THE IMPORTANCE OF RECOVERY
Recovery is an element of running often overlooked by athletes. Recovery can mean a complete rest day with no activity, but it can also mean active rest, which includes cross-training, stretching, and other low impact activities.
What is Recovery?
Recovery can be a touchy subject for some runners. Most of us understand that we need to include rest into our training schedules to really reap the benefits of our training, but sometimes we can't help but feel guilty for taking the day off. I'm here to tell you don't feel guilty because your body needs that rest!
Rest days are essential to improve you performance both physically and mentally. Recovery in general terms is focused on "restoring the natural order of things" and this is still true when it comes to running. To understand what recovery is in running we need to understand what happens to our bodies during training.
When we run and train hard our bodies breakdown. This breakdown goes all the way down to a cellular level causing damage to many different physiological systems including our muscular system, skeletal system, cardiovascular system, and even our immune system! That sounds pretty bad, but you know how the old saying goes "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." With adequate amounts of rest and recovery these damages will be repaired and body begins to adapt to these stresses on your body, which allows you to come back stronger and run faster.
But without proper recovery you will continue to breakdown your body. This will most likely result in over-training syndrome, which comes with a whole slew of side effects that will directly impact your training including: decreased performance, fatigue, overuse injuries, poor sleep, impaired immune system, loss of appetite and increased mood swings.
Now that we know that running breaks down your body, we need to know what recovery for running means. Recovery allows our bodies a time to repair and adapt to stresses of running. Asides from the damage running does to our systems, it can also dehydrate us and deplete our energy stores. Proper recovery requires resting, which will repair your muscle tissues and replenishing your fuel and fluid stores.
Reasons Why Recovery is Important
Allows Time for Adaptation
Running follows the Principle of Progressive Overload which states:
“In order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any similar improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced.”
This basically means you need the workout to provide the stress that will make your body adapt and grow, but you'll need the rest to reap the benefits of your hard work. The rest will allow your body to absorb the work you've put in and allow your body to adapt physiologically.
Prevents Overuse Injuries
Proper rest is important for injury prevention. Running causes micro damage to your body. Without proper rest and recovery between training sessions you'll be more prone to overuse injuries such as stress fractures.
Ways to Recover
Don't Forget the Cool-down!
Cooling down properly should not be neglected! Suddenly stopping can lead to risks such as blood pooling and cause your blood pressure to drop. A proper cool down can also help clear out the lactic acid build up from a hard session and may even help minimize delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Fuel Your Body
After a hard training session it is important to fuel your body afterwards. Try to eat within an hour after your workout. Research has shown that this window is when your body is the most receptive to refilling its glycogen stores.
Stay Hydrated! Everyone requires different levels of hydration but try your best to keep thirst at bay throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to try to drink enough to need to use the restroom every 3 to 4 hours.
Put Your Feet Up!
Legs up the wall! Inverting your body like this aids your overall recovery because you allow the blood that has been pooling in your feet all day to drain while also stretching your hamstrings. Studies have shown that inverting your body may help promote circulation and reduce swelling in your legs.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
Sleep is the key to recovery in my opinion. It's okay to have a lousy night's sleep once in a while, but you want to try to make sure you're getting adequate amounts of sleep regularly. Regularly getting inadequate amounts of sleep will take a heavy toll on you. Lack of sleep will effect your hormone levels that relate to stress, muscle recovery, and general mood. Try to aim for between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. If you're having difficulty getting a full night's rest try out the following tips:
Set up a wind down routine. For example, set an alarm for bed time, which will let you know it's time to start winding down.
Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet.
Establish a schedule and go to bed and wake up at the same time daily (Even on the weekends).
Keep distractions to a minimum. Stop using TVs, phones, etc. 30 minutes before bed, consider this a part of your wind down routine.