What is recovery and why do I need it?

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Isn’t recovery just lying around doing nothing?

Training plans mainly focus on the importance of long runs, intervals, hill training and other key sessions, but the gaps in between the workouts for rest and recovery are the yang to the yin, the good cop to the tough workout’s bad cop. Without focusing on recovery as well, to allow your body to adapt, your train(ing) will soon head off the tracks.

How does it work?

It’s a cycle. We make an effort to do something, we get tired, we recover, and then we do it all over again. If the balance is right, our bodies go through the process of adaptation, tooling us up to reach higher goals. We build stronger muscles and better systems for processing the chemical by-products of exercise, we replenish our energy and rebuild the mental will to continue.

How fast does it happen?

Recovery begins as soon as you let it. Your body is at its most receptive immediately after you exercise. Consuming carbohydrate within 30 minutes of your workout is the ideal way to help refuel your muscles; similarly, a quick intake of protein will help to rebuild damaged muscle fibres (something like a protein drink or chocolate milk is perfect as it contains a mix of both).

What else can I do to optimise it?

Replacing lost fluids is crucial to ensure your body recovers as quickly as possible. Drink gradually until your urine is a pale straw colour – if it’s dark yellow, you’re still dehydrated. Your sweat contains a lot of body salt, too – an electrolyte sports drink can replace this. A post-run stretch is also a great opportunity to check for sore spots in your body. If you can get to a sports massage therapist, they can often feel tightness in muscles that you’ve either not noticed or learnt to ignore. If you can’t afford regular treatment, then save up for a special treat after hard training or a big race.

What else can I do?

Our bodies are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for, so try not to interfere with the natural recovery process by using anti-inflammatories unless you’re really struggling. Hosing down your legs with cold water, or alternating warm and cold can help, the theory being that closing and opening the blood vessels is a way to stimulate the flushing of waste products from your muscles.

Sounds harsh. Can I just sleep my legs better?

The importance of sleep as an aid to recovery is huge. Natural hormones are released that help the process of repairing and strengthening bones and muscles – so when you’re planning your training, make sure you plan plenty of sleep, too.

I’ve heard about ‘active recovery’. What’s that?

It’s using further exercise to help your body overcome a hard session. A gentle (‘recovery’) run done at a very easy pace (usually the following day) can stimulate blood flow and flush out waste products that can cause soreness. And a recovery run on tired legs can help your body to learn to cope with fatigue. Either way, it’s important to remember the goal of this workout (recovery) and not go too fast – a common mistake.

Anything I should avoid?

Yes – scheduling tough workouts too close together to maximise your recovery time. Leave at least a day between them in your training week, and also ensure your schedule contains a recovery week every month or so, when your mileage is scaled back to encourage recovery.

What can happen if I don’t recover properly?

 

Overtraining is one of the most common problems among runners. There are lots of symptoms, including: loss of enthusiasm; tiredness; soreness; bad moods; poor concentration; changes in sleep patterns; loss of appetite; loss of libido; increased number of colds and infections; and an elevated resting heartrate. If any of this sounds like you, then it could be time to pay more attention to the importance of recovery.