9 recovery methods to use after your run

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Regardless of what you hope to gain from your running – speed, endurance, better health – the training you do makes up only half the equation. The time you spend not running serves a crucial role in your progress towards any goal. ‘We can train all we want, but if we don’t pay respect to recovery, it won’t matter,’ says Robyn LaLonde, Nike+ Run Club coach. ‘It’s during the period after a run that your body adapts. Without adequate recovery, your body will break down.’ LaLonde is referring to the process by which your body rebuilds itself to return to its starting state – or become stronger. 

There are an increasing array of tools (such as hi-tech compression gear) and techniques (for example, stretching and yoga) that can enhance downtime so runners can train harder and longer without getting hurt. To optimise your recovery, keep a training log with notes about how much you’re sleeping, how much you’re resting, what you’re eating and how you feel so you know what works best to restore your body and mind.

Choose from the methods below to develop your own repair recipe. Consider what you have access to, what fits into your lifestyle and what sounds fun – for example, yoga won’t calm your muscles or your mind if you feel anxious about getting into strange positions on the mat.

1. Compression clothing

How it works: Proponents say it boosts blood flow, helps remove lactic acid and reduces inflammation, leading to less Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

When to use it: Wear while running or afterwards (within 48 hours). Also, try it the night before a race or when you’re travelling, to boost circulation and avoid swelling.

2. Massage

How it works: May decrease tension, release adhesions between tissues, increase range of motion, realign muscle fibres and prevent minor soft-tissue injuries.

When to use it: As needed. Some runners find massages help with their recovery, while others use it only when they feel an ache or other early warning sign of injury.

3. Cold therapy

How it works: Ice baths or ice packs may reduce pain and swelling by constricting blood vessels and limiting inflammation in the muscles.

When to use it: Soak for 10 to 20 minutes, within 30 minutes of a hard workout. Alternatively, try a contrast bath that alternates cold and warm for 10 minutes each, ending on cold.

4. Electric muscle stimulation

How it works: Activates muscles passively to help decrease inflammation and increase blood flow without stressing your tendons or joints.

When to use it: Use on your sore, fatigued or weak muscles for 30 to 60 minutes once or twice per day, three or more days per week.

5. Foam roller self-massage

How it works: May increase blood flow, relax tension in muscles and release painful trigger points. Most foam rollers travel well, too.

When to use it: Daily or even multiple times per day, following the instructions on the particular product.

6. Downtime

How it works: Making time for non-running activities boosts psychological recovery. Basic social interaction lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

When to use it: Join a running group so you can relax together – or meet non-running friends for a drink or a meal when you’re really feeling the pressure of training.

7. Active recovery

How it works: Cross-training boosts blood flow and prevents muscles and joints from stiffening up, and keeps you in shape without the heavy impact of running.

When to use it: Schedule an active recovery day after a long or intense run, or swap one in for an easy run no your training schedule if you’re feeling sore, fatigued or injured.

8. Stretching and yoga

How it works: Post-run stretching may lower the risk of hamstring and other injuries; yoga may reduce back pain, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and ease anxiety.

When to use it: Immediately after a run, spend a few minutes stretching dynamically. Schedule yoga or more extended sessions for recovery days.

9. Sleep

How it works: During sleep, your body repairs minor damage to your tissues, releases muscle-building growth hormone and replenishes your energy stores.

When to use it: Most adults require between seven and nine hours. If you can go into a dark room at 3pm and fall asleep instantly, you’re not getting enough shut-eye.