One of the most important aspects of a successful running training program is also one of the most ignored – and that’s recovery! Whether you’re a novice or experienced runner, taking time to recover properly from your runs is vital. Why? Because sooner or later, you’ll either get injured or you’ll become mentally fatigued - or both.
So why is recovery important and what do you need to do?
Why is Recovery Important?
Proper recovery is important, not just for runners but for anyone who takes part in physical exercise. While the stimulation for fitness growth occurs while you’re running, the progress is only made during the recovery period because this is when your body repairs muscle fibers, builds new blood vessels and restores homeostasis. If you don’t take time to rest and recover, these processes won’t take place and you’ll begin to wonder why you’re not getting better even though you’re working harder!
The Three Rs
To give your body the best chance to recover during your training you need to take care of the three Rs – repair, rest and replenish! Your muscles need to repair themselves from the tiny, microscopic tears that happen when you work them hard. Taking at least one rest day a week will ensure that you’re not overtraining, help to prevent overuse injuries and give your body time to rejuvenate. Too much running and not enough rest can result in injuries such as Achilles Tendonitis and stress fractures. You also need to replenish your energy stores through adequate hydration and nutrition.
Below we’re going to give you some tried and tested ways to recover from your running. You may not need to implement everything we suggest here but using as many as possible will help you to improve your running and increase your energy.
- Don’t Skip the Cool Down
Most of us take the time to warm up before we run, but how many of us take the time to cool down properly? Your cool down is the transition from running to stretching and can significantly speed up or slow down your rate of recovery. The cool down allows your blood to move from the working muscles to the rest of your body. If you stop running suddenly, it may cause your blood pressure to drop causing a feeling of dizziness and disorientation.
As a runner, you’ll probably feel tightness in your hamstrings, calves and hips which can not only make running more painful but may affect post-run soreness and recovery. Stretching can help to alleviate this. It’s thought that stretching allows lactic acid build-up to be removed into your bloodstream.
- Foam Roll
Considered by many as an instrument of torture, the seemingly innocuous-looking foam roller can help to roll muscle knots and tightness into submission and takes stretching to the next level. It’s thought to increase the rate of muscle repair, enhance mobility, and reduce soreness. How does it do this? By helping to ‘unknot’ or smooth out the muscles and fascia (connective tissue). However, the execution can be pretty painful, especially when you’re working on the areas that really need it.
- Use a Massage Gun
Just like a traditional massage, a massage gun can be used to reduce inflammation within the muscles by flushing out lactic acid and toxins while facilitating the movement of new blood into the muscles. It can help to relax tight muscles and break up scar tissue and adhesions and many users love the way it minimizes tension and soreness within the muscles. Using a massage gun like the RebelTM Pro will also help to release endorphins, increase serotonin, and reduce anxiety to leave you feeling relaxed and invigorated. And the best thing? You can do it yourself at home.
We suggest using a combination of stretching, foam rolling and massaging with a massage gun for optimal recovery.
- Take an Ice Bath
Perhaps not the most appealing strategy during the cold winter months, but elite athletes swear by ice baths for aiding recovery as they help muscles, tendons, and nerves to return to their normal state. They’re also thought to enable the blood vessels to flush away lactic acid buildup and other waste.
So, how do you make an ice bath more tolerable? The best way is to acclimatize your body by starting with cold water before adding ice to the tub. Start slowly and work up to spending 15 minutes at a time in the ice bath. This definitely requires mind over matter!
If you can’t stand the idea of sitting in an ice bath, applying ice packs to your legs has a similar effect without the possibility of hypothermia.
- Get Active on Rest Days
Scheduling rest days will help the recovery and repair processes to progress at a natural pace. However, taking a rest day doesn’t necessarily mean sitting with your feet up. In fact, active recovery can be the best strategy. What do we mean by active recovery? We mean engaging in light exercise that won’t stress the body or which uses different muscles and joints to those used when running. By staying active, you will stimulate blood flow to the muscles that, in turn, will flush out any remaining lactic acid and toxins. Some of the best active recovery activities include walking, a light jog, an easy bike ride, swimming and yoga or Pilates.
Of course, if you don’t feel like doing any form of exercise, then simply rest and put your feet up.
- Prioritize Sleep
One of the most underrated recovery tools, sleep has so many benefits. It’s said that proper sleep makes up at least 70% of proper recovery. And that’s because the full rebuilding process of the muscles takes place while we’re sleeping or resting.
- Drink Lots of Water
Staying well-hydrated is a must. While running, you’re going to be losing body fluids and essential electrolytes so these need to be replaced. If you don’t drink enough water post run, the delivery of nutrients to your muscles slows down, which will slow down your recovery and may even result in injuries or pain. Drinking water also helps with protein synthesis, and if you’re dehydrated this process may be delayed. So, make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day and especially before, during and after your run.
- Fuel Your Body
We all know the importance of proper nutrition and no doubt you already plan your meals to give you energy for your run. But what you eat after your run is also important as it will help your body to refuel and repair itself. So, post-run, you should eat a meal containing both carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen and protein to repair muscle tissue.
If nothing else, you should always make sure you refuel your body and get enough sleep to ensure that you recover well after running sessions.
Remember the 3 Rs - Repair, Rest and Replenish
And there you have it. 9 ways to repair, rest and replenish your body to ensure that you’re getting the proper recovery you need to improve as a runner. Just remember the 3 Rs and you can’t go wrong.