Without proper recovery, there can be no improvement. This fact remains regardless of what your workout program includes–whether it be high intensity sprints, hour long sessions in the gym lifting weights, or 30 mile long runs.
One benefit that I’ve noticed about my type of training is that I rarely, if ever, need to consider whether I’m recovered. Over-training, a specter that waits in the shadows for many recreational athletes aspiring to endurance greatness, hasn’t haunted me at all since I began following a low volume training regimen as I try to train for epic races. At present, using a 30 minute a week schedule broken into 3 workouts a week, it is simply impossible to over-train. I can put 100% effort into each and every second of my workouts and by the time the next one comes along (typically about 47 hours and 53 minutes later), recovery and super-compensation have both invariably occurred.
But there is a slight downside to low volume methods–the epic races and adventures themselves can take a bit more of a toll on someone using them.
I had my own experience with this recently when doing a run through of part of the marathon course that will anchor the Wilderman triathlon (a race I’m directing) this summer. The effort was a ‘test’ of sorts to see how my current program–which includes only about 3 miles of running every three weeks–prepares me for ‘bigger’ things. Although I managed the 20+ miles reasonably well, I’m sure I’m paying a bigger price today than my running partner who regularly engages in 10-15 mile runs as part of his weekly training.
Recovering from such a long day out takes longer for me. Part of the extra toll I pay is because of the low volume–my ligaments and tendons and other connective tissues are likely not quite as durable as those of someone who isn’t over-trained and regularly puts in training sessions which last longer (1/2 of the time/distance of a goal race, for example, as opposed 1/25th). But the other part of my increased recovery time stems from the fact that my next workout requires me to actually be recovered because it will demand near 100% intensity.
Low volume high intensity training is only possible for athletes that know how to recover properly and following such a program based is a great way for those currently engaged in chronic-cardio to gain a quick education in the art of resting.