In today’s post, I’m going to spill the beans on one of the most important and yet often ignored aspects of running: Proper recovery.
Proper recovery is a highly important component of any successful training program—whether you are beginner runner or an elite athlete.
See, the truth is, running, sooner or later will take a toll on your body and mind.
Therefore, you NEED a multitude of ways to help you recover properly. Otherwise, you will be risking injuries and painful burnouts.
In other words, you’ll SUCK at running, and you don’t want that, do you?
So what is recovery? And why is it so god damn important?
According to the dictionary, recovery means “remedy, cure, recuperation,” or that of “act of righting oneself after a blunder, mishap, etc.”.
Therefore, the focus is on restoring the natural order of things. And this couldn’t be more valuable as when it’s applied to the world of fitness.
When you run, your muscles and tissues are temporarily damaged, your body and mind are fatigued and may crave rest to restore their natural balance.
Not only that, your body also gets dehydrated, and your energy tanks are depleted.
As a result, as a runner, you need to address all of these physical and mental aspects to ensure proper recovery.
In other words, good running recovery is all about achieving the 3 R’s:
- Resting and
- Replenishing the energy stores.
Proper recovery is all about ensuring that your body has all that it needs to perform these 3 functions after a workout. This can help you be your best and perform at your best the next time you run (or you do anything in the world since lack of recovery has dire consequences on all facets of life).
The Reasons Recovery Is Important
I hate to sound like a broken recovery, but recovery is what you do to maximize your body’s energy replenishment and repair processes. It includes stretching, nutrition, hydration, foam rolling, ice therapy, sleep, stress management, compression, etc. For the full guide to running recovery, check my post here.
- Your Muscles Need Rest
Every time you run you’re creating microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, and they need time to repair themselves and rebuild. These micro-injuries are not a problem. They’re how your body adapts to training and becomes stronger and fitter in the process.
The problem is that this rebuilding response only happens when you take time off.
When you cut back on recovery time, the tiny tears continue to break down, and can easily turn into painful injuries. Letting that happen will erase all the hard work you put in.
The exact recovery time your muscles needs depends on a host of factors, including fitness level, training intensity, and personal differences. Anything less than a full day of rest each week is going to put your body in the danger zone.
- Avoid Overtraining
I love the energy burst I get from a challenging session, but more running does not always mean more energy. I learned this the hard way.
The danger of overtraining cannot be overstated. It causes a drastic drop in performance despite (actually because of) increased intensity and volume of training. A planned once-a-week recovery day may be all you need to prevent an overtraining episode since it gives your body a chance to rejuvenate.
Err on the side of caution and make sure you’re listening to your body. If you feel so sore that you dread sitting down, you need to dial it down. Take as much rest as you feel you need. If you second guess the message your body is sending, you’ll end up hurt and discouraged.
- Prevents Overuse Injury
Running puts your muscles, joints, ligaments, and soft tissues under an immense load, and sooner or later something is going to snap if you don’t take care of yourself. In the absence of adequate recovery between running sessions, the body begins to break down in the form of overuse injuries such as stress fractures and Achilles Tendonitis. You don’t want that.
Rest is crucial in protecting against all sorts of overuse injuries. These are runners’ worst enemies and can put you out of commission for weeks, even months.
Recovery Principles for Runners
Today, I’m going to share with you at least 10 practical strategies you can do to ensure proper and quick recovery after running. The tools range from stretching to sleep, ice baths to proper sleep and so on.
By the end of this post, you will have them all.
Just don’t feel overwhelmed. The fact is, you won’t need to implement all the strategies. But I strongly urge to put into practice as much as you can with the time and tools you have on hand.
Here we go…
1. Cool-down properly
The cool-down marks the transition from running to stretching and other post-run activities, and it’s a must.
In fact, what you do during the cool-down window can significantly speed up or put a halt to your recovery rate.
Why skipping the cool-down is baaad
Bringing your run to a sudden halt increases the risks of blood pooling and can cause your blood pressure to drop, which can leave you feeling dizzy and disoriented. Nevertheless, allowing for a proper cool-down can efficiently transition blood from the working muscles to the rest of the body.
Plus, you are also risking injury and other problems by stopping on the spot.
As a result, before you shift from running to “normal life” make sure to cool down properly.
Here is how to cool down after a run
Step One: Gradually decrease your running pace and slow it down to an easy jog for nothing less than 5 minutes. This will help you bring your heart down to normal, and it’s also a great time to reflect on the run.
Step Two: Walk slowly for three to five minutes while taking deep breaths and scanning your body from head to toe, making sure that everything is okay and back to normal.
Step Three: Have a sip of water and jump into your post-run ritual. For ideas on what to do next, keep on reading.
Also, do five minutes of active recovery after finishing a run. Do plenty of leg swings and other dynamic exercises for 5 minutes, then go stretch.
Water is vital to every metabolic function and nutrients transfer in the body. Staying well hydrated is extremely critical for performance, recovery, energy and health.
That’s why runners need to be very attentive to their hydration levels close to and during workouts.
How much water
The best advice I can give you here is to do your best to stay well hydrated throughout the day.
Although there is no general consensus on how much water you should drink— the exact amount tends to vary from one person to the next— aiming for anywhere around half your body weight in ounces of water per day.
Also, keep an eye on your urine color. If it’s all clear then you are all good. If it’s not the case, then drink more water. Then some more.
Do the following before, during and after each session:
Aim for at least 8 oz. of water half an hour before heading out of the door to ward off dehydration on the run.
For long runs, you should be sipping water throughout the session. Take a water bottle with you or plan a running course that has a water stop.
You should begin replacing fluids loss as soon as you finish a run.
To be accurate, use a sweat loss calculator to come up with the exact amount of fluid you need to replace.
And here is how you can do that:
Weigh yourself before and after each run to determine your personal fluid loss (and needs). Even a one percent loss of body weight (mainly from sweating) can drastically have an effect on performance.
For each pound of bodyweight lost during exercise, aim to take in at least 20 ounces—roughly two cups—of fluid to compensate for the loss.
3. Ice Baths
Used by elite athletes from all fields and backgrounds, the ice bath recovery strategy can be a great addition to your running program.
Why Ice Baths Are Good For runners
According to theory, ice baths help the nerves, tendon, and muscles to return to their normal state and also allow the vessels to contract and flush away waste and lactic acid buildup.
How to ice bath safely and pain-free
To make the ice bath more tolerable, you don’t want to shock your body with the frigid temperatures. So instead of plunging straight into an ice bath, make sure at first to allow your body temperature to acclimatize to the coolness of just the cold water, then gradually add the ice into the tub.
Here is a quick 4-step way for a nice ice bath experience:
- Get yourself three to four bags of ice cubes
- Submerge your entire lower body—waist-hip height—in a half-filled tub of cold water with no ice cubes in it yet.
- Add the ice into the tub until the temperatures reach around 60 degrees F
- Stay in the bath for at least 15 minutes. And keep your mind distracted away from the unease of the experience
Anyway, if you can’t tolerate ice bath, or you are not willing to do so, then apply ice packs on mainly aching spots, such as the knees, the calves, and the quads.
4. Rest (Active Recovery)
Implementing adequate rest into your training schedule is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to proper running recovery.
Why it matters
The rest period enables the recovery and repair processes to happen at a natural pace. Therefore, by giving your body the time it needs for recovery, you are setting the stage for a faster recovery rate.
Keep it moving
But proper rest is not all about sitting around the house lying in bed all day, doing nothing.
The best type of rest is what’s known as “active recovery,” which means light exercise that doesn’t put too much stress on the body.
According to research, active recovery stimulates blood flow to the muscles and helps flush out lingering toxins and lactic acid, reducing muscle pain and soreness
Cross-training as active recovery
Active recovery activities include engaging in any other sport that uses up different muscles and joints. Some of the best active recovery activities include recovery runs (light jog), easy biking, swimming, and my favorite, Yoga.
In fact, I think that Yoga is the best active recovery from that there is for runners. Just make sure you are not doing too much. Otherwise, you will be defeating the purpose of recovery. Even Yoga can get a bit wild sometimes.
Here is the Yoga Recovey Routine you need.
How Much Rest
If you don’t feel like doing any form of active recovery, then rest. Take a day or two off from running, and do nothing demanding—especially after a hard workout.
How much recovery runners needs?
As a runner, the amount of recovery you need depends on a variety of factors, including your own fitness level, the intensity, and volume of your runs and your own experience.
For example, a beginner runner may need more recovery between relatively easy runs than an elite marathoner who runs 60+ miles per week.
So how can you ensure proper recovery? Well, read on to discover all the answers you seek.
5. Eat for Recovery
The type and quality of the calories you ingest just after a workout—and throughout the day—is going to have a significant impact on your recovery rate.
The Recovery Window
According to research, your body is at its most receptive state for refilling its glycogen stores within the recovery window. That’s why eating within the hour following a workout ensures that your body gets the required nutrients without any further delay.
Therefore, don’t let it slip through your fingers.
Have an aggressive post-run refueling strategy—especially after a hard session.
Then within 90 minutes to three hours of your run, you can have a full balanced meal of carbs, veggies, meat and fruits.
Real food, please!
Aim for food that scores high on complex carbohydrates—for replenishing the empty energy tanks—quality protein—for providing your body with the building blocks and essential amino acids for the repair process, and healthy fats—for a variety of functional reasons.
Some of the best complex carbs sources for runners include sweet potatoes, peas, beans, lentils, brown rice, so on. High-protein foods include eggs, lean meat, and dairy. Eat also anti-inflammatory foods like cherries and pineapple.
But if your stomach cannot tolerate food so soon after a hard run—that’s my case—then opt for a sports drink or a recovery shake, which is easy on the stomach, and usually more convenient.
The Magical Recovery Simple Shake
One of the best recovery nutrition choices you can make is the chocolate milk.
This wonderful mix of natural sugar and protein can help stock up your energy stores and speed up the rebuilding process.
What’s more? Chocolate milk does not take that much time to be prepared. It’s so convenient and time efficient—, especially for the busy runner.
6. Sleep Tight
Sleep is the cheapest and maybe most underrated recovery tool you have on hand. And it’s not rocket science; just old plain sleep.
Why sleep is key?
In my opinion—and something that most performance experts, coaches, and professional athletes agree on—proper sleep makes up at least 70 percent of proper recovery. Nutrition and proper sleep are the bulk of the good recovery. Master these two, and you shouldn’t worry about proper recovery.
Sleeping tips for runners
To make the most out of your bedtime hours, do the following:
- Make sure to sleep in a dark, quiet and cool
- Keep in mind that the bedroom has only two functions: sleep and sex.
- Get rid of all distractions from your sleeping environment. Toss out the TV, the iPod, the laptop, you name it. Make your bedroom distraction proof.
- Establish a consistent sleeping schedule, waking up and going to bed at the same times, even on weekends.
- Have a relaxing pre-bed routine. Personally, I prefer to read for an hour, then do my meditation before I hit the sack.
Power naps are a must since they can help you with recovery and feeling more energized for the rest of the day—especially after a lunch break run. Study suggests that taking a nap around two hours after a run can help your body the body access a deeper and more restorative state of sleep.
Even a 20-minute is better than none. Just make sure it does not go over an hour; otherwise, you will feeling sluggish afterward, and may even find it hard to fall asleep at night.
Runners are more prone to tightness in the hips, hamstrings, and calves than other athletes. This tightness can take a toll on performance, and it may also affect recovery and the rate of soreness and tenderness following a workout.
Why do you have to stretch after a run
Lack of a proper stretching routine can increase the risks of feeling stiff and fatigued the day following a hard run.
Well in theory since there no conclusive evidence that proves beyond doubt that post-workout stretching reduces soreness. But this in my experience, stretching does help.
According to theory, the stretching phase allows the lactic acid—which is the by-product of the muscles during running—to be flushed out into your bloodstream and removed from your body.
How to stretch
The post-run period is ideal for stretching.
Why? During this window, your muscles are warmed up and loose, so the risks of tearing a muscle and injury are pretty slim unless you are overdoing the stretching.
Just don’t get me wrong here. Feel free to stretch whenever you can—provided that you are well warmed up for the activity.
A proper stretching routine should last between 10 to 20 minutes—depending on how much time you have on hand. The longer, the better. Hold the stretches from 30 to 60-seconds, and release any tension and discomfort by gently breathing into it.
What to stretch
Stretch your body thoroughly. Focus on the main running muscles, like the quads, the calves, hips and hamstrings, and don’t forget your lower back.
If you have any soreness or troubled spot in your body, focus on it, stretch it properly and breathe into it to release the discomfort. You just don’t want to overdo it.
Stay within the limits of pain. Don’t force it, otherwise, you may injure yourself, you may tear a muscle, and it’s not worth it.
Do leg drains
After you are done with your stretching routine, do a 5-minute leg drain, or legs over the wall, or Viparita in the yogic circles.
You can do this by lying next to a wall, bringing your butt to the wall your knees into your chest. Next, straighten your legs and place them straight up on the wall while wiggling your butt closer o the wall.
8. Foam Roll
I’m deeply grateful for Tony Horton, and the guys who came up with the practice of foam rolling.
Why it matters
In my opinion, foam rolling work is really about taking the traditional stretching to the next level. In fact, in some cases, foam rolling is a more powerful tool than stretching.
Foam rolling can help you alleviate any tightness and knots in your body that tradition stretching can’t even come close to.
Using this wonderful recovery tool also increases tissue repair, enhances mobility and limits soreness, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise Journal.
How Foam Rolling Helps
The bulk of post-run soreness and tenderness happens when your muscles and fascia— which is the connective tissue running throughout your body—become entwined and tangled. But with a simple foam roll routine, you can roll out these troubled areas to remove those knots and tightness.
Just keep in mind that foam rolling is not all sunshine and rainbows. It can be a real painful experience, especially when you are working diligently on troubled areas.
You will know that you are doing foam rolling right when it’s painful and challenging. Releasing these knots and troubled areas isn’t (and shouldn’t) be pain-free.
You are straightening out and untangling muscle knots, after all. Nothing can be more painful than that.
9. Limit the pills
Although anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil and Aleve can assuage pain and swelling after a hard run, relying on them heavily as a recovery tool is not a really healthy decision.
They are, after all, synthetic drugs. And drugs are usually up to no good—unless you really need them.
Runners and NSAID usage
Runners especially rely on these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) in cases of increased level of training. Especially when they are training for a race and when they are pushing their bodies beyond the threshold of pain and discomfort.
The bad news
In spite of offering an instant pain relief effect, NSAID they can hinder recovery— So they are not worth it for the long haul.
Just keep in mind that inflammation and pain following a run can be a natural thing. And that your body is a lot smarter than you give credit for and it knows what to do to repair itself and recuperate.
When to use NSAID
Use NSAID for acute cases of soreness and pain when you really need the relief.
According to many studies, these drugs can inhibit muscle growth, cause ulcer and a plethora of other health trouble. But in small and sporadic doses, they don’t pose much health threat.
Just be wary. There is a fine line. And once you cross it, these NSAID’s can backfire, leading to serious trouble.
As a result, always consult with your physician—someone who is preferably an active person and knows a thing or two about proper exercise recovery—before you start using them on a regular basis.
And to stay on the safe side, instead of relying on NSAID for relief, do the other recovery tools I shared with you today instead.
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I’m well aware that not everyone will have the time needed to perform this routine after every run.
But the more you do of it, the faster you are going to recover between your hard runs and workouts.
In my opinion, this is the ideal recovery plan, but feel free to do and apply what you are able to fit in after each run.
But never forget the three essentials: hydration, refueling, and sleep. These are the backbone, and ignoring them will not only take your running, but it will also take your life quality as well.