What exactly is recovery? It seems like such a simple term, but it is so often misunderstood. Recovery refers to resting after a workout or tough run, taking time off after a rigorous training program, or short sets of rest during a hard workout. Recovery is a vital, yet often neglected part of a training plan.
Years of research disprove the fact that taking a day off will wreck havoc on your fitness level. Although research shows that you can actually start losing cardiovascular endurance after three days, major detraining, the loss of fitness and performance that occurs when you stop working out, really happens when you take two or more weeks off. Without recovery, your body may adapt in the short term, but ultimately it will likely fail. The majority of running injuries come from overuse, so a day of cross training (think, swimming, or biking), rest, or very easy miles can prevent month-long breaks caused by an injury such as ITB syndrome or shin splints. In fact, lack of recovery can lead to more serious injuries such as stress fractures as well.
Recovery: When it Follows Hard Workouts/Tough Runs
Recovery following tough bouts of work lets your body adapt to the work your doing, and improve. A day off every seven to fourteen days helps to restore glycogen stores, reduces fatigue, and builds strength. lack of rest can result in your body being unable to benefit from workouts. Workouts are stressors that your body needs to adapt to. Excessive fatigue makes your body less able to adapt. Therefore more, and harder workouts are need to get the same response from your body when it is under a permanent condition of fatigue.
Recovery: Taking Time Off After a Training Program
Runners tend to go crazy if they take a few days (or more) off from running. Sometimes, you need to give your body time to rest and recuperate. For example, perhaps you've been running 60 miles weeks while training for a full marathon. You've been doing long runs, hard workouts, and your body is worn out. After race day, take a bit of time to recover. Don't sit on the couch and do nothing, but head out for a bike ride, go swimming, hike a new trail, jog a few easy miles with the kids and the dog, try a new yoga class - stay active, but let your body recover. In fact, sometimes it is a good idea to take one week off (i.e. no training program, do what you feel like) at the end of a racing season (i.e. your next planned race is 4-6 months away). This also gives you a chance to remember why you like to run.
Another note here - we tend to eat a lot more when we are training for a long distance race. Watch it, or you'll continue eating that much after your race.
Recovery: During a Workout
Recovery during a workout can be a tricky area. On the one hand, it is a hard workout. It needs to be difficult. On the other, a workout that completely exhausts your body can be more detrimental to your body and your goals than sitting on the couch. A workout should always require more effort as the workout progresses. But, if at the end of the workout, you are missing repeats, you are significantly slowing down, and you can HONESTLY say “I have nothing left in the tank to give”, you are probably pushing the limit here. So, what are some good rules for determining amount of rest. That depends on the type of workout:
Blasts/Time Trials – After a blast/time trial, you need to take a “full recovery”. A “full recovery” means you need to give your heart time to drop below 120 bpm. This usually equates to 5 minutes or more. Also, unless you are training for multiple races in a matter of hours, you should not do more than one blast/time trial in a workout.
Fast Repeats – These are repeats that are at near top speed (think 30-30s). These should have recovery of 1:1 to 1:2 depending on the total length of the workout (a 1:1 recovery means if your interval lasts 1 minute, your recovery lasts one minute, a 1:2 recovery would be 1 minute interval 2 minute rest). The shorter the workout (total time of around 30 minutes) the closer the recovery ought to be to 1:1.
Repeats – These are repeats other than fast repeats (think of the ladder workout, 800 repeats, etc.) The recovery for this type of workout needs to be in the range 2:1 to 1:1. Once again, the shorter the total time of the workout the lower in the range you need to be.
Endurance Workouts – These are workouts where the focus is building endurance, not foot speed (think about most of the fartleks we do, mile repeats if you are on one of our half training plans, pace runs, etc.). In these workouts, the goal is to train your body to run a faster pace when it is tired. On these, the recovery needs to be 2:1 or less.
This can become a little overwhelming, but do not be intimidated. More than anything, listen to your heart rate. It is one thing to finish an interval with a high heart rate rate, it is a completely different thing start an interval with an excessively high heart rate.
If you have questions about heart rate, ask us. We are here to help.
Signs It's Time For a Day Off
Listen to your body. Ignoring your body's signs can lead to injury. Here are a few common signs that you need a little break: sudden weight loss, elevated resting heart rate, dehydration, lack of/interrupted sleep, pain or soreness, bad workouts, low oxygen levels, depressed mood, and illness.
Sleep deprivation can really take a toll on your training. Sure, one or two nights of poor sleep isn't going to totally derail you. But, consistently getting poor sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to mood, stress, and muscle recovery. While no one completely understands the complexities of sleep, some research shows that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), diminished activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis.
Other studies link lack of sleep with decreased aerobic endurance and increased ratings of perceived exertion.
If you're experiencing a combination of these symptoms, consider taking a rest day or hitting a yoga class to relax. Of course, these symptoms can come from outside sources as well, so just make sure you're not taking a rest day for no reason.
How Can I Help My Body Recover?
Proper hydration, good eating habits, and proper sleep can go a long way. Fuel your body properly, drink enough water, and sleep well. This is how your body takes care of itself. When you eat poorly, let yourself become dehydrated, and don't get enough rest, your body has to work harder to recover and take care of itself in general.
What is Active Recovery?
Active recovery is an important part of training. The idea here is to rest the major muscle groups associated with running. This can be anything from a short, gentle walk to cross training. There are plenty of non-weight bearing activities to keep you occupied such as swimming, cycling, the elliptical machine, and rowing.
Now, everyone is different. You have to learn to listen to your own body and learn your personal needs. Some people need less recovery, and others need more. Some people have a hard time knowing when they need a rest day, while for others, it is very clear. Some athletes benefit more from active recovery days, while others need a complete rest day. For example, Nick and Jamie rarely need rest days, while Joy needs a rest day every 7-10 days. Do what works best for you, not what works best for your training buddy. Listen to your body, and do your best to prevent injuries. If injuries arise, take care of them and be honest with yourself about what you're dealing with.
Do not feel guilty about taking a day off. That being said, don't get into a rut where you stop working out, either. If your body needs a true rest day, listen and take it. For non-elite athletes, taking a rest day can also help you find a balance between home, work, and fitness goals as well. It gives you a chance to evaluate your life, catch up on your to-do list, and just relax with your friends and family. Enjoy this time off and use it to take care of yourself mentally.
Training can be hard, but it is also rewarding. Treat your body well and listen to what it is telling you. This will keep you running as you age, and it will help you reap the results on race day.
See you tomorrow morning. Make us update your mile PR.
Who Picks the Topics?
Each week, we notice different things. We try to incorporate the questions we are receiving or the training issues we are noticing into our post(s) for the week. If there is something you'd like us to cover, let us know!