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Rest, Recovery and the Pursuit of Performance

By Matthew Parks | April 11, 2014, 12:25 p.m. (ET)

recoveryEvery triathlete’s recovery process is unique. Theoretical models can be used, and sometimes plain old trial and error works as well. Rule No. 1 is scheduling rest and recovery into the training plan (you would be surprised how few athletes plan rest and recovery). Here are some common recovery techniques to add to your routine.

  1. Food: Make sure to eat the necessary amount of calories according to your bodyweight and amount of energy expended during your session. Remind yourself that you are ingesting calories not only to recover from the last training session, but future sessions as well.

  2. Hydration: This is sometimes a mystery for athletes because they fear over drinking. It can take a little trial and error to determine how much you need — and it also depends on how long your training session lasted and how much you ingested during the workout. I encourage athletes to start early and stay as regular as possible, so they don’t have to play catch up.

  3. Self-massage and stretching: Time to use the foam roller or other tools such as a lacrosse ball or softball to help roll out and compress tissue. I encourage my athletes to alternate the self-massage work with static stretching as an option to help increase length in their myofascia.

  4. Rest (sleep): Now this doesn’t happen immediately after you are done with your training sessions (for most), but if you aren’t getting the ideal amount of sleep each night, think about taking some power naps every now and then (no more than 20 minutes at a time). If naps aren’t your thing, think about using this time to practice meditation and visualization techniques.

  5. Contrast baths: I know, I know … you aren’t interested in filling up your bathtub full of ice and water. However, when you are able to alternate sitting in a cold stream and getting out for a few minutes after a hard session, your body can feel really refreshed and recovered. (You can also reuse your contrast bath water for watering plants, etc. so it doesn’t go to waste). Alternate with a 2-to-1 ratio. This means two minutes in your ice-cold tub with one minute of gently moving around out of the tub. If you have a hot tub, use that. The goal is to encourage flow of blood and fluid in your body, repeat five to seven times.

Triathletes like to suffer with their training sessions and sometimes the recovery techniques may make you suffer as well. Don’t have time immediately after your training session? Create the time! At the bare minimum, use the proper amount of time to cool down at the tail end of your session. Again, this is a lost art, because it is not practiced. As a strong suggestion, make sure to schedule time with your coach or other practitioner (massage therapist, strength and conditioning specialist) to educate yourself about how to recover more efficiently; don’t rely on what you did when you were younger. Use the above techniques as a good start, but learn new techniques to see if they work better. Plan your recovery and recover during your plan for the pursuit of performance!

Matthew Parks is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach and owner of Moving Forward (a triathlon and endurance coaching company) based in Bozeman, Mont. He primarily works with age-group athletes, assisting in improving their performance with any distance of triathlon. He only uses the mountain streams for his contrast therapy during the summer and fall seasons, because in the winter and spring seasons they are frozen over.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.