Recovery Between Workouts, What To Do and Why It’s Important

Earlier this week, I was thinking about which topic I wanted to discuss for this week’s post.  Originally, I had planned to talk about warmup, which I will talk about next week in a short video.  However, I remembered a presentation I recently heard by Dr. Carwyn Sharp, which got me thinking and writing.  So, I decided to go with recovery as the topic for this week.
Dr. Sharp is the director of education at the National Stregnth and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs, CO.  He has worked with a number of elite endurance athletes, including runners.  In his presentation, Dr. Sharp posed the question, “Are we overtraining or under recovering?”  Then he discussed several of the important physiological and psychological benefits of recovery, as well as different modalities for recovery.

Recovery is an important component of your training program to achieve your goals for 2017.  In last week’s article I talked about potential causes of injury and not including proper recovery can increase your risk of injury.  Recovery is also important for becoming a faster runner because the adaptations that occur in our body in response to training, like high intensity workouts and long runs, occur during recovery.  So, we need proper recovery to facilitate these adaptations.  Also, if you are fully recovered from our previous workout, then we will be stronger going into our next high intensity workout or long run.  This will allow us to train at or near an optimal level during that workout, which can facilitate greater adaptations, and thus improvement.  If we notice we are improving, this can help us to maintain our level of motivation and better help us achieve to our goals!

There are different aspects of recovery that I want to mention.  I won’t be able to discuss all of them in this article, but I will discuss a couple and then discuss several of the others in future posts and videos.  Certainly some important aspects of recovery are nutrition and hydration, foam rolling/massage and stretching, which I will discuss in later posts and videos.  Others include use of heat/cold contrast.  In this article I want to briefly discuss some other aspects of recovery, including sleep and either passive or active recovery.

Sleep As Recovery
In his presentation, Dr. Sharp stressed that one of the most important aspects of recovery and the most basic is sleep.  Sleep is important because it stimulates the release of growth hormone, which can speed recovery, rebuild muscles, and break down body fat.  You should get enough sleep so that you are well-rested each morning.  Ideally, you don’t set an alarm and wake up when your body feels ready.  I started doing this myself in the past couple of months, and realized that I needed more sleep than I had been getting when I set an alarm.  Ideally, you should be getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Active and Passive Recovery
Active recovery would entail cross-training, while passive recovery would entail taking a day off from training.  Both can be beneficial forms of recovery and I actually recommend doing both.  Typically, with the runners I coach individually I incorporate 1-2 active recovery days and 1-2 passive recovery days per week.  Usually, I will incorporate an active recovery day after a high intensity workout and long run and I may incorporate a rest day two days after the high intensity day, depending on the fitness level of the runner, his/her running history, and goals.

Both active and passive recovery help with the psychological aspect of recovery.  Incorporating a fun cross-training activity into your training program can help improve the consistency of your training, thus allowing you to train harder and get greater improvements.

What is cross-training?
Cross-training is basically any aerobic-type activity, that is not running.  This would include the following: swimming, biking, spin classes, walking, hiking, elliptical machine, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, aerobic exercise or dance classes, rowing, skating, etc.  Basically, an activity that will elevate your heart rate above resting level and increase the circulation of blood in your body.  Choose cross-training modes that you enjoy!

Cross-training is not downhill skiing, although this certainly can be a lot of fun!  Strength training, or performing strengthening exercises is also not considered cross-training, although it is another important component that should be a part of your training program.  I will be discussing this further in upcoming videos.

If you are using cross-training for recovery, you want to keep the intensity at a low or moderate level.  It should not be another high intensity day.  Typically, I recommend cross-training workouts last 20-60 minutes.

What are the benefits of cross-training?
As I mentioned, cross-training will help facilitate the recovery process and can work better than just rest because of several physiological and psychological benefits.  First, cross-training elevates the heart rate to help maintain your aerobic fitness level.  Second, it helps increase bloodflow to muscles, which can provide nutrients to those muscles your used during your high intensity workout and long runs, to repair these muscles and help speed up the recovery process.  It also can be fun and provide psychological benefits liked I mentioned above.

Please leave your questions or comments in the “Comment” box below.  I would love to hear from you!
Dr. Carwyn Sharp “Recovery”
Joe Friel The Cyclist’s Training Bible

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