Most of us have been there – you just set a big, exciting goal and you are ready to put in the work to achieve it. You start getting into your training plan and you can already see some progress, so you think to yourself, “If I do MORE, then I’ll see even BETTER results.” Maybe you start sneaking in an extra run on your rest day or start running easy days at a pace that is not so easy.
You tell yourself that this extra work is going to translate to better results, but will it?
The answer is: probably not. The truth is that rest and recovery are just as critical to your performance as the actual workouts and training runs. While plans vary widely depending on the individual and their goals, they are all built on the same general philosophy. Training works through stressing the body, allowing it to recover, then stressing it again. Repeated over and over, this leads to improvements in fitness and performance. If you remove the recovery part of that formula, you never allow your body to recuperate and absorb the hard work you put in, making it unlikely that you will see the desired progress in performance.
Failing to take the recovery portion of training seriously can result in overtraining. Your body will send you many signs to warn you of this, often more than one at a time. Some of those signs are:
Mental burnout (lack of motivation)
Reduced energy, constant fatigue
Noticeably elevated resting heart rate
Inability to recover from workouts, consistent soreness
A halt in progress in fitness and performance
What leads to overtraining could be different for each person. The amount and type of rest needed will vary by individual and by what stage in training they are in. For example, your body may not handle a certain workload in the first month of a training block but give it another month and that workload may be appropriate, due to the adaptations and progress made along the way. Because of this, it is critical to listen to what your body is telling you and be honest with yourself and your coach about how you are feeling.
Proper rest and recovery do not look the same for everyone, either. While the exact details of what is effective will differ by person, there are key factors that all runners should address in some capacity:
Active recovery days
Foam rolling, percussive massage devices, compression boots, and other recovery tools
Massage, physiotherapy treatments, or other professionals as needed
For some, the day after a hard run may need to be a complete rest day to allow for the body to recover properly. For others, it could be a form of active recovery – an easy walk or run, yoga session, swim, or spin on a bike, for example. Some studies have shown that lactate is cleared faster during active recovery than complete rest. The critical thing to consider is that, for active recovery to be effective, it must be characterized by extremely low intensity/effort for relatively short amounts of time.
Other often overlooked areas of recovery that are extremely important are the importance of nutrition, hydration, and sleep. After a training session, it is essential to eat something within 30 minutes to replenish glycogen stores and help minimize damage to muscles. It is vital that what you eat is high in carbohydrates, with a smaller amount of protein. Be sure to rehydrate immediately as well to aid in your body’s recovery. Also, never underestimate the power of getting enough sleep. Your body undergoes many physiological changes and adaptations during sleep. Without enough sleep, your body cannot repair muscle damage that results from the stress of training, which will negatively affect performance and progress over time.
When you think about that big, exciting goal of yours now, hopefully you aren’t just thinking of all those runs in your training plan, but also about how you are going to take recovery just as seriously. Trust me, when you recognize the importance of recovery and focus on it as much as the rest of your training, great things will happen. So, go ahead, embrace those rest days. Your body, and performance, will thank you.
Written by Coach Laura Henderson