Quick Guide: Run Recovery
Updated: May 15
Congratulations! You just crushed your run! Now what?
How many of us out there finish up a run and just feel absolutely gassed? Like the only thing we want to do is go home and sit on the couch and "recover". Sadly - sitting on our butts does NOT count as proper recovery.
So what is proper recovery and why is it important?
"Recovery" is such a broad term, but in this instance we are talking about helping to maintain mobility throughout our body post-run, eliminate inflammatory chemicals such as lactic acid (to help limit the amount of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness AKA: DOMS), facilitate the adaptations that are trying to occur post-run, and give us our best chance to be ready for our next physical activity.
Let's try to simplify this even further by breaking our Quick Guide down into pieces:
1| Cool Down
2| Mobility Maintenance
1| Cool Down
The "Cool Down" is nothing new. It has been preached in strength and conditioning classes for what feels like ever - and yet, it is rarely done. My guess - based on my experience as an athlete - is because people over complicate it and they don't explain WHY. I am totally a "why" person. You can tell me to do something, but unless you can explain to me why I need to do it, I'm not going to really put much effort into it. Understanding is key to learning. Learning is key to building habits.
So here is the WHY:
A cool down provides our body with a chance to even out the nervous system - bring us out of the "fight or flight" state and into the parasympathetic. This helps to reduce things like the chance of dizziness after exercise. If you flip the switch to quickly, the body goes from pumping blood like a beast to the legs, to a slow resting pump. Blood can then pool in the legs, which reduces the amount getting to your head = dizziness. It also helps to bring our breathing and heart rates back down to a resting level, our body temperature a chance to drop, and the muscles to return to their resting tension. It also gives our muscles a chance to pump out some of the chemicals that lead to increased DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) - the main culprit: lactic acid.
What about the HOW?
This isn't ground breaking - a short walk afterwards (5 minutes) and some stretching will go a long way. We'll get into stretching in the next section.
2| Mobility Maintenance
Lets start with breaking down running a bit - what are the major muscle groups that we use when running?
1| The Glutes
2| The Hip Flexors
3| The Quads
4| The Hamstrings
5| The Calves (Gastrocnemius AND Soleus to be precise)
Depending on what type of running you do - which of these are used more will vary, but they are still our major players.
These are going to be the muscle groups that we want to make sure get some TLC after our run. We do that with some stretching and/or rolling.
KEYS TO STRETCHING:
Do not "blast through the tightness" a gentle pull is what you're after (if you push it you will over-stretch which causes muscles to tense instead of relax = counter-productive)
Hold for 20-40s each
3 reps it optimal, but something is always better than nothing
It should always feel good (if there's pain stop and see a professional)
This video below rocks through a couple of easy stretches that target each of these muscle groups.
KEYS TO FOAM ROLLING:
Don't overdo it - you should be able to breathe easily (if you're holding your breath you need to reduce the pressure)
Try to maintain comfortable pressure on the targeted spots (the tender spots) for 30-90s
The next video shows how to foam roll the muscles above
You obviously want to spend more time on each area than I do, but I figured you didn't actually want to watch me roll for 10 minutes ;)
WATER. This really should be one of the easiest recovery tools for us to employ, and yet I constantly find myself having to nag athletes about being properly hydrated. So lets dive into the WHY and see if I can help you understand why water is such an important part of recovery.
When we exercise - we sweat (some of use more than others *insert hand raise emoji here*) to help our bodies cool down.
Sweating means a loss of water. But why does that matter?
The basics idea is this:
Less water = blood becomes more viscous (thicker) = heart has to work harder to pump.
If our heart has to work harder, it's not recovering. It's also making it a lot more difficult for our cardiovascular system (heart + blood vessels) to get rid of the inflammatory chemicals that build up in our muscles during a run, resulting in more DOMS.
So make sure to sip on some water/sports drink while you are doing your cool down to aid in the recovery process.
The two main food groups we want to re-fuel with right after a race are:
The proteins are used to build and repair the muscle damage that occurs when we run. The carbohydrates are used to replenish our bodies energy (glycogen) stores that we just depleted throughout our run.
An easy way to get both is to grab some low-fat chocolate milk - carbs + proteins = winning!
(I also love hummus and pretzels!)
Try to get this post-race snack in about 30 minutes after your race, even if you don't feel like eating much. Some of us (yup - this is me) aren't blessed with a natural appetite after a good run, so it becomes a habit that we have to try to build. It takes time to develop it, but it's worth it for a speedier recovery.
So there you have it! Some quick tips and tricks to help you recover after your next race!
If you have any questions, or if there is something we touched on that you'd like to know more about, shoot me a message!
Happy Racing and Happy Recovering! :)