Training Principles in English #2 – Principle of Reversibility


Ever overheard runners getting nostalgic as they start quoting the times they used to run as a college student? Yes, the younger years. Now they are older and not as fast and yes, a certain degree of the slow down has to do with aging, but often, a larger degree, is due to…

“The Couch Years”.

We learnt from our previous Principle of Overload that our fitness gains are the outcome of a relationship between stimulus and response. A relationship that needs to be managed with the utmost of care, giving as much attention to hard training as to rest and recovery.

Unfortunately though, the fitness gains are not forever (the adult health and fitness industry thrives on the evidence of this principle!)

Think of a building that is left standing without any maintenance. Eventually, over time, it will start to return to the original “norm”, which is just a pile of bricks. The same happens with our fitness, we train, improve, but during long periods of absence from training, we reverse back into couch state. How fast this reverse is being dependent on how high our building originally was i.e. our training history over the years.  A coach I know well and respect always says  that the ultimate secret to success, is consecutive years of injury  and illness free running.

Not only do long periods of absence from training bring about this reversal but also having too long a gap between training days. Post training your body adapts to the stimulus and fitness improvements take place during recovery (which can vary between 36 and 72 hours depending on the level of athlete and size of stimulus), but if rest continues for too long, then gradual fitness losses begin to occur. This is an oversimplified example – you might only train every Saturday, you will have some gain from the session, but as you return to the couch Sunday to Friday, so too will your fitness each week and you will get stuck on the same level. The same goes for always resting the same amount between repetitions or always doing the same training session, eventually adaptation will stop and fitness will plateau and possibly even decline.

So the keys take homes (or take onto the roads) are:

  1. Train in such a way to avoid unplanned lay offs
  2. Train on holiday
  3. Progressively reduce the number of off days as you get fitter
  4.  Vary the distances and rest periods of your training sessions, not repeating the same more than 6 times before changing things up

Hope this bit of advice will help you to keep moving forwards- away from the couch!

Coach Kathleen


About Coach Kathleen

Coaching since 2004, I have coached both young and old athletes from those achieving provincial and national medals in track, biathlon and cross country to runners running their first ever half marathon or marathon. I am a specialist in youth coaching and my coaching philosophy is to not only help each athlete achieve their best with their athletic talent but to guide each athlete in developing character and transforming their lives beyond the track. As an athlete I have competed at high levels across all the running disciplines, track, road, cross country and trail running as well as internationally in triathlon. I have a personal best of 2 hours 45 min for the marathon and have twice been part of the winning ladies team in the AfricanX trail race. Qualifications IAAF Athletics Lecturer Level 3 Distance Running Coach SAQ Fundamental Movement Certificate Personal Running Performances
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