Recovery/Consolidation Week Minimum Volume

  • Creator
  • #16198

    What is the minimum volume we can typically drop to during recovery/consolidation week and not LOSE fitness?

    I have usually cut back to 60-70% of latest weekly volume during recovery weeks. A discussion with Scott J a few months ago revealed that I should consider cutting back to 50% for recovery weeks once my volume gets large.

    During my last training cycle, about 3 months in, at which point total weekly aerobic only training volume was approaching 20 hrs per week, I experienced a lull in progression, drop in performance, and drop in motivation — what I consider over-reaching symptoms. I dropped intensity super low for a couple short workouts, then took 3 days off. After that, on my first workout back, set a Zone 2 PR. My gains after that full 3 days off / super low volume week were staggering to me. I all of the sudden had a huge boost in my base aerobic pace.

    Right now, I feel like history may be repeating itself. I am exactly 3 months into the training cycle again, and experiencing a lull and performance drop. My volume is the biggest it has ever been. I feel like my last recovery week at 50% volume was still too much because I was not feeling great going into the workouts the following week (this past week). My intuition tells me to do what i did last time. Ease wayyy up, take a couple days off, and come back to training hopefully feeling ready to go again.

    I am thinking that for me with my big training volume, I may need to drop my recovery week volume lower than 50% as a rule of thumb to really recover and come back stronger. Any thoughts on this? Also, what are thoughts in general on % training volume required to MAINTAIN and not gain but not lose fitness? This last bit may not be as pressing at this particular moment, as I am more concerned with volume of recovery weeks, however it is something I have been wondering about for awhile.

    Thank you all!!

  • Participant
    Aaron on #16232

    This podcast is pretty interesting listen on this subject.

    In today’s episode Dr. Trappe and I talk about training adaptations, then detraining, then put those together to come to some conclusions about the tapering period where we try to balance these.

    The questions I posed to Dr. Trappe include:


    Genetics. There was a belief that genetics provide each person with a particular range of possibility and that there is a limit set by those genetics for each person such that one person’s maximal potential may be below another’s lower spectrum. Is that correct and to what degree do genetics compare with training for our endurance capacity.

    What is the time-course for the various adaptations: capillarity, mitochondrial capacity, power, neuromuscular control, etc.? [for clarity, capillarity is the density of capillary blood vessels within skeletal muscle – which is important for oxygen and nutrient delivery ; mitochondrial capacity is the sum of the tools a cell uses for generating ATP while utilizing oxygen] – it will vary based on the volume and intensity but we talk generally about the components.

    What components continue to develop over years of training and what components of adaptation to endurance are maximized, if any, relatively early (like in the first year or so of regular serious training) – e.g., we don’t continue increasing capillarity indefinitely.

    Training prescriptions are often designed so that a given hard day of training is maximized while still low enough in density so that the next training day (perhaps 2 days later) can be completed with equivalent volume/intensity. How do we optimize this – there is a spectrum – steady runs every day vs very hard one day that takes many days to recover from…how do we plan for the balance so that we are making the fastest, steady gains in endurance capacity?

    Some prescription plans cycle three weeks increasing in density (volume or intensity or combination), then back off for a week, then start over with a little increase. Graphically this might look like three steps up and one down, repeat. How does this approach compare to backing off slightly in those three weeks and not stepping down in the fourth week – evening out the 4 weeks so that there is a persistent increase in training density over time. Any benefit of one approach over the other?

    Cross-training: physiologically useful or can we get more out of staying 100% sport specific and tailoring the workouts carefully (to avoid injury and boredom)?

    When we evaluate training, the goal is to maximize adaptable stimulus and provide sufficient environment for adaptation. To what extent do easy days (recovery runs) layer onto the stimulus for adaptation: is there a stoking effect that keeps the stimulus maintained until the next tough workout OR do recovery runs somehow promote a more beneficial adaptation environment – where do recovery runs sit in the balance equation of stimulate/adapt? …what do we know about the specific mechanisms of the benefits of easy days (recovery runs) between hard workouts?


    For an endurance runner with capacity X or Y, what is the minimum stimulus required to maintain what they’ve developed; surely this varies for the different components from neuromuscular coordination and control, through muscle bioenergetics…but what do we know about maintaining capacity?

    Trail running, and many or most ultra marathons are on trails, require both endurance and an endurance in power – due to the elevation changes, both up and down hills. Are these capacities different from a muscle tissue perspective…flat ground endurance vs mountain hills endurance? Do those capacities detrain differently?

    Balancing Training Adaptation with Detraining

    Promoting recovery while resisting losses is the fundamental issue at play in the period called tapering. Whatever you call it, it is the final days or maybe weeks as we approach a key race or event. What are the best practices for tapering for endurance events – what works, what doesn’t?

    Recovery required from races – 50k-100mile+ all can take a substantial toll on muscle tissue both structurally and functionally. When muscle is trashed – not a lot has been studied in the specific context of ultra marathons but we do know about repeated eccentric loading [eccentric is contraction while a muscle is lengthening – as is required of the quadriceps while running downhill] – what elements of muscle function recover the fastest and what takes the longest to recover?

    Considerations for races in quick succession (e.g., 100k-100mile 4-6 weeks apart, or 50k 2-3 weeks apart)?

    mountain_stoke on #16233

    Thanks Aaron. What podcast is that? Do you have a link?

    mountain_stoke on #16234

    Nevermind, its Science of Ultra. Love that podcast.. I’ll go back and re-listen to the episode you’re referring to.

    Aaron on #16235

    On my android in mobile view links and attachments are not visible on this forum, I have to switch to desktop view. I did include a link but yes you are right it is science of ultra. I recall this episode being particularly good.

    mountain_stoke on #16240

    Aaron, good call on that podcast. I re-listened to it.

    What I gathered from it was that it takes very little stimulus to maintain training adaptations. So once “the hay is in the barn” and you have been doing a lot of training, it doesn’t take much in the way exercise to keep the various systems stimulated enough to maintain the fitness gained prior. He said doing some light exercise or up to Z2 work every couple of days would be enough to not “lose” fitness.

    From this and from personal experience, there has to be a massive difference between doing a few light sessions and total inactivity. I’ve gotten injured and been totally inactive, and the fitness loss after a week and a half blew my mind. I gather that had I been able to get in a light session every other day or so instead of being totally sedentary, I would not have lost much if any fitness.

    Anonymous on #16258

    @ Mountainstoke;
    Fitness and fatigue go hand in hand on endurance training. It is the fatigue that stimulates the adaptations the result in increased fitness requires. In general more training induced fatigue results in more fitness. As we write about on our book(s), during the base building phase you this fatigue is your constant companion and will inhibit top performances. This is why nearly all endurances athletes use a periodized approach where they train most/hardest in the off and pre-race season. This period often called the “base” phase is the period when the we try increase the athletes work capacity in the various realms needed for the event. This is what I call putting money in the bank account. In the specific preparation period and race period the athlete can then utilize these elevated capacities, first do event specific workouts and later to race well. The utilization work and races take money out of that capacity bank account. The bigger the capacity bank account the more withdrawals the athlete can make in both training and racing before having to worry about over drawing the account. The more utilization training the athlete is capable of the better will be the athlete’s results. It impossible to both build capacity and utilize it at the same time. For a fuller discussion of Capacity vs Utilization training read this

    During the capacity building base phase we’re willing to accept diminished performance in trade for future gains. During this phase your fitness gains will be buried under a layer of fatigue. This layer can be come a mountain during heavy over reaching periods. Our typical 3 build weeks followed by a rest/recovery/consolidation week is meant to give you body a chance to absorb and adapt to all the stress you’ve been piling on it. But that cycle is not cast in stone. You need to rest when you become inordinately fatigues or you risk falling over the Over Training cliff. Depending on your level of fatigue and base fitness a week may be too long or not long enough.

    As you just found out, reducing training load for only a few days allowed you to get a glimpse of the fitness you’ve been depositing in the bank. Do not worry about loosing fitness in a week of light training. That won’t happen. The adaptations we build have what Yuri Verkhoshansky termed the “long term delayed training effect”(LTDTE) . If you are under as heavy and long a training load as it sounds like you are the full benefits of that fitness will not become fully realized for weeks after dropping the load. I have used this LTDTE principle with many top alpinists, Olympic and World Cup level XC skiers and ultra runners. Most recently it was one of the key components that allowed Luke Nelson to run a strong 8th place in the brutal Tor d’Geant last September.

    NOTE: If you are not seeing regular gains in your AeT pace during the base phase you are training TOO HARD.

    As Aaron points out the adaptations we seek to influence with endurance training effect multiple body systems. Exercise scientist like to separate these systems. I do the same when discussing them in the books and many cases on this site. We do this because understanding our incredibly complex organism by creating these simplified models wherein these various interrelated systems can be view out of context allows us easier understanding. But keep in mind that these models are just that…models. And, as mathematician George Box said: “All models are wrong. Some are useful.” None of these adaptations we’re talking about, from the neuromuscular to the metabolic happen in isolation. Doing a long mountain run, even at low intensity whose main goal is to enhance aerobic metabolic turn over (mitochondria, capillary density, aerobic enzymes, etc) Also has some neuromuscular training effect improving running economy through improved recruitment/firing patterns, so is a form of strength training. No training exists in isolation. The recommendations that are normally given for recovery times between similar types of workouts take this global training effect into account by acknowledging the melange that is endurance training.

    Endurance athletes easily fall into the “more is better” trap. That’s because in general more IS better. Until it is not. Flirting too frequently with over reaching as it sounds like you are doing is not the best long term plan Over reaching is a good thing to do but should be planned out in advance with adequate recovery afterward. Chronic over reaching is very likely to turn in to overtraining.


    mountain_stoke on #16260


    This is beyond helpful. I need to read this a few times over so it all sinks in. Thank you for the thoughtful response.


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