By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator

Welcome back for part three of our series on high performance recovery. As you will remember from part one on sleep and part two on nutrition and hydration, we have the Recovery Pyramid below.



Today, we are talking about the third level of the recovery pyramid: Training for Performance.

Every sport is unique in the physical qualities required for that sport and the timing to achieve peak performances. So, this is a complex topic. There are complete books written about physical preparation for every sport out there. Therefore, let’s talk about some key training principles and how to apply them to your training plan to perform your best.


Principle 1 – Adaptation

Below is a graph that illustrates how the body adapts to training to become stronger, faster, more explosive, etc. You will see in the image that putting stress on the body is the first part of adaptation and fatigue will set in. For your body to improve, you must stress/challenge it first. 

After putting that stress on the body, you refuel, repair, rehydrate and rest (the 4 Rs of High-Performance Recovery) and your body responds by becoming stronger, faster and better conditioned. The key is for that next training session to be at the right time, so the body does not go back to or below the baseline (initial training session).



Principle 2 – Overload

For the body to adapt to training, we must stress it in the right amount and then focus on our recovery. The Overload Principle builds off the principle of adaptation by adding more stress/stimulus in small amounts as the body adapts to the training stimulus you put on it.

  • For example, when trying to improve your aerobic conditioning you can add volume (time, distance) or intensity (Increase HR, resistance or decrease rest intervals), but do not increase both.  
  • Similarly, with strength training, you would either increase the volume (add a repetition) or add load (5-10%).  
  • The same principle can be applied to developing technical skills for your sport.
Principle 3 – Progression

Building on the overload principle, we would take those small increases in volume or intensity (depending on the training goal) and continue to do that over time, so we gradually get fitter, stronger, faster, etc. 

This is known as progression, and it is a key component to safe improvements in performance without causing injury. The chart below shows how with proper progression how performance can improve over time.



Tapering or Deloading

The final piece to the training for performance and recovery puzzle is referred to as tapering or deloading as we get closer to important competitions. In simple terms, it is lowering the training load on the body in the seven to 14 days prior to the competition. This is often done by decreasing the training volume (time, sets/reps, etc.) while trying to maintain the intensity at which you want to perform at in your competition.  

There are a variety of methods to do this, but for the purpose of this article, we will look at two different methods to achieve a similar goal: being primed and ready to perform your best for major competitions.

  • Linear taper – reducing training volume by 5% each training session until the goal volume is achieved (50% drop in volume would take 10 days to get to).
  • Step taper – immediate drop in training volume, for example 50% on day one and maintaining that volume (1/2) until the competition.  

There are several other ways to perform a taper and they all will ultimately achieve the same goal of being fresh and ready for competition time.


Taking Days Off

Even professional athletes take full days off and or perform recovery sessions (low volume and low intensity) on non-training or non-game days. This is very important to your overall health and well-being, both physically and mentally. 

It is important to schedule one to two days off or recovery days per week to allow your body to stay mentally sharp and physically ready to perform. Remember, eating well and training hard is great, but recovery is equally as important.


Mental Training for Optimal Performance

As you may know, being physically active is a great way to relieve the stress from our daily lives – school, work, relationships, etc. As mentioned above, when we were talking about the principle of overload and progression, we can train too hard, too often, and that can also add more stress on our minds and our bodies.

When our bodies and minds get stressed, our nervous system reacts to the stress. If you’ve ever taken a psychology class, you would have learned about the sympathetic (fight or flight) or the parasympathetic (rest and relax) nervous system. 

When we exercise or have a hard training session, our body gets stressed and goes into a sympathetic state. One of the main goals of short-term recovery is to get back into that parasympathetic state as quickly as possible after a training session. 

Part of the recovery process is to do a cool-down where you gradually bring your heart rate and breathing rate down to near resting rates. As you are doing that, adding some simple breathing techniques can help you get to that rest and relax (parasympathetic) mode more quickly.

Our Mental Performance Coach at the 2023 Canada Winter Games, Craig Brown, recorded a short audio file with some simple breathing strategies to help you get into that parasympathetic state to accelerate your recovery. You can listen to it here.

Here is a simple breathing technique Craig recommends to help you get into that rest and relaxation mode:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down where there are no distractions.
  • Inhale through your nose for four seconds trying to expand your rib cage and belly.
  • Hold the inhale for two seconds.
  • Exhale through your nose or mouth for a six second count.
  • Breathe like this for three to five minutes.

Doing this after your cool down will have you relaxed and have your body already starting its recovery just minutes after that hard training session. 

Shortly after that, get a good meal high in carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein and you will be well on your way to being prepared for that next training session.


Preparing for the Top of the High-Performance Recovery Pyramid

In part four of our series, we will discuss the icing on the recovery cake and that will be using different modalities to help optimize your recovery.  

In the final post, we will talk about cold water immersion, foam rollers, massage guns, massage, and pneumatic compression sleeves.

Questions? Reach out to us at