Who knows the principle of overcompensation in running? We all want to improve but who really knows what makes us progress? Because there are things happening in our bodies to help us progress. Today I will talk to you about overcompensation in running, this principle which can instantly lead us from big progress... to overtraining when it is misused! This article directly follows a fundamental article on Understanding Running Training. I advise you to read it before that one to understand all the details.
The basics of overcompensation in running
The body is a fantastic machine that spends its time reacting to its environment, transforming itself to adapt to it. Running training is a big stress for the body. Depending on the intensity of this training, a more or less significant level of fatigue will result. This fatigue is represented in particular by broken muscle fibres, a disturbed acid-base balance and a sharp decrease in intra-muscular energy stocks. The more intense the training, the weaker our body will be. Our level is then much lower than what we had before we ran.
This is when overcompensation in running comes into play. The body will seek to repair the damage. But it will not simply seek to return to the initial pre-training state. The body will strengthen itself to be better able to reproduce the effort you have just afflicted it. Basically, the "repaired" muscle fibers will be stronger. Chemical reactions that create energy in the muscles will be more effective. And finally, lactate will be recycled more efficiently during exercise. Overcompensation in running is very beneficial... Provided you understand the principle and help your body rather than disrupt it.
Understanding overcompensation in running
We summarize on the different phases of a training.
I assume that the body is rested and is not already under stress that could prevent the process of overcompensation from working normally. We will see further on that in a state of pre-training stress, overcompensation can be reversed...
As explained above, this is the time when we will voluntarily stress the body, increase its level of fatigue and therefore lower its fitness. At the end of an intense training session, we are indeed unable to produce an effort corresponding to our level.
After training, the body directly begins its process of reconstruction and improvement of its capacities. The more we ensure that we are effective on recovery aspects such as nutrition, hydration or sleep, the faster this curve will tend upwards....
And the more we allow a big overcompensation related to the training in question. The body will make us stronger than before training... If it can afford it. Recovery and overcompensation are only one phase. Overcompensation is just the "capacity improvement" part
Overcompensation is difficult to measure precisely
While we understand overcompensation in running and why it makes progress, it is difficult to be precise on the timings. You will notice that the time scale does not indicate a unit of measurement. This is normal because there are many variables playing on this time. Whether it is the type and intensity of your training or how you manage recovery, the time to achieve optimal overcompensation will be more or less long. For example, rebuilding muscle energy stores can take 24 to 48 hours after intense training, while damage to muscles takes time proportional to the degree of damage they have suffered. And cellular adaptations that allow better oxygen transport or lactate recycling also take time....
But it should also be noted that this time, as well as the quality of recovery, is also highly dependent on factors external to training: degree of stress and fatigue, quality of sleep, nutrition and hydration before and after training... All these factors can lengthen or shorten the time needed to recover properly. The priority is to give the body time to fully recover from an intense workout before starting another one, it is essential. Remember that until the recovery is complete, the progress related to this training is not validated.
When overcompensation turns to vinegar.
In this paragraph, I would like to give you the main errors that will lead to non-compensation and even regression in many cases. Because if we can progress a lot by using the principle of overcompensation in running to our advantage... It can also easily turn against us if we do the opposite of the above advice...
Inadequate use of our body during recovery
If you train too early by using the same work areas as the previous training too quickly, you go into the wall. The previous overcompensation will then stop and its general level will be lowered rather than increased (see graph below). Be careful, this does not mean that no training should be done during this period. A recovery jogging is a low intensity effort that puts very little stress on the body, on the contrary it even contributes to a good recovery as I explain here.
Neglecting the impact that one can have on overcompensation
I repeat again, but we have a much larger role in our recovery and overcompensation than we generally want to believe. Recovery is as important as training and thanks to it, we can derive much greater benefits from the training we do. Pay attention to recovery, these are guaranteed progress and without additional physical effort. Recovery will then be faster, better and the level increase associated with this overcompensation will be much more effective.
Overcompensation has very positive effects, but they are also temporary. With training, we force the body to adapt to the type of training we put it through. But when a developed quality is no longer useful to it, it is gradually forgotten. The physical works a little like memory, you gradually erase what you don't need. It is therefore necessary to maintain the qualities developed regularly in order not to lose the benefit of overcompensation.
How to optimize your training for a good overcompensation?
As you will have understood, it is complicated to give a general rule for a good overcompensation in running. Running training is a science in its own right and progress is individual. As I explain in this article, with the same training plan, two runners of the same level will not progress in the same way. Individualizing your training to work on what is right for YOU is therefore essential. However, some basic rules can be used to avoid problems and maximize the chances of overcompensation:
Help your body to recover well (nutrition, hydration, sleep...)
Leave at least 48 hours between two sessions of intensity
Alternate sessions with a jog in fundamental endurance
Do not repeat sessions of the same type
Train regularly week after week
Long article but that I think is fundamental for a good understanding of running training! Tell me what you thought of it in the comments! Useful? Do you want more articles of this type?