Which is greater?! I know, it looks like a simple question but it’s not. My college coach always said, “It’s better to be 20% under-trained than 2% over-trained. Seems like you’d be leaving a lot on the table if you always showed up at your race 20% under-trained. However, the alternative isn’t ever a good place to be.
Coach’s point was that anytime we get over-trained, bad things happen… we get sick, injured, chronically fatigued or a combination of more than one of these. When this happens, we then need extended periods of time off to heal up and recover creating a lapse in training that puts us in a place of decreased fitness, the one place we were trying to stay away from.
Training gains are made not from stressing the system alone but by recovering from the stressors. Your fitness progresses when you can allow adaptations to happen and those can only happen with both stress and recovery. Over-train and you no longer have the chance to allow adaptation.
Winter time is a great time to work on this principle. As the training and racing seasons slow down for many of us, it can be a chance to build slowly, enjoy making small changes, and learn to program recovery into the schedule. Finding patience in the quiet months of winter can help you enjoy a myriad of breakthroughs during the racing season.
Chances are, when we picture ourselves being 20% under-trained, we see ourselves taking a day off here and there or maybe even doing a little more work in our base phase and less in our intervals or thresholds. Hence, 20% under-trained is closer to perfection than we might think. Allowing ourselves enough recovery to adapt can put us in a place where we feel good on race day. And that’s way better than never making it to the start line in the first place!