We all should embrace and love – not fear recovery
Why? Because recovery is NOT a dirty word …. You will not lose fitness if you take a rest day or two a week … you will not forget how to swim/bike/run … You will not DNS or DNF your goal race!
In fact, it is the complete opposite – if you allow your body to periodically take rest days and have recovery weeks built into your plan– you will encourage your athletic progression!
What are the benefits of good recovery?
Essentially by resting/recovering well – an athlete
1) allows their muscles to repair/recover and thus become stronger,
2) minimizes their risk of overuse injuries,
3) minimizes their risk of mental burnout,
4) may avoid getting dumped/abandoned by family and friends*
* not strictly a medical benefit but an important consideration!
So what are good recovery strategies?
- Do not be afraid or guilted out of taking a recovery day(s).
Make sure you have one in your plan or agree with your coach which days work best for you. It is something to look forward to – plan some time with family, friends, go for a walk, have a beer, date night – act like a normal person for once!
Your body and mind will thank you for it. Also a good time to give back to the support team around you.
If you feel you must do something, plan a stretching day, an easy light run or super easy swim session – just step away from the watch, HRM, etc.!
2) Build in recovery weeks in your training.
Essentially, a recovery week is a light week that happens every 2-3 weeks in your training block. A good rule of thumb for a recovery week is to drop your training volume to 50%-60% of what you were doing the previous week and keep the intensity light – no hill or speed sessions please!
A recovery week simply allows your body to recover, energy levels return and you catch up on much needed sleep + family time.
And there is science behind this – check out articles on “supercompensation theory” if you want to nerd out on it. I liked this one from Matt Wilpers
TL;DR – Supercomp theory holds that if you rest/recover after a hard block of training – when you return to training – your body does not only return to where you left off – it actually is prepared to push on to the next level.
3) Eat well throughout your training block.
Nutrition is critical not only for fuel (carbs) but for the body to repair (protein). There is no point signing up to an endurance challenge – if you are not going to match your healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet. Don’t panic. This does not mean you will never eat chips again– it simply means making more of the right food choices during the day and week … think more green than brown!
To better aid recover – load up on the body building foods of healthy protein in chicken, turkey, fish, nuts and beans!
Lets face it, this is when the real magic happens (For you sniggering at the back of the class – not that type of magic!). When we sleep and sleep well, this is when our muscles repair and our energy levels recover.
Try to plan for 7-9 hours of good quality sleep (yes I know – work/life/family have other ideas – so skip/cut out watching crap Tv at the end of the day!)
Read here for some handy tips on getting some quality shut eye.
5) Monitor/listen to your body.
Keep an eye on certain metrics (mood, fatigue levels, resting HR etc) for red flags e.g. losing your training mojo altogether or your resting HR is +5-10 beats more than avg out of the blue – this is your body telling you to take some down time.
Flag to your coach or adjust your plan if self coaching.
An additional rest day might be all your need to complete the rest of the week with quality sessions!
5) Instil good habits during your non recovery weeks too.
Try to incorporate foam rolling/stretching to be a regular part of your routine. Athletes will really benefit setting aside 10-15 mins each night to stretch/foam roll the key muscles (Glutes, hamstrings, calves, quads, hip flexors etc.).
I find this works best as a combo activity i.e. foam while watching TV or chatting to your partner at the end of the day.
Other good recovery habits – staying hydrated, not sitting down all day at the desk etc
5) Bendy is trendy (and useful)
I find that most of the people coming from a unisport background have AWFUL flexibility. For these guys/gals, recommend that for rest days, they sign up to some yoga/pilates classes (or buy a DIY DVD) and the positive impact on their performance is quite dramatic
A simple recap – our bodies are capable of amazing things. But we should not see resting/recovering as preventing us from getting closer to our athletic stretch goals.
It is the smart athletes that recognise and embrace good recovery strategies outlined above that will be the ones who a) get to the start line and b) achieve their goals on race day