not continue to stress the body like your exercise session did.  You can always alter other forms of activity in cross-training.  If part of your concern with overtraining is fatigue from running, stress the body in a different way with some targeted strength training, or other forms of cardio.  This can help to promote muscle health and balance (2).  And do not forget, you can always take a break to help with fatigue and feel refreshed for the next workout.

Diet and Sleep

The muscle growth, or other changes we can expect from exercise, do not happen during the training. They happen when in recovery between sessions.  Exercise is the stress and stimulus for the body to adapt to during rest.  Eating shortly after a workout and focusing on carbohydrate and protein sources can help the recovery process.  This helps to replenish the stores lost during the bout of exercise and to repair of damage done during the workout (3).  This repair is what leads to the adaptations and improvement in performance.  Not getting adequate sleep can impair the recovery process and hurt our health in other ways (4).

Throughout the week it is likely you will spend more time in recovery than the actual training program itself.  Therefore, make the most of recovery to get the most out of your training!

Kimberly Burke is a lecturer in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and the director of their Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University.  Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more, see the Adult Fitness Program website


  1. Overtraining syndrome. Physiopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2022, from
  2. Fetters, K. A., Lastoe, S., Jesner, L., Haupt, A., Byrne, C., Migala, J., Rapaport, L., & Robinson, K. (2021, July 6). Rest and recovery: How to let sore muscles heal. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from
  3. Dallechk, L. C. (n.d.). The Science of POST-EXERCISE Recovery. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from
  4. Comana, F. (2022). Exploring the science of Muscle Recovery. NASM. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from