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How to Recover Quickly from Endurance Exercise

To get the most out of every workout and get your best results, it is imperative not only to work hard, but to recover. Many triathletes are Type A, overachievers. They have the “work hard” principle down, but often overlook the basic training principle of recovery in their training programs. As a result, many are overtrained from an accumulation of workout and life stresses paired with insufficient recovery. This can further lead to overuse or burnout, which can be detrimental to health. Simply, recovery can be described as the adaptations to workloads after training or competition. For a healthy, functioning athlete, recovery is a positive response to training stimuli leading to adaptation to those stressors.
To reach your full potential as an athlete, you need to be able to train hard, but also be able to train smart, which can be a delicate balance. Hard work alone will not produce the desired results. The benefits of recovery will increase an athlete’s ability to tolerate more work as well as their capacity to work more efficiently. This, in effect, promotes better adaptation to training. Therefore, recovery can be the athlete’s “secret weapon”. If an athlete can train harder and longer and adapt to the workloads, he or she will become faster.
Recovery is more than merely taking a day off from training or sleeping, although it may involve these. It entails giving the body everything it requires to adapt to the preceding workouts. The following are some methods to incorporate into your training schedule to help with your recovery.
Passive rest
Sleep is the most important form of passive rest. Teaching athletes the importance of getting to bed on time can be a big obstacle. A full night’s sleep of eight to nine hours each night provides for adaptation time to the physical and emotional stressors they experience during the day. Most importantly, our circadian rhythm indicates that physical repair mostly takes place between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. From 2:00 a.m. until we awaken, more psychogenic (mental) repair takes place. So, if you get to bed after 10:00 p.m., you are missing out on your physical repair cycle. Likewise, a disrupted sleep cycle can result in adrenal fatigue, which can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, viral infections, bacterial and fungal infections, and headaches. Avoiding any stimulants, including caffeine, bright lights, TV, or computer use a few hours before bed can help with this disrupted sleep. Likewise, short afternoon naps can also increase recovery.
Active rest
Active rest is much undervalued by athletes, as a light workout can sometimes support recovery more than a day completely off. Active recovery sessions need to increase circulation and activate certain endocrine responses, but easy enough to avoid more recovery. Work intensities should be very light. Active rest days should be done alone and on easy terrain to prevent any competition between training partners or extra effort required on tough terrain. Cross training activities can be included as a form of active recovery. Aquajogging is an excellent alternative to running for active recovery. Stretching or yoga can be useful methods of active recovery as they center on musculoskeletal recovery. Active recovery may also focus on psychological recovery with the use of visualization, breathing exercises, or meditation. Lastly, at least one day every 7-10 days should be a non-training day to allow time for physical and psychological recovery.
Nutrition plays an integral role in training and recovery. Proper nutrition and hydration replacement requires thought and planning. A body weight loss of 2% during exercise due to fluid loss causes physiological changes including a reduction in aerobic output. Monitoring urine output and sweat rates by weighing pre and post training can help in minimizing fluid loss. Athletes should drink 16 fluid oz. of water for every pound lost during a workout.
Sufficient amounts of glycogen in the muscles and liver are needed to support the energy requirements of an athlete. It will also further recovery for the next training session. A meal within a 20 minute window after each workout should be consumed to ensure optimal glycogen replacement and to help rebuild damaged tissues. This meal should include both protein and carbohydrate in a 1:4 ratio. The 20 minute time period after a workout should be employed in order to replenish muscle fuel stores at a faster rate than by delaying carbohydrate replacements. Including protein in this meal and throughout the day helps to facilitate training adaptation and recovery. The amino acids supplied by protein aids the muscles and connective tissues to rebuild from workouts.
Sports massage can accelerate and facilitate recovery. It has two major physiological benefits-increasing blood flow, which, in turn, increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tired muscles and aids in the removal of metabolic by-products such as lactic acid; and flexibility due to the warming and stretching of soft tissues. Massage offers psychological benefits as well. These include feeling more relaxed and less fatigued. There are several self-massage techniques which can be learned and included to enhance recovery. For instance, muscles can be massaged by using a tennis ball, foam roller, or other specific massage tools.
Hydrotherapies/ice baths
Water therapies are much underused and underrated recovery protocols. Showers, spas, baths, and saunas are ideal locations in which to stretch and perform self-massage. One method that can be employed while showering is to alternate hot and cold water every 30 seconds to one minute a few times through. Doing this will increase blood flow and speed the removal of lactic acid. It can also be performed by alternating between a warm spa and a cold shower. This method of lactate removal is similar to the recovery of lactic acid through light aerobic activities.
Although it can be unpleasant at first, using an ice bath or going into a cold lake or ocean after a hard workout can be an effective recovery modality. Getting into an ice bath for five to 10 minutes causes your blood vessels to tighten and drains the blood out of your legs. This helps in the treatment of subacute injuries, inflammation, muscular strains, or muscular soreness. Ice baths are great for repairing microscopic damage that may not be apparent and numbing the pain that is noticeable. Thus, an ice bath is a great preventative regimen as all muscles and connective tissues from hips to toes will gain the equal benefits. To best gain these results, the temperature should range from 54-60º F.
Psychological/stress recovery
Everyone has certain life stressors that can take a toll on them. By recognizing and taking the steps to minimize these stressors, better recovery can occur. All athletes can profit from utilizing psychological exercises to control emotions and mood states, reduce stress, and improve motivation. Part of recovery is being able to see the connection between physical and mental conditions as psychological stress has very real physiological manifestations and may inhibit recovery. For instance, this connection can be observed when muscle relaxation is linked with lowered heart rate and blood pressure and improved mood states. An athlete can employ a number of stress reducers and relaxation methods such as meditation, progression muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, tai chi, music, and other techniques. These methods can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, slow down breathing rates, relax muscles, and have a calming effect.
Compression Socks
Compression Socks (or tights) increase blood flow, stimulate circulation and reduces muscle fatigue. They permit blood to circulate more efficiently without hindering return through the heart and lungs. With a quicker distribution of oxygenated blood to the legs and feet, there is decreased muscle fatigue. Many athletes are using these after hard workouts and races. Just slip them on and wear at anytime, including sleeping in them.
Using Recovery Techniques in Training
Just like any other training, recovery should be part of a well-designed workout plan. In addition, an athlete needs to self-monitor themselves by keeping a workout log and being in tune with their bodies. At certain training phases, recovery will be more of a necessity as training loads or intensities increase. Likewise, after a race season, it is a good idea to recover from everything a season can entail-travel, racing, waking up early, and etc.
Using recovery methods as a part of your training will put you on the road for your best results and help you enjoy your sport longer.