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The Two R's in improving your athletic performance

The goal of training should be, simply put, to improve performance. Whether it be the national championships coming up, or you are just looking to smash your marathon PB, your training regiment set by your coach (or yourself if you don’t have one) should reflect an improvement in your performance by the end of the season.

Your program should be set individually to your own needs; you might need to improve your aerobic capacity, or improve your back end speed in the last 200m of an 800m race. One of the important aspects of a training program is the Two R's that should follow every training session: Rest and Recovery, and they cannot be ignored. Both are widely interchangeable terms, but have different characteristics that need to be considered by all athletes in order to improve performance.

You cannot be at your greatest potential if you do not give enough time to let your body Rest and Recover. In the end you are going to be a burnt out and injured athlete who had so much potential, and too often I have seen this story not only in runners, but in other sports and elsewhere across all domains of life.


Peak performance, a brilliant book written by Bradley Stulburg and Steve Magness, is based around one simple equation:

Stress + Rest = Growth

This is, in short, how training adaptations are made, and PBs attained. This can also be seen in the super-compensation curve, a very simple graph used by many Sports Scientists and the like (shown below).

Stress, in an athletic context, is simply putting your body under pressure in order to improve performance. Even a 20 minute jog, for a beginner runner, is a form of stress, as they have never experienced the “stress” that specifically comes from running. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, you start to sweat, you breathe more heavily; these are all direct consequences from putting your body under stress during exercise. You might feel the effects of this stress in the form of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS); particularly if you are undertaking a new exercise, or targeting muscles you have previously missed in your programming.

From this stress, you need rest, the next and equally important aspect of the equation. This is where we give our body a much-needed break in between bouts of exercise. Our muscles, tendons, and other parts of the body that influence the brain, need some down time to minimise the adverse effects of stresses. This can be in the form of relaxing on the sofa watching your favourite Netflix series, having coffee with your group of friends, playing video-games, even doing chores around the house. Anything that allows you to relax and turn your mind/body off from the stress will help enhance your rest. Everyone needs some down time, people should not expect you to be alert and active every minute of you being awake.

But be careful, just as too much stress is bad, so is too much rest.

YOU need to find the right balance between stress and rest that best suits your needs as an athlete. Some athletes need more rest than others, and that is ok. It is your coaches job to cater for everyones capabilities in the squad, regardless of age or running experience. If this wasn't the case, the Under 10's Cross Country athletes would be doing the same program (sets, reps and all) as the Under 16's. And it is important that if you feel that your coach isn’t taking enough rest into account for you, let them know and work out a plan together.


The second R that can be underestimated by many is Recovery. Unlike rest, you will be performing activities/tasks that are going to improve your performance. This can be in the form of many activities, including (but not limited to): managing/tracking sleep (e.g. wearing your watch whilst asleep), adequate hydration (e.g. using a urine colour chart), stretching/mobility, even tracking your diet (I recommend using MyFitnessPal).

If you correctly recover, you will almost certainly see an improvement not only in your athletics career, but in life as well. However, just like rest, you need to be careful how long you are recovering for, and whether you are doing the right types of recovery to your individual needs. Again, I stress to speak to your coach/es about establishing some form of process to help you track your recovery.

But how do you undertake the Two R's correctly, especially if you have no coach and are on your own? The answer is simple: make time for them, track them both, and adjust them when necessary. Sound familiar? It's the same three-step process that I discussed for how you can stay on top of sports and life (link here, if you need to refresh or are new to the blogs). As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you don’t plan, you plan to fail.”

Discuss with your coach how to best approach this, and establish a solid plan to not only do well in training/competition, but give your body the rest and recovery it deserves. Your coach will have a plethora of resources that you can use to track the Two Rs and ensure you don't fall off track.

The Two R's to improving performance can be applied to almost any context and will help you in the long run. If you neglect these two Rs, you are setting yourself up for burnout and injury, you cannot expect to perform at your very best if you are constantly pounding yourself day-in-day-out. Remember to look through your program to see where these fit in, and discuss any issues with your coach if necessary.

Stress + Rest = Growth

Keep up the running,


Intermediate Coach

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