Imagine this: you get to the starting line of a race and suddenly begin to wonder if you did everything you could to make sure you were 100% ready on race day. Athletes, especially those who participate in endurance sports, tend to think that training hard all the time is the way to go and that taking an easy day will hinder rather than improve their overall fitness. However, it is important that all athletes understand the importance of incorporating recovery into their training plans. Being properly recovered can mean the difference of being able to finish a race or not, or shaving off those last few seconds to score a new PR.
I have 7 golden nuggets that are essential components of a successful training plan. All of the athletes who train under me have used these tips to help them maximize their potential. I encourage you to consider adding these tips into your own training plan.
1. Rest and recovery days
When putting together your training program, the most important block of time you should add is a rest and recovery period of at least 24-36 hours. For my athletes and I, Mondays seem to work best as an easy day and off day to reap the benefits of the weekend and to mentally and physically reset for the week. This also gives you the confidence to make Tuesday’s workout, which tends to be a high quality ride and run day. Take away point? Make a recovery day a priority.
2. Dynamic stretches for warm-ups and static stretches for cool downs
If you create a fantastic track workout and plan to do mile repeats, starting with a warm up full of dynamic stretches will make your workout far more effective. Start with a 10-25 minute warm up that consists of 1-3 miles of jogging and 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching. These warm ups will help prevent injury and allow you to recover quicker during and after your workout.
After your track workout, cool down with 10-15 minutes of jogging and 5-10 minutes of static stretches. When I have my athletes begin their cool down, I give them at least 5 minutes of walking followed by 10 minutes of easy jogging. Immediately afterwards, I walk my athletes through some yoga poses and a post stretch routine. Altogether, this cool down helps reduce any post-workout muscle soreness. Remember, the key to successful training is doing whatever it takes to ensure thorough recovery before and after a great workout.
3. Ice baths
Arguably the most dreaded part of the recovery process is soaking your body in an ice bath. It’s incredible how much added pain you can inflict on your body just by adding ice and water together. But at the same time, ice baths have time and time again shown to decrease inflammation and increase recovery, while also rejuvenating your body. I myself dislike ice baths and have found that taking ice cold showers is sometimes a bit more tolerable. The best part about ice baths is you don’t have to sit in a tub of ice or take an ice cold shower to get the benefits. Ice packs such as Moji ice products are specifically designed to help athletes be mobile while receiving the same benefits of sitting in an ice bath. Another product, Cryocup Ice Therapy, can be used to target smaller regions of your body that suffer from tightness or soreness.
4. Elevated Feet
The idea of elevating the feet is a simple and often forgotten remedy when it comes to the recovery process. During my first aid class as a rescue swimmer, I learned that the best way to treat shock or reduce swelling was to raise the feet. This simple action forces the heart to pump more blood to the extremities to help reduce inflammation. The acronym RICE will help you remember the essentials of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation to reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and allow you to train at nearly 100% the next day.
When I RICE, I lie flat on my back with my legs elevated against the wall in a 90-degree angle, forming a L shape with my body. I let my body rest in that position for roughly 10-15 minutes after a hard run or ride. For added benefit, I will generally wear compression socks and have ice packs on my lower limbs. It’s a position that lets my body rest as my heart rate slows, and I always feel refreshed afterward.
I am a frontrunner when it comes to advocating the effectiveness of compression socks and tights. A massage can cost anywhere from $50 – $150 an hour, whereas a single pair of compression socks can be yours for a fraction of the price, with many of the benefits of massage coming along with them. Not only does compression decrease pressure in the veins and blood vessels, but studies also suggest that speed and endurance can be increased as a result of wearing compression socks. Popular compression sock brands are CEP or Zoots or 2XU. My go to sock is usually the Smartwool PhD Graduated Compression Ultra Light Sock.
6. Cross training
My sixth golden nugget for endurance athletes is to incorporate cross training into your workouts. Cross training can be done on an off-day or recovery day, or even after a hard workout as a form of cooling down. The benefits of mixing up your physical workouts include allowing your muscles time to recover, adding some variety to your workouts to prevent boredom, and the thrill of taking on a new form of exercise. That’s right, you can totally think outside of the box when it comes to cross training. Personally, I am a big fan of stand up paddle (SUP) boarding and rock climbing. These activities allow me to work on my core strength and maintain fitness without getting burnt out after a tough training day.
7. Recovery snack or supplement
The last and final golden nugget I offer is to ingest a recovery snack or supplement immediately after a hard workout or race. Pushing nutrients directly into your system after a workout will fill your glycogen stores and reduce the impact of DOMS the next day, not to mention give you a sweet treat to look forward to after a workout. My go-to supplement is First Endurance Ultragen Recovery taken with coconut water, whereas other athletes might pick something like a smoothie, cup of coffee, or even chocolate milk as a recovery snack. Whichever is your preferred treat, definitely add it in when planning out your race nutrition or workout plan for the day.