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Training is damaging your body and that’s good

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Let’s do some training talk. Why is it so important to be consistent in training? And why is rest so important when you want to become faster or be able to run longer distances? Shouldn’t you just run, run and run? Well no. Let me explain.

But before I do that, I want to be clear; this is going to be a black and white answer. I’m not going into all the little details. I think it’s important you have a rough understanding of what’s going on with your body when you exercise. We’ll leave all the details to the specialist and freaks.

Training is damaging your body

Training is damaging your body. You’re actually weaker after training, than before. So, why is that a good thing? Well, what you’re doing with your training is telling your body it’s not strong enough, not fast enough, not flexible enough. Your body doesn’t like that. It wants to be up to the task, so it will repair the damage. And not only that. It will make sure next time it is up to the task by becoming a little bit stronger.

You might have heard of the word homeostasis. In this case it means that your body always strives to be healthy. So if it’s put under a lot of strain, it’s going to make sure it is ready to handle it.

Resting is healing

When you rest, you give your body time to repair the damage, and get stronger. How much rest you need, is different from person to person and from work-out to work-out.

Let’s use some fictional numbers to make this more clear. Let’s say you’re now 100% fit. You go out for a run, which does a little damage to your body. Let’s say the damage is 5%. Now you’re only 95% fit. You take a nice rest to give your body the time to do its repair work and to make itself stronger. Let’s say it puts 10% on top. Five percent repair, 5 present to be stronger next time. Now you’re 105% fit. You became 5% better, thanks to your training

Too little rest

You can probably already see the first problem arising here; not resting enough. Let’s go back to our example. You’re 95% fit after your training. You only rest a little. Let’s say your body has repaired 3% of the damage you’ve done with your training in that little amount of time. Now you’re 98% fit. At this moment you go for a run that damages your body for 5% again. After the training you’re only 93% fit. If you continue like this, you break down more than you gain. As a result you get over-trained. You’re tired, cranky, get injured quickly. To just name a few things.

Use it or lose it

Does that mean the solution is resting for a long time? Sadly enough, no. As you might have noticed after a period of inactivity.

See, our body works with the principle; if you don’t use it, you lose it. So, being 105% fit is nice, but if you don’t exercise, you slowly lose that extra 5 percent. Which means the trick is not to rest too much rest, but also not too little.

'After a training your body wants to be up to the task, so it will repair the damage and it will make sure next time it is up to the task by becoming a little bit stronger'

John Kraijenbrink

Training too hard

Problem two is training too hard. There is nothing wrong with training hard, but you have got hard and too hard. Let’s go back to our mathematical example. You’re 100 percent fit. Now you go out for an extremely hard training, which does 20 percent damage to your body. After the training you’re only 80% fit.

The good news is, your body will recover from this. The bad news is, it’s going to take a long time. So you’re better off doing a less hard training a couple of times per week than one hard training once a week.

Having said that, we can’t keep pushing our bodies day in and day out. Growth is not a linear process. Our bodies need a break every now and then. Sometimes you need to take a couple of days of running. Preferably after a hard race or hard training.

Daily stress

Training is stressful for your body. It’s a healthy stress, but it’s stress. Work and your private life can be stressful for your body and mind as well. You have to take this into account when you go out for a run. No matter what type of stress, your body needs time to recover from it.

So if you have had a day full of stressful meetings, been in a traffic jam and yelled at by your boss, it’s nice to go for a run, and get some fresh air. But maybe it’s not the moment to do those 10x 800 meters at maximum speed, with 1 minute rest in between. You better save those for the weekend and go for an easy run


Okay, let’s finish on a positive note. There is a little secret formula that professional athletes use to get better . It’s called super-compensation. You can call it the sweet spot of training. Hit it, and you’ll progress quickly. But how to hit it? That may take some fine-tuning and getting to know your body.

As you know by now, every training is a trigger for your body to get stronger. You run, you rest, you’re stronger. Super-compensation can help you to speed up that process by going for your next run, just before your body has built that little extra strength.

Let’s go back to our first example. You’re 100% fit, you go for your run, and afterwards you’re 95%. You take enough rest to let your body heal. It becomes 100 percent again and now it’s going to make you that extra 5 percent stronger. You become 101 percent, 102, 103, 104 and now you train. Just before your body is done putting that last percent on top.

By choosing this moment you’re triggering your body to repair itself next time just a little faster. To work just a little harder. That way you can speed up your progress.

Are you rested enough?

So how do you know if you’re rested enough to go for a run again? The most vague answer – and the best one at the same time – is to feel your body. Get to know your body. Listen to your body.

However, that’s not for everybody. Luckily we have all kinds of electronic gadgets to help us. The old fashioned way is to measure your morning heart rate. Take a regular training week without too much work related stress and measure your heart rate first thing in the morning, before leaving your bed. This will be your normal morning heart rate.

You will see that the day after a race or a hard work-out your morning heart rate is higher (sometimes lower) than usual. This means your body is tired and needs some days of rest or easy exercise. When it’s back to average you can train hard again.

The fitter you become, the lower your morning heart rate generally becomes. So every 2 to 3 months you want to determine your new average.

Heart Rate Variability

A better tool is Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Lot’s of sports watches can determine this now. The idea behind it, is the same as behind your morning heart rate. If your body is tired, your HRV will be lower than usual.

Other simple signs of a body in need of rest, are being tired, having painful or heavy legs (or arms), struggling to perform on your normal level, being anxious or feeling down and having problems sleeping.

That’s it. That’s what’s happening in your body when you train. Now it’s up to you to find your sweet spot.


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