What is Supercompensation Theory and Why Should You Care?

Hi Team! John Ferry here, Master Run Coach for Team Wilpers.  I’d like to share a training theory that I first came across while studying with USA Track and Field.  

It’s certainly no secret that being consistent and putting in hard work is the backbone of athletic success.  However, have you ever taken the time to consider the timing of your high intensity sessions and how well they’re balanced with recovery within your week, month, or training year?  

When planning and executing your training sessions, it’s incredibly important to understand why you’re doing a certain workout, what the goals and objectives of those workouts are and what level of recovery is required in order to maximize the benefit of that workout.  As a matter of fact, if you return to high intensity too soon after your initial training sessions you might not only suffer plateaus in performance, but actually start to see a performance decline.  I suspect many of you have encountered this very common occurrence.  What’s the solution you might ask?  Well it just might be explained by an understanding of overcompensation or supercompensation theory.  

What is Supercompensation Theory

Supercompensation theory states that when an appropriate training load is applied to an athlete, followed by an appropriate recovery, the athlete’s body not only returns to the previous baseline, but supercompensates in order to be prepared for a greater future training load.  There are four main phases to this theory.

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  1. The first phase is the application of training stimulus to an athlete.  As mentioned before, it’s incredibly important that the intensity of this training be appropriate for the athlete.  Training loads that are too intense will result in difficulty returning to base level.  Similarly training loads that are too easy will result in little to no adaptation.   
  2. The second part of the cycle is recovery.  Supercompensation theory only works when the athlete fully recovers from the training stimulus and has peaked into a supercompensation zone.  If an intense training stress is applied too soon after the initial training, not only will the athlete miss the benefits of supercompensation, but will lower their overall base level.  Repeatedly overtaxing the body without properly recovering often leads to plateaued or declining performance. 
  3. Supercompensation.  If an appropriate training load has been applied, followed by an adequate amount of recovery, your body enters your supercompensation window. This adaptation to the initial training stress allows the athlete to execute at a higher level than before. If the proper training ratio of work to recovery is executed the result should be a continual wavelike training graph that leads to greater performance. 
  4. The final phase of the cycle is detraining.  If the next training load is too easy, or too long after the initial session the supercompensation window will be missed.  If there is a continual pattern of workouts that are too easy or too sparse the athlete’s base level will start to decline.  This is an important factor to consider when backing off intensity or entering your off-season. 

Practical Application For Coaches

Our first challenge as coaches is to assess an athlete’s current schedule and look for opportunities for improvement.  For some athletes that will entail reducing the overall intensity of their week and creating greater disparity between hard and easy days.  For other athletes we’ll need to add more intense training stimulus.  For all athletes we have to identify the individual’s tolerance to strain and make sure that an adequate recovery occurs.  That means that certain athletes might be better served by a single high intensity session while other’s might be able to easily complete several.  Some athletes might benefit from 6 days of running while others perform better with only 3 or 4.  And even better, an athlete that gets the full benefit out of a single session might see more improvement than an athlete regularly executing multiple high intensity sessions without fully recovering.

Advice for Athletes

  1. Work with a coach in order to determine your ideal training ratio.  Each athlete’s training ratio will be different.  Just because a group of athletes are the same age, pace, etc. doesn’t mean that their ability to train and recover is similar.  The hardest person to coach is usually yourself.  
  2. Private coaching not an option?  No problem. Keep detailed training logs that include your workouts, nutrition, hours of sleep, work and personal stressors, etc.  Everything that happens between the end of one workout and the beginning of another is an important factor in your training.  Try to identify patterns within your training that either point to adequate recovery followed by high performance, or growing fatigue and adjust your training weeks accordingly. 
  3. Use a recovery monitoring device.  The market is flush with options to not only monitor activities, but also to monitor recovery time.  Many GPS watches have built in recommended recovery times that are displayed immediately post workout.  Use these recommendations as a guideline of when your body is able to take on high strain again. 

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that every athlete is different.  You can’t and shouldn’t compare yourself to a friend, colleague, or even a former version of yourself.  Spend the time experimenting and get your training week dialed in.  Make sure to include a variety of high and low intensity workouts with the goal of eliciting adaptations for performance gain.  Happy training!


  • Athletic Development: The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning – Vern Gambeta
  • Coaching Education: Level 2 Program Endurance – USATF 
  • Science and Practice of Strength Training – Zatsiorsky, Kraemer, Fry