Recovery is something that you should be working on during the weeks and months leading up to your race as well as after your race. Consider it part of your training. Various recovery modalities will not only help you feel better, but will also prepare your body for the next workout so you can get the most benefit from those workouts. Incorporating recovery techniques into your training leads to both long-term and short-term success; it’s where improvements are made as a result of all the training you’ve done. Something is better than nothing, so even if you’re limited with time, any technique you incorporate into your plan will be helpful.
So what types of recovery should you use? You most likely include active recovery days, days off, adaptation weeks, and an offseason as part of your year round training plan, but the following techniques will aid you in your training recovery.
Cool down after a hard effort. When you’ve completed a workout or race, don’t just stop and sit down. Keep moving at an easy effort to bring your body back to normal levels. This will gradually bring your heart rate back to normal and keep your blood from pooling in your extremities.
Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep to aid in your recovery. Lack of sleep affects both your ability to recover and the ability to perform well at your sport. Insufficient sleep has also been associated with obesity, impaired memory and other serious health problems.
Focus on nutrition. There’s a small recovery window of 30 minutes after your workout or race when you should rehydrate and replenish lost glycogen, which are stored carbohydrates. Include both carbs and protein in your recovery nutrition.
Use massage to loosen muscles and get rid of knots and tight areas. In addition to being relaxing, massage is a great recovery technique to keep you injury-free. If you can’t get a professional massage, use a roller or other self-massage tool.
Wear compression socks. Compression has been used in the health care field for years in order to prevent blood from pooling in the legs and to help improve circulation. If you plan on flying or driving long distances, wearing compression assures better leg circulation which helps prevent deep vein thrombosis, or clots. If you’re not wearing compression, you can also take some short walk breaks or move and tighten the muscles of your legs periodically.
Although it hasn’t been proven to help while racing and exercising (there are mixed reviews in the research), it won’t hurt to try it out. If you feel a difference, then by all means use it.
Add yoga to your training plan. Relaxation, stretching and core work are all wrapped into one activity. What could be better? An important point to remember when it comes to yoga: choose a restorative or relaxing yoga for recovery purposes. Also, it’s not the time to get competitive or to push your limits. Listen to your body and work with your own range of motion.
Reduce inflammation and increase circulation with cold and heat. Cold and heat hot modalities, such as ice baths, ice packs, moist heat packs, whirlpools and contrast therapy (alternating hot and cold), are great recovery tools. Cold helps reduce inflammation, while heat helps increase circulation and loosen muscles.
A few key points to keep in mind regarding cold and heat:
- If you have an injury, use cold therapy in the first 48 hours, not heat, in order to promote healing and decrease swelling.
- Heat can be used on an injury after the first 48 hours.
- Colder is not better. Ice baths should not be below 45 degrees.
- Heat can be used before exercise, but not ice. Heat will loosen muscles while cold will tighten them, so save the ice for after exercise.
Joan Scrivanich, MA, CSCS is a USA Triathlon and USA Track & Field Certified Coach as well as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from Columbia University and has been an endurance athlete for 25 years, which has included competing at a Division I college in both cross country and track.
Joan’s coaching career started in the healthcare field while working at the top NYC hospitals in cardiac rehabilitation and research. She now coaches triathletes and runners full time while also coaching fitness clients and freelance writing. Find out more about Joan and her coaching at Rise Endurance LLC at riseendurance.com.
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.