Rest and Improve: Part 1: Supercompensation for Badassery

By dpope2020

September 26, 2012

deloading, recovery, supercompensation

We all love to train.  That’s a great thing.  The only problem is that sometimes our bodies need to rest to continue making progress.  If I could just pile drive my way through training as hard as possible every single day, week in and week out throughout the year and not destroy my body in the process, believe me, I would.  However, that’s just not how the body works (unless you’re Rich Froning Jr. in that case you’re a mutant).

Anyway, rest is an integral part of success.  We don’t always think this way but resting and eating a bit more is often a great way to break through plateaus and get stronger.  This is a well known bit of information from the powerlifting world.  It may seem contradictory but let me explain.  While you’re in the gym you’re basically breaking your body down.   While you’re not in the gym you’re recovering and getting better.  You need the training to spur this effect but the rest is where the improvements take place.

*Keep in mind that certain neurological and hormonal effects take place during and immediately after training.  The example above is far oversimplified but important to understand

One of the most commonly cited theories of making training adaptations (ie: getting stronger, building muscle, increasing endurance and general badassery) is called the One-Factor Theory or more commonly known as “Theory of Supercompensation.” (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006)

According to Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, supercompensation is characterized by a period of “depletion” following exercise and then a rebound effect known as “restoration”  Supercompensation occurs after the restoration period where your level of fitness is higher then it was before your last training session. (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006)

Ideally, you’d want to exercise or train again right at the peak of your supercompensation period.

If you train again too soon, you didn’t give yourself enough time for proper recovery.  If you wait too long to train again, you lose the gains you’ve made from training.

In reality, there are a lot of variables to control (length of workouts, exercise intensity etc.) and the period of time that is “optimal” to train again is going to vary from person to person.  If you ask two different coaches you’ll probably get two different answers and rightfully so.  It’s hard to put a number on how much rest is best and what is too much.  This number is also probably going to change as you become more experienced with your training and it is also going to be different from sport to sport.

What generally happens in crossfit and most other sports is that we don’t always train with this model in mind.  Take a look at the following examples.

In the above diagram you can see that our trainee in the first two examples is making progress by training right when they are peaking in supercompensation (the second example is much more dramatic then the first).  In the third example our trainee is not resting enough in order to make progress.  He’s on the fast track to over training.

In the fourth example you can see that our trainee had 3 training sessions without resting enough to achieve supercompensation and then followed that up with an extended period of rest where his performance level shot up above his baseline.  This is what is most commonly seen in most people’s training program.

A good example of this is someone who trains five days per week (monday through friday).  By friday you’re most likely feeling run down and tired.  After a weekend of rest and recovery you’re feeling better then ever come Monday.

Simple enough right?  As competitive exercisers it’s always very, very tempting to continue training as hard as possible to get the results we want.  That’s commendable and I’m very guilty of this myself.  However, we make most progress when we rest.  Our bodies also mend and heal when we rest as well.  If you want to keep your body healthy over the years as well as to perform like an animal you’ll want to keep this idea in mind.

Taking this idea a bit further we’ll discuss deloading next week.  It’s something I’ve been doing since I read Jack Reape’s article on the subject back in 2005.  For a little sneak peak and primer you can find the article HERE, it’s a gem.  We’ll go over specific strategies for crossfit athletes that I’ve been experimenting with over the years.

Until then, get your supercompensation going,

Dan Pope

P.S. Thanks again for reading guys.  If you’d like to stay up to date with new articles and videos as they come out, sign up for my newsletter on the top right hand side of the page.  Let me know what you thought of the article and your own favorite ways to rest and recover.


Zatsiorsky, V., & Kraemer, W. (2006). Science and practice of strength training. (2nd ed.). Champaigne, IL: Human Kinetics.