Rest and Recovery

By John Willacy

Article aimed at higher national level canoe slalom competitors in relation to rest and recovery within a training programme.

As the race season draws closer, there is more time pressure on our paddlers – coaching weekends, training camps, and race weekends – and of course all the other non-canoeing things that take up time in our busy lives.

Racing and training at a high level is stressful, tiring and pressured. It is hard work, over a long term it can become very hard work. Therefore, we need to be very careful that we get enough time for rest and recovery. If we don’t then things go wrong – they will, there are no exceptions to this. It is just a matter of time.

Therefore, with a busy period looming and in mind, here are a few thoughts from someone who has spent more than 3 decades walking the tightrope between doing too much and too little.

Rest is like training; to do us any good it needs to be regular, frequent and quality. We need a rest day in every training block (each week for most people). Therefore, that means a training-day off each week.

To explain a little further:

Rest Days

A rest day is one away from the stress, pressures and challenge of not only training but pretty much everything else. That means an indulgent day of me-time – little else. You should finish the day feeling refreshed, perhaps slightly bored, ‘bouncing off the walls’ and wanting to go out to do a sess at 10 o’clock at night. Watch a film, read a book, do your knitting, take the dog for a walk, play computer games – whatever, as long as it takes you away into your own little world – something you enjoy.

You have to be practical, if you are at school or college for five days a week you are going to do your quality training at the weekend likely. So the rest day may best fit in during the week. That means a day where you don’t go training, where you don’t do much of anything ‘structured’ outside of school/college. You just have a night off and chill.

Hopefully this can combine with the easiest day of your week. Alternatively, Mondays may be useful to give a rest to follow a race or training weekend. If you are training daily and have a free weekend, then a complete day off is a good option.

You have to be practical, but rest has to fit in somewhere.

  • Thou shalt not train on a rest day!
  • Do no activity that leaves you stressed, tired or feeling ‘too busy’.
  • Travelling is not rest
  • Rest days should be a relaxing treat, a reward for all your work and something to look forward to.
  • A rest day each training week
  • You should be ready to train with quality again after a good rest day
  • Skimp on rest days and things will go wrong

Recovery Days

A recovery day is a day slotted into a training block/programme to break/recover from a specific high intensity part of the training programme, whilst still allowing some form of training benefit. For example: Serious slalom boat training on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday may be split by a steady bike ride or long run on Wednesday say. This would allow the slalom specific areas of the body to recover/repair damage, whilst still giving an aerobic training benefit as a whole. It also allows a mental break from the pressure of focussed and repetitive areas of training.

Recovery Days may also take a similar form to training days but may be at a lower intensity or have a ‘more fun’ aim to them. i.e. a session of just wave play rather than intense gates, or a one-sess day of a 45 min sess of 15 sec courses with long rest. It still has a useful training aspect without the intensity/fatigue loading.

So – Recovery days:

  • Break intense periods of training
  • Can allow some training benefit
  • Reduce mental pressure
  • Allow/help the body to repair
  • Extends training programme quality

…but we have a busy schedule

…but we have races

…but we have training camps

…but we have studies

…but we have exams

…but we have work

Everyone’s life is busy. However, training pressure builds on top and exaggerates life pressure – significantly.

You need the rest days, if they do not fit in then something has to give – that may even be training. You have to fit the rest days in – if you don’t you will lose out in the long run.

The body and mind can be pushed hard and for an extended period – BUT there will be a price to pay. The harder the push, the bigger the debt.


  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of performance/ability
  • Clumsiness
  • Excuses not to train
  • Grumpiness
  • Tiredness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest

If the paddler doesn’t want to train today, they can’t be bothered, then the first thing to look at is the sleep pattern for the previous few days. If a paddler is tired then they won’t feel like training. A good night’s sleep should sort this; perhaps ease the training and life a little too.

If it becomes a longer-term feature/pattern, then over-training is the next thing (and a very important) thing to consider. The phrase ‘Over-training’ doesn’t tell the full story. It comes about less from doing too much training and more because of not resting/recovering enough from the training you are doing.

You can move into over-training very quickly but it takes a long time – weeks and months (possibly even years) to get back. You are unlikely to lose much race performance by missing the odd training session or even training day, but doing just a few days too much can push you into a period of poor performance or even completing cessation of training that may last weeks or months…

John Willacy

Jan 2018