Recovery and why it is so important
Most runners will work to a weekly training structure and be clear what the focus of each session is, but when it comes to an understanding on how we ensure we have good recovery strategies, this can often be where all the hard work is undone.
Recovery is key to allow our bodies to adapt to the training stimulus. Our fitness gains happen when we are recovering from a training session…not during it. But how do we know if we are fully recovered and what else should we be doing to ensure our body is replenished and raring to go on the next run?
Keeping alert to signs of overtraining and poor recovery is a good starting place. Some of the main warning signs of poor recovery are:
- Lack of progression: Despite increasing the quality and/or quantity of your training, your progression slows or reverses.
- Injuries and illness: Consistently getting injuries or persistent niggles that don’t clear or keep reappearing. Frequent upper respiratory illnesses.
- Mood swings and sensitivity: Finding you are regularly irritable and moody.
- Loss of motivation: Simply no longer enjoying your training, seeing running as a ‘chore’ and fearing your hard sessions as well as a loss of focus and determination in sessions and races.
- Weight loss or gain: Overtraining increases the likelihood of rapid and hard-to-explain weight fluctuations.
- Tiredness: Constant, or periods of extreme tiredness. A decreased ability to achieve a deep sleep phase, often indicated by an increase in movement during sleep is another sign.
So if you are regularly experiencing a number of these warning signs its time to review your recovery strategies and make some changes to both your training and wider lifestyle.
Increasingly we understand more about the power of sleep and how essential quality sleep is to our bodies’ ability to recover and our wider mental and physical health.
Anabolichormones are released during your deep sleep cycles and there’s a direct link between athletes not getting regular quality sleep and increased risk of poor recovery and declining performances.
The Polar Vantage and many other GPS devices offers the ability to track sleep . Its easy to believe you are getting 7 or 8 hours good quality sleep every night but sleep tracking can indicate much more about what is happening during the night. The data feedback will show how much of the sleep was fragmented and how low your heart rate was during rest. Frequently having nights of fragmented sleep with a higher resting heart rate is an indicator that your body is not fully recovering and leaving you tired and lethargic the next day/
Banishing phones, tablets, laptops and TVs from the bedroom, and avoiding caffeine, sugar and alcohol late at night can increase the level of continuous sleep and significantly reduce your heart rate during sleep.
Monitoring your resting heart rate upon waking in the morning can also be a key indicator of your overall health and recovery. Some GPS devices offer continuous heart rate monitoring. To measure your resting heart rate:
- Wear your watch. Lie down on your back and relax.
- After about 1 minute, start a training session on your watch. Choose any sport profile, for example ‘other indoor’.
- Lie still and breathe calmly for 3–5 minutes. Don’t look at your training data during the measuring.
- Stop the training session on your device. Sync the wearable with the app or web service and check the training summary for the value of your lowest heart rate (HR min)—this is your resting heart rate. Update your resting heart rate to your physical settings.
Similarly changes in heart rate levels during easy runs and threshold sessions can also indicate something is amiss in your recovery strategies and training. Tracking heart rate and reviewing your training sessions through polar flow is a great way of monitoring for any significant changes.
By monitoring your resting and training heart rate on a regular basis you can build a baseline and notice any increase in the rate, which might indicate you are becoming unwell, over training or not fully recovering from sessions.
Nutrition and Hydration
Paying attention to what you eat after a training session or a race is vital in staving off muscle soreness and improving your performance and aiding recovery.
The recovery period begins as soon as you session ends as in this key window of up to an hour muscle cells are more permeable to glucose and all the right hormones and enzymes are active in order to reenergize you muscle. Your body needs essential nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process after a hard training session.
Look to combine protein and carbohydrate in this recovery window. Protein in particular helps the absorption of carbohydrate and muscle- tissue repair – basically repairs your muscles more quickly!
We now have more understanding about muscle load and fatigue and now we can monitor power output through the Polar Vantage range of watches. Mixing up our usual training week when we feel tired or sore with a swim or bike ride can be a great way of helping our muscles and body recover but maintaining our baseline cardiovascular fitness. Leave the trainers in the cupboard and jump on the bike and you can still replicate the threshold session, easy or long run but give your soft tissues that extra day or recovery.
Whilst a full day of no running can often be the best option, active recovery runs can help with clearing legs of fatigue and waste products after a harder session.
But one of the most common mistakes runners make is with their easy and recovery runs. Too often these are run at a steady effort and serve little benefit in recovery and are more likely to reduce the quality of the next hard session. By running to heart rate during these runs and keeping in zone 2 on your HR display, you can ensure the run is actually aiding the recovery process and not just draining the tank.
Race Fatigue and Periodisation
Having a packed diary of forthcoming races keeps us focused and motivated as runners. But it does come with a constant mental pressure of seeking improved times and performances. After a period of time every training run being dedicated towards the next event, the basic joy of running can become lost. Ensure your race calendar and training periods allow regular lighter / lower volume weeks and have times through the year when you can just go for a run with no pressure or particular focus. Taking a few weeks out after a big event can help reset the body and mind and fall in love with running again.
Sports Massage and Self-Maintenance
As runners we ask so much of our bodies and especially our soft tissues. Sports massage should play a part in your monthly plans to ensure your muscles and tendons remain supple and clear of waste products and fatigue. Regular foam rolling and post training stretching are also key.
If we want to progress as runners then we need to take recovery as seriously as we do the actual training runs and races. The development of GPS sports watches has given us access to so much useful data feedback about our training, but the development of heart rate, power and sleep tracking offers equally vital information to monitor our recovery. By listening to your body and keeping a check on some of these key metrics we can feel fresher and ready to hit the next session hard!