Recovery for Runners
Without allowing for adequate recovery periods, runners are at significant risk of falling into the cumulative injury cycle – sometimes to the point where it entirely takes them away from what they love to do.
This commonly happens as a result of overtraining and muscle compensation without including in a balanced fitness program. For example, many runners tend to move only in the sagittal plane (forward and backward), as opposed to the frontal (side to side) and transverse (multi-directional or rotational).
So their propensity for muscle imbalances is particularly high.
There are many aspects of training that you can’t control, but recovery isn’t one of them. In fact, out of all the other aspects listed, this is the most important.
In order to perform optimally, it’s necessary to rest and recover between runs. Though this brings up a good side point, since rest and recovery are two different ideas. Rest is a period when you’re not training, including when you sleep.
It should technically be 95% of your day, with only 5% reserved for training. However, it is still important to use your rest time productively.
Recovery, on the other hand, is when you use specific techniques to prepare your body to rejuvenate and rebuild between training sessions. In addition to sleep and nutrition, rest, self-myofascial release, massage, cryotherapy, among many others are vital to the training
process, right along with taking care of your body for the long term and can help break the cumulative injury cycle very common in runners.
By maximizing these recovery components, a runner can go from good runs to great runs and feel better faster between them.
Obviously, this takes mindful effort and planning. But the performance gains are well worth it.
By taking the time to focus on the first three components of recovery especially (i.e., sleep, nutrition and hydration), it will decrease recovery times between workouts, lower injury risks and increase output ability.
If you feel like your discomfort and/or swelling after a run is consistently significant enough that you tend to ice or heat it every time, you should get it properly evaluated to identify the root cause. And, for the record, if you’ve been seeing an “amazing” practitioner for the past 20 years for the same thing:
1. He/she is not amazing
2. You clearly haven’t gotten to the root of the problem.
Heat and ice are superficial modalities and should be administered as needed – if at all.
Heat can provide a therapeutic effect and bring blood flow to the localized area, as in the case of sore muscles. Ice, meanwhile, can narrow blood vessels and decrease blood flow. So it can decrease acute swelling and temporarily decrease pain. Yet the first stage of healing is inflammation, and it’s important to manage it, not negate it.
Lastly, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) runners too commonly take to avoid or limit pain are not a recovery aide. If this is a moderate concern, then try a cold shower to thermoregulate the nervous system. This will decrease your sensitivity and improve your tolerance to other discomforts.
Again though, if that concern is more than moderate or lasts over a notable period of time, go see a specialist. Don’t take risks with your running future.
Mobility work is very important in order for runners to move well and move often, pain-free. With that goal in mind, identify tight areas, often found in the feet, hamstrings and calf muscles, as well as in the hip.
Focus especially on the tightest areas, and dedicate some time every day to self-myofascial release (discussed in detail in Section II), Active Isolated Stretching and mobility exercises. Active Isolated Stretching holds for no longer than two seconds allowing the target muscles to optimally lengthen and achieve a state of relaxation.29 However, try to vary your stretches. Getting started requires minimal effort and can simply start with five minutes of mobility work a day while you’re watching TV.
Just make sure it is, indeed, mobility work. Although static stretching for 15-60 seconds can improve flexibility short-term, the results don’t last much longer than that. A literature review of over 4,500 acute static stretching studies showed that there was no decrease in muscle performance with short duration (<30 seconds) stretches, but there are negative effects with 60-second stretches for pre-performance.30 So, if you choose to incorporate static stretching, do so after training and not before. Self-myofascial release, Active Isolated Stretching and active mobility exercises such as Functional Range Conditioning or Controlled Articular Rotations are some of the most effective means of improving mobility.31 If something continues to be tight for an extended period of time, it’s extremely important not to ignore it or think you can “just work through it.” For example, you might be someone who has never been able to touch their toes even though you’ve been stretching your hamstrings for years. This is a classic movement dysfunction that no amount of hamstring stretches are going to fix. You have to give the body stability and/or strength from somewhere else. In this case, it’s probably the core and glutes. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]