Smart ways to enhance your recovery

Did you sleep well last night?

Recovery is a very important part of training. Without it your body won’t adapt to the training that you have done, your fitness levels won’t improve and your body will break down. Training = stress and you need recovery to mend and build the body back up from the damage that has been done but recovery doesn’t have to mean doing nothing.

In fact there are certain things you can do to enhance your recovery, help make your body stronger and so make your training more effective. Let’s look at some of the things that you can put in place from the moment your training session finishes through to things that you can put into your programme on a regular basis.

Cool down - Many runners finish their training session and then rush off to whatever they need to be getting on with next. It would be far better for them though to cut the training session short and make room for the cool down. By slowing the pace of the session down gradually you return your body to homeostasis or your normal state. By slowing down gradually your body to begins the mending process and so recovery can get a head start. If training was a running session this means slowing the pace down to a very gentle run and eventually a walk. You should then carry out some static stretching to realign the muscle fibres that will have been disturbed during training.

Nutrition and hydration - In order to mend the muscle fibres that have been damaged your body requires protein. To replenish your glycogen or energy stores so that you are ready for your next training session more quickly your body requires carbohydrate. You have a window of approximately 90 minutes after training where your body’s uptake of this nutrition is optimal so it is worth preparing a drink and snack to have as soon as you can after your session. The ratio of carbohydrate to protein is around 3:1.

Chocolate milk shake is often cited as the best recovery drink!

Heat and Ice - Your training will have created tiny tears in the muscle fibres. Remember that this is a good thing. The way that training works is that you break the body down and it adapts to this training by rebuilding itself stronger. The damage you have done requires inflammation to play a part. Inflammation protects and aids the healing process but there can also be excess inflammation that then stops you from being ready for your next training session. You can help reduce excess inflammation by using ice or cooling down. You can apply ice directly to an area of the body that has become particularly sore or swollen or you could submerge your legs in a river, lake or the sea. If you don’t have the luxury of open water a cold bath or cold water from the shower head running down your legs can be just as effective. Between 10 and 20 minutes is sufficient for this. A word of warning about applying ice: You must make sure that you protect your skin from ice burns so a tea towel or plastic bag between your skin and the ice pack is sensible or you can keep the ice moving. A polystyrene cup with water kept in the freezer makes a great ice massage tool. Once the water has frozen you can peel the top of the polystyrene away and then, using circular movements on the affected area give yourself a 10 minute ice massage, which is enough as this kind of icing gets deeper into the muscle.

Compression clothing - Consider investing in some compression clothing.  Although the research is sketchy there are some who believe that this applies a suitable amount of pressure to a muscle and so increases circulation to it - improved micro-circulation. The extra blood helps fuel your muscles, remove waste products and so enhance your recovery. There are benefits to wearing this during training too. The clothing supports the muscles while you run and so reduces the vibration and muscle damage. You may find that you don't tire as quickly when training in compression clothing.

Sleep - Surely it is obvious that you need sleep to enhance recovery but do you know how much sleep you need? If you are active you need more sleep than your sedentary counterparts. When we sleep we go through four stages: three NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and one REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Perhaps the most important stage for you as a runner is the third NREM stage, as it is in this stage that you are in deep sleep and growth hormones are released. You need these growth hormones to repair yourself and make yourself stronger. Each sleep cycle takes around 90 minutes and the average person benefits from 5 cycles per night. You may benefit from 6 if you are in heavy training, for example, marathon training. Don’t forget it takes the average person around 20 minutes to fall asleep after getting into bed so you have to factor this in too.

Active recovery - A general rule of thumb in training is to follow a hard day with an easy day or recovery day. This could be a day of rest but it can enhance recovery to actually do something active. By raising the heat rate and getting the blood flowing more quickly than normal your body can flush out waste products sooner than it would with complete rest. However, recovery means recovery so your heart rate should stay below 55% of your maximum. Active recovery could be running but it may be better to use a less impactful exercise so that you don’t re- stress muscle fibres that are still not repaired. Cycling, swimming, walking or using the cross trainer all make for good active recovery sessions.

Yoga techniques - Both yoga and pilates can help improve your recovery. The positions used can release tension, increase breathing capacity and switch on muscles that are tired and in danger of not doing their job to stablise your joints. Adding an exercise class to your weekly routine can enhance your recovery from running sessions.

All of the above can help you recover more quickly and effectively but, unless you are a full-time runner, you are unlikely to have time for all of them. Find out what works best for you and then put it into your routine. Whatever you choose it will benefit you in the long term and is much better than doing nothing!

A more complete set of smart tips for Smarter running can be found on this link.