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Supercompensation: What it is, How it Works, and When to Use It

What is Supercompensation?

Supercompensation is a sports science theory stating that completing a more intense training (overreaching) phase followed by a recovery period leads to better physiological adaptations (e.g., strength gain). It’s based on the idea that higher stress levels take a more significant toll on the body, forcing it to adapt better to effectively handle similar stress in the future.

A Deeper Look at Supercompensation

We can break down supercompensation into four distinct phases:

  • Phase 1 – an athlete trains harder and subjects their body to more training stress than they’ve experienced before.
  • Phase 2 – more training stress leads to greater fatigue, temporarily reducing training performance and sometimes leading to more soreness.
  • Phase 3 – because of the greater training demand and fatigue, the athlete must take a step back and focus on recovery, typically by doing a deload week, having active recovery sessions, or simply taking time off training.
  • Phase 4 – the time dedicated to recovery allows the body to adapt to the training stress more effectively, resulting in improved athletic performance.

Why Does Supercompensation Matter?

Beginners can typically see steady improvements in training performance from week to week (or workout to workout) because they are not accustomed to this physical stress. 

However, as trainees become more experienced and enter the intermediate to advanced stage, improvements occur more slowly, and the risk of performance plateaus increases.

Supercompensation practices allow more advanced trainees to go through periods of planned overreaching (where the training is more demanding than usual) and follow that with recovery time to allow the body to adapt more effectively.

This theory has primarily been tested in runners but has also shown promise in strength sports, such as powerlifting. For example, a powerlifter would do several weeks of intense training, gradually increasing the difficulty until they get to the point of overreaching, which may last for a week or two.

Then, the athlete would take some time off to recover and experience supercompensation in time for a competition, resulting in better performance. An alternative is to reduce training volume for one to three weeks before the competition (taper) to achieve the same effect.


1. Does supercompensation build muscle?

Supercompensation is primarily used to improve performance, but limited research has also found that it may have the same positive impact on muscle growth.

2. What are the signs of supercompensation?

Some signs that a trainee is in a supercompensation state include improved performance, a lower resting heart rate, and more energy and motivation to attack training sessions.

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