Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Why do I need to recover after a workout? What should I do to recover? How often should I take a recovery day from running?
These are a few common questions I get from athletes about rest and recovery work. We're constantly told that rest and recovery is important but we're hardly ever told why it's important. Sure we've all heard something basic like... Your body can't go 100% everyday or it will help you to avoid injury but where's the science? Where's the cold hard facts? What does it all really mean?
Okay Team, we're going to get a little 9th grade science-y over here so buckle up!
As athletes we have a shared goal. It is simple. It is to improve our athletic ability. We do this by having a progressive training plan that is specific to our sport or race. A good training plan increases overtime to continuously raise our baseline level of athleticism.
Soooo how do we know if we've achieved a higher baseline? Well hold on now! First we have to understand that our bodies are always trying to be in a state of equilibrium through homeostasis. Stress is put on our body and our body works to adapt to it. We raise our baseline by systematically manipulating stresses on the body, aka working out. The adaptive response to these stresses is known as supercompensation.
First we apply a stimulus to the body, simply, we do a workout! Exercising breaks down the body and we're actually less fit right after an intense workout than we were just before. Immediately after a workout our body begins to recover. If we apply the right amount of stress and allow our body to optimally recover after a workout we then accomplish supercompensation and our athletic baseline raises. We know that we have enhanced our baseline when we can recover faster from the same stimulus.
Now keep in mind that this is a very basic example and refers to the smallest level of a periodization cycle. We use this same theory to train athletes to peak at specific times during the year for say a conference track meet.
Recovery needed can vary a LOT. It depends on the workout or phase of your training cycle. Recovery can take only a few hours, a day, a couple days or even multiple weeks!
If you're not allowing/helping your body to optimally recover you won't reach the phase of supercompensation which can result in long term fatigue or injury and you'll very likely reach a peak at the wrong time or not at all.
Okay info overload! I know what a lot of you must be thinking...
Gah Coach this is way more detail that I was expecting! I'm not a college athlete so how do I know when I should be recovering? For how long? And what should I do to recover? And how do I know it's working? Gahh!! I have more questions than before!
Every body is going to react differently to the same exercise stimulus. Therefore everyone is going to be a little different when it comes to recovery.
Here are a few general rules of thumb for how/when to work on recovery:
◊You should be eating within an hour window post workout to optimize your body's ability to recover quickly.
◊You should take a recovery day at the very least once a week.
◊It takes the body on average 6-8 weeks to see an increase in athleticism therefore, if you're following a rigorous training plan you should take a recovery week about every 2 months.
◊Your food/water intake pre and post workout and hours of restful sleep you get is vital to your recovery.
◊If you're feeling fatigued and heavy when you run or workout for more than 2 days it's probably time for a recovery day.
◊If you feel every step of your run in your bones when you normally don't it's time for a recovery day or two.
◊Walking is a form of recovery. So are naps.
I know I know... I just told you take a whole week to recovery at least every 6 weeks. Some of y'all's head's almost exploded.
Yes team! I want you to take an entire week to work on recovery! What I don't want you to do is sit on the couch binge eating and watching Netflix documentaries about becoming a vegan. That is NOT recovery.
Recovery is movement! What you should do is some cross training (no this isn't strength training. Common misconception.). Cross training is alternative cardio such as riding a bike, swimming, doing a light 20 minute jog on the grass, or doing an easy bodyweight cardio circuit for 20 minutes. You should also take recovery time to work on your mobility or take a yoga class.
That is what recovery looks like team.
For a little more help here is a recovery video I created for Team Delta that focuses on the hips. This is something that can be done on a weekly basis after 20-30 minutes of light cardio or walking. Check it out!
So did I answer all your burning questions about recovery and why it's important? I sure hope so! If not let me know by sending me a message through my website or on Instagram! - @SoFit_Sonya -
Team as always, I am your coach and here to help you be the best athlete you can be. Don't forget it! Thanks for reading!
Train Like An Athlete