Back in the day — the days before professions, families, obligations — I would go for a nice long run after a perfect breakfast and then recover for much of the day, reading, fueling optimally, maybe even going for a recovery walk or spin. Those days are long gone. Now I squeeze in a workout, sometimes cutting it to the second and run in the door, literally, to high-five my husband who heads out to work. The challenge then is to keep my two small children safe while I shower and shovel something in my mouth before being “on” for the rest of the day. For me being “on” means juggling the needs of a 1- year-old and a 3-year-old, while attending to my 30 athletes and my 60 students. It’s a lot, I’ll admit it, and some days go better than others, but thankfully my kids are good nappers and I can do a day’s worth of work during a three hour nap. I have a wonderfully supportive husband and very flexible jobs as a coach and an adjunct professor. I work when my kids nap, when they sleep and when my husband is “on.” We make it work and I am fulfilled with the arrangement. But nowhere on the list of needs is my recovery — my run, absolutely — but my recovery, laughably, no. I realized this today when I flew in the door following a great two hour run and proceeded to shower and pack for the park for the morning. Pushing a 40-pound stroller a mile to the park, laden with Striders, sand toys and 10,000 calories (for the girls), my legs were shaking. I was tired. And it’s downhill on the way to the park!
After coaching for 15 years I’ve had countless athletes ask for more and more volume, more intensity, more frequency. The more is better mantra has hit hard. And while some of my clients can take more, many of them can’t. The reason? They can’t recover. I’m all about quality over quantity and keeping my athletes healthy (it’s good job security at the very least). While many folks can train like a pro, not many can recover like a pro. Most of us have jobs, families and other obligations outside of our swims, bikes, runs and strength sessions. Those other obligations (the ones that pay for our racing) hamper our ability to take on more and more and more. So, what can we do about it? Here are a few simple tips to help you fit in recovery to your already busy day.
1. Pack healthy snacks. Following a workout there’s a 20-minute glycogen window that you want to hit. Chug a smoothie in the shower, pound some chocolate milk as you drive home from the pool — whatever it takes, get something in within 20 minutes of finishing a workout.
2. Then eat often. You should be taking in small snacks every 2-4 hours throughout the day. If you wait too long, the vending machine with the Snickers looks all too appetizing, so instead, pack some healthy snacks and avoid getting too hungry and making poor choices out of impulse and ease.
3. Put your legs up. Legs up the wall is one of the best recovery postures in yoga. You can do it in your office while on a conference call, you can do it watching TV with your kids or looking over notes in preparation for your presentation. You can even do it responding to emails on your phone; just do it, you’ll be glad you did — even a few minutes can go a long way in your recovery.
4. Hydrate! There’s two reasons for this. One, the obvious, you need to stay hydrated as an athlete to perform well in your training sessions — fuel up for the following day’s workouts by replenishing what you lost in today’s session. And the second reason to hydrate: so you have to get up and pee. I have a client who will sit at her desk for eight hours without moving. That’s bad. When she gets up following her early morning quality training session and eight hours of productivity at her desk, she can barely move. If you hydrate well, hopefully, you will have to get to up to pee every hour or so — this is a good thing. You don’t want to get too stiff by sitting for extended periods of time following training sessions. That trip to the restroom will promote blood flow and keep your joints lubricated by moving them.
NormaTec, recovery socks, ice baths — sure there are a myriad of other modalities to promote quality recovery — but the four key components above will help you recover like a pro while living like the rest of us. Give it a shot and see how it impacts your training. The key to PRs and break-through performances is adequate recovery to ensure quality training sessions. It’s the hours between the training sessions that matter the most.
Abby Ruby Crew is the founder of BalancedPower Coaching. She has a Ph.D. in sports psychology, is a Certified Athletic Trainer, a CISSN Certified Sport Nutritionist, a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and she authored and published “In Sickness and In Health: Exercise Addiction in Endurance Athletics.” With over 10 years of experience coaching athletes and working with a wide range of clients from world-class to novice triathletes, runners and cyclists, Abby draws from her own personal experience as an athlete as well as her academic knowledge of sports and psychology to help athletes reach their goals. Check out balancedpowercoaching.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.