As much training as your body can endure, it can also and surely needs a lot of rest. For years the theory of more is always more was used by most athletes and while that does lead to fast improvement in the early stages of your career it may also and often does lead to severe states of fatigue and/or injury. In a sport where consistency usually pays its dues, athletes must find the right balance of volume and intensity that their body can tolerate without “breaking”.
Each training session you endure is an aggression to the body. The harder you go, usually the deeper the muscular and physiological damage it produces. But to every action you take, you have a counter action and your body reacts to those training aggressions by becoming stronger. However, there’s a limit to where the body reacts this way and once you “hit it” too many times, the counter reaction of your body may turn into a defensive one and instead of becoming stronger it retracts and curls into a state of defense, not allowing you to becoming faster. This is why more and more coaches have adopted the one hard/one easy day approach. Once you are strong enough, you can insert some back to back days without your body entering defensive mode but very rarely you should endure more than two days of hard sessions in a row. Punishing your body will not only create central nervous fatigue as will drop you into a hole of demotivation and frustration if results don’t show up.
While it’s your coach’s job to develop, guide and schedule training, there are a few tricks you can use to optimise your off time of training. This is where more professional athletes also have the edge over amateur athletes since pro’s have the time and patience to actually give attention to all this techniques and applying them, reducing the recovery needed from and between hard sessions.
Hydration: You sweat a lot more than you realize. Water is a key element to flush the toxins produced in training and by doing so improving recovery. Very often your hydration in training is deficient and you end the session having lost 5-10% of what you had before. Drinking lots of fluids during the rest of the day and paying attention to match that with electrolytes replacement is a huge step to get all your organ functions back to normal.
Massage: Also important to flush out the toxins and lactic acid produced in training, remove muscular knots and bring fibers back to their proper state. You will not only be stretching your muscles and removing tightness you will also be preventing injuries.
Ice baths: It’s not a myth that filling up your bath tub with ice cold water and soaking your legs in it will improve recovery. About 8-10 minutes is enough to reduce inflammation produced during training as the cold will work as a magnet to stimulate the blood flow.
Recovery drink: After training it’s been proven that your body doesn’t need that much protein to recover and about 12-15g of it to rebuild muscle is enough. However, it will need carbohydrates that are fast absorbed to replenish your glycogen reserves after getting them depleted during training. For that reason, a drink that has both protein and carbohydrates has been mostly adopted by athletes instead of the pure, simple and just whey protein drinks that were used a few years ago or are frequent among body builders. The best time to take this drink is up to 30min post-training session, called the “training window”, and you should allow and give time for the body to absorb the content of the drink before a heavier meal or ingesting any fiber or fat. Chocolate milk has been adopted by most as the on-the-go recovery drink as it does fit this profile.
Sleep: If there’s anything that maximizes your time recovering then it is sleep. Have your recovery drink and hit the sack. Sleep activates the production of natural human growth hormones and it is probably the fastest way to get over any training session. Obviously not all have time to do so after training so ensuring you get at least 8 hours of sleep per day at the right time will do the trick for most.
Compression: Compression works. Yes, it has become a fashion item on your warp rope but the fact is that it does help flushing out toxins and the blood flow. What it does is compressing the more superficial blood cells and pushing the blood towards the heart, optimizing oxygen transport to the muscles and back. Either it’s a pair of compression socks or time spend inside compression sleeves/boots, it’s a technique used by all nowadays and proven to actually work.
Stretching: I left stretching for last on purpose because there are many apologists of stretching and as many disbelievers. Personally, I feel like you should lightly stretch before and after workouts but you don’t want to be become super flexible on the lower body. Stretching before a workout will help you prepare and lightly warm up your soft tissue to the aggression it will be momentarily facing and may prevent injuries. Stretching after the workouts will remove some tightness, or muscle compression, and relieve some post-workout soreness. However for running, I’m one of the believers that if you are too flexible, your body will not be as efficient or “bouncy” on the ground. Running is a lot about being fast on the ground, bounce back fast like a basketball. Being too flexible reduces that action. Besides, it’s not uncommon to find people over stretching and actually producing more damage to the muscle than any potential benefit that stretching may offer.
Above all be aware that the harder you train, the harder you should rest. If you have been enduring weeks in a row of high volume and intense workouts, it’s always a great time to insert a full day or afternoon of zero training. On the recovery days, make sure you are actually recovering, not jumping into a crossfit session or playing soccer with your friends! ■
Words + Photos by: Pedro Gomes