WSBB Blog: Riding the Recovery Wave

WSBB Education
Tue Aug 31, 2021

Powerlifting is a sport that requires the body to expend large amounts of energy, as well as endure constant physical stress of varying intensities. Due to this, successful powerlifting training requires the coach or lifter to prioritize recovery, while also programming in a manner that sets the lifter up for success session to session. Lifter’s generally experience three phases of recovery during a training cycle. In this blog, we will refer to these phases as optimally recovered phase, neutral phase, suboptimally recovered phase. The names of these phases are self-explanatory, but for clarification, we will explain.
The optimally recovered phase is a phase where you're feeling good before, during, and after your training sessions with sports performance improvement. The neutral phase is the phase your body begins to go through as a recovery deficit begins to set in. During this phase, you aren't feeling as good as you were in the optimally recovered phase, and performance will begin to vary from workout to workout. The suboptimally recovered phase is where alterations to the training program must be made in order to return to an optimally recovered state. When suboptimally recovered, you will experience nagging soreness after workouts, and sports performance will begin to deteriorate. Below, we will discuss strategies to maximize the amount of time you spend feeling optimally recovered, and how to get out of a recovery deficit to avoid loss of strength and injury.

Training While Optimally Recovered

This is your time to get the most out of your training. Your max effort work will be focused on working up to one rep max lifts, focusing on hitting PR lifts for each exercise variation you're able to work through. To extend this phase, you will want to throw in a three rep max effort exercise variation once every fourth week. This slight reduction in intensity can make a big difference, and give your body a leg up as far as recovery is concerned after three weeks of intense training. If all variables outside of the gym are accounted for, variables meaning sleep, caloric intake, hydration level, etc., this phase should last between three to five weeks depending on the lifter.

Training While in the Neutral Phase

During the neutral phase, you will continue following the optimally recovered programming protocols. Workout intensity will remain high, rep counts will remain between one and three, and the focus is still on hitting PR lifts. The time spent in this phase can be vastly different between lifter to lifter. Some people will have a quick falloff into a suboptimally recovered territory, while others will be able to sustain a neutrally recovered state for an extended period of time.
This phase is where a coach or athlete’s experience comes into plays. If properly identified and programmed for, you can bring yourself from a neutrally recovered state back to an optimally recovered state without having to experience the loss in performance associated with training in a suboptimally recovered state. To do this, you have to immediately identify the athlete who has begun to experience a loss in recovery status, and begin programming accordingly to steer the training in the correct direction. This should involve a slight reduction in main exercise intensity, an increase in main exercise volume, with accessory exercise intensity staying the same while the volume is slightly reduced. If timed correctly, these minor adjustments will return an athlete to an optimally recovered state, improving the overall efficiency of the programming.

Training While Suboptimally Recovered

This is the recovery state every athlete hopes to quickly escape from, or avoid entirely. The suboptimally recovered phase is reached when an athlete has subscribed to poorly written programming, failed to properly execute their training program, or has failed to properly take care of themselves outside of the gym in regards to food, hydration, and sleep. Once in this state, you must immediately begin to make changes to your programming approach, as well as your outside of the gym responsibilities. Workout intensity should be low to moderate, this means max effort work will be five reps or more keeping the intensity at or under 80%. Accessory work will also be lower intensity, the volume will be reduced slightly. Calorie intake and hydration should be increased, and achieving proper rest should be prioritized.
It must be made clear, you cannot use will and determination to get yourself out of a recovery deficit, you can only make the right moves to give your body the chance it needs to catch up with the training demand you’ve placed upon it. Too often, you see a lifter or an athlete let ego get in the way of success, making poor choices in their training leading to loss of performance and injury. As an athlete, you must be constantly mindful of how you are feeling session to session, and make sure you are doing the right things to stay ahead of the game recovery-wise.
As a coach, you must develop the sense to know when an athlete is showing signs of slowing down in their training. This will allow you to make the slight adjustments now opposed to overhauling their programming or recovering them from injury later.