How to Rebound from Hard Training Days
Everyone knows that improving athletic performance requires putting in the requisite amount of work during training sessions. Yet given the propensity for type-A athletes to pile on as much training as possible in the quest for greater performance gains, the flip side of the training equation can easily be neglected. In short, it is important to remember that the effects of training are not gained during a training session itself but during the recovery periods between sessions.
Given that recovery is an integral part of the training equation, here are seven items that can help speed your recovery from those hard training and racing days.
1. Cool down thoroughly
Your recovery begins the minute you have completed the last work interval during your hard training session. High intensity activity leads to the accumulation of lactic acid in the bloodstream, which can lead to that heavy muscle feeling. The easiest way to begin clearing away blood lactate is to swim, bike or run at an easy pace at the end of your workout. Low level aerobic activity turns that lactate into energy and removes it from the muscles.
2. Active recovery on days off
Although sometimes a day spent lying on the couch and napping is just what the body needs, on many “rest days” the body will benefit from some type of activity. Walks, yoga or other light activity that gets the body moving stimulates the lymph and circulatory systems, which are important to the recovery process. The key is to keep the activity easy. If you choose to get in the water, on the bike, or go for a run on a “rest day,” then limit that session to a short, easy warm up—just enough to raise the body temperature, produce a bit of sweat and get the blood flowing.
3. Take the cold water plunge
Jumping in a cold bath or even taking a cold shower can help reduce muscle soreness following intense exercise. By increasing circulation, cold plunges can speed the removal of toxins associated with muscle damage. Even a plunge of only 30 to 45 seconds can have a benefit. If you don’t have access to a cold mountain stream or an ice bath; then set the faucet to ‘cold’ for the last few minutes of your shower. Especially during the warm summer months, there’s nothing more refreshing than a cold shower after a tough workout.
4. Sports massage
Flush out the muscles with a light sports massage. Deep tissue work has its place in the recovery cycle, but nothing beats a light flush of the muscles so that you can get back to it with fresher legs the next day. Like a cold water plunge, sports massage can help push out the toxins from a hard exercise bout. Even ten minutes on your own with a massage stick can be beneficial.
5. Compression sleeves
By now you should have noticed a theme. Things that aid blood circulation help recovery. Add the new fad of compression sleeves to that list. It is no mystery why the medical field has long been using compression garments with surgery patients before athletes discovered them. Wearing compression socks/sleeves can improve venous return from those hammered calves. While the jury is still out on whether wearing them during training/racing can help performance, they certainly do have positive benefits for aiding recovery between workouts.
One of the body’s reactions to intense exercise is inflammation. Reducing inflammation is therefore an important part of the recovery process. Essential fatty acids help to decrease the body’s inflammation response, and should be an important part of the athlete’s daily diet. In particular, the omega-3 fatty acid is often underrepresented in typical diets. Cold water fish (e.g. tuna, salmon) and flax seeds/oil are excellent sources of omega-3.
7. Pineapple juice
Yet another food item that has anti-inflammatory properties is pineapple—specifically, the enzyme bromelain that is found in pineapple. Instead of reaching for a soda, try a glass of cold pineapple juice instead. It also provides a nice dose of carbohydrates to help replenish depleted glycogen stores in the muscles.
Remember, fitness gains occur during recovery. A proper recovery allows your body a chance to adapt from a hard training session, and will ensure that it is ready to get the most out of the next one.
This article also appeared in the Colorado Triathlete.