Recovery is just as important as going for a run, so be sure to include this in your workout routine.
For most runners, the hard parts of training are the grueling workouts or the arduous long runs. The concept of “recovery” or resting the body between these events is sometimes overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Getting the right kind of rest can ward off injury, prevent burnout, and even improve your race performance in the long run. What follows are five recovery suggestions for you to incorporate in your training.
1. Slow It Down
If you have just completed a taxing workout or ran a race, your body needs rest more than anything else. Just what kind of rest you need, however, depends on several factors such as your overall fitness and both the duration and intensity of the hard running you were doing.
“Running involves a great deal of pounding, which results in the need to take some down time between hard days to let your muscles, ligaments and tendons time to consolidate the hard effort they were subject to,” says Joe Rubio, the Asics Aggie Running Club Head Coach. “If not, the body breaks down in the form of overuse injuries or at the very least, a body that isn’t as capable of performing it’s best when called upon to do so.”
Any running you do on a recovery day (which is typically 1 or 2 days a week), should be slow. How slow? Rubio advises his athletes to run at 65-70 percent of their current 5K pace. “This usually amounts to jogging,” he says, so consider leaving your GPS watch at home on these days.
2. Recover With The Right People At The Right Place
If you train most of the time with a competitive group of friends, then consider avoiding them on your easy day. Runs that start out slow with competitive training partners can accidentally end up in all-out, completely unplanned races at the end. So on your easy days, either run by yourself or go out with friends who are much slower than you are.
Another thing to try out is to run an unknown course on your recovery day so you simply enjoy the scenery. Coach Greg McMillan of McMillan Running does this with his athletes so that they can’t use known time markers on certain familiar routes.
3. Pay Attention To Your Enthusiasm And Don’t Be Afraid To Rest An Extra Day
According to McMillan, the first sign that a runner needs a day of rest is when he just doesn’t feel up to running. “When you wake up in the morning and are just dreading your next workout, that is the No. 1 sign you aren’t recovered,” he said. “If you feel this way on the day of your workout, then there’s already a good chance that it’s not going to be a positive, rewarding experience. And if it’s not a positive experience then it can hurt your confidence.”
Another suggestion that McMillan offers if you think you might need another recovery day is to try to do your warm-up for the workout, but after the warm-up, do an internal check to see if you feel you are mentally ready.
“If you aren’t ready, then there’s nothing wrong with that,” admits McMillan. “There’s no reason to set ourselves up for failure. You have to listen to your body.”
Rubio has a similar philosophy. “Taking a down day helps the body and mind come back stronger,” he says. “If you feel guilty running so little so easy, add the minutes and pace to another run, preferably a hard day. Make your hard days, hard and your easy, days easy.”
4. Know That Recovery Is As Much Mental As It Is Physical
You don’t have to run on your recovery day. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with skipping exercise altogether or doing something else to promote blood flow and get your heart rate up, such as swimming or just taking a break altogether.
“If you had a really tough, taxing workout, you might just need to chill out and have some quiet time,” says McMillan.
Just because your body feels like it can run fast the day after a workout, that doesn’t mean it should. Consider doing something fun on a rest day that doesn’t involve competition of any kind. Laughter helps, so find something funny to watch or spend your “down” time with a group of friends or family.
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5. Look At Recovery Holistically
In order to understand what you need to recover, you need to look at what tough running does to the body. “When you run a tough workout, you are depleting the fuel stores,” says McMillan. “So the first thing you can do is replenish the glycogen stores in the first 30 minutes after your workout.”
This means, for example, consuming a sports drink or energy gels in that time period along with plain water. “We also look at what kind of muscular damage happens to the body in the workout and make sure the athletes are taking in enough protein to rebuild that muscle,” he says. “We are also having folks use foam rollers, ice baths, Epsom salt baths—anything that contributes to helping the body bounce back and rejuvenate.”