It’s a simple equation. Fitness = stress + recovery. Pay too much attention to one side of the equation and you’ll come up with question marks as to why you are not improving or feeling faster, stronger, fitter as an endurance or multisport athlete. Recovery is as, or more important that the quality, type, frequency and duration of the training you undertake each week.
Our quality of training is governed by our recovery ability between sessions, within training phases and at the end of a triathlon season. On a daily level we need recovery between sessions if we expect to train on into high quality sessions and sustain consistency. Consistency is the single biggest factor in progression and performance improvement. Getting injured or ill as an athlete effectively puts you into a holding pattern or slow decline in fitness, until recovery is complete. By fully understanding your individual recovery limiters and optimising factors you can influence, you can aim to stay on the recovered side of the progressive training line, ultimately continuing to improve by executing your quality sessions at prescribed intensities and maintain stamina and mental focus on your endurance sessions.
Types of recovery in training:
Rest days – 24-48 hours of training rest. Use the time to organise your training logistics, arrange a sports massage, have equipment repairs or maintenance done, organise your nutrition for the week, make meals or energy snacks in advance, research event courses and enjoy keeping some balance in your social and family life. As a coach we give you full permission NOT to feel guilty having a day or two without swimming, cycling or running!
A lower intensity or technique focused session can be used effectively within a training week and cycle, to allow for adaptation while retaining movement patterning and neurological recruitment if the following session demands it. Often useful as a precursor to sprint, high intensity / short duration interval and technical hill type training.
Recovery weeks – 5-7 days within a training phase (3-6 weeks) to allow for compensation and consolidation, particularly if there is a significant ‘upping’ a level in the next training phase. If the athlete sticks to the progression and hasn’t over reached in the previous weeks of building or maintaining a solid level of training stress, this is usually a very welcome week indeed. Also a good opportunity to recover and be all full strength prior to performance testing, allowing the athlete to tick over on a lower intensity regime before a significant set of sessions designed to measure progress, are given. Extremely helpful for female athletes to time with their monthly hormonal cycle when they recognise achieving high quality training may be unrealistic for certain days or a week each month. The athlete’s training phases can be easily designed around this to allow training quality to be maximised.
Recovery post race – first 24 hours
Elevate legs above the heart – legs up a wall or tree are effective ways to send blood flow back to the body for processing. Also great to do after high intensity sessions. 5-10 minutes in the eve before you sleep is highly effective.
Iced bath 8-12 minutes. Allows legs to feel light, reduces inflammation, DOMS and pain. Easy to do if in a hotel. Immerse up to hips so legs are submerged, wear a warm top to retain core temperature and take a cup of tea, a friend, something to read to pass the time! The hardest part is the first 10-20 seconds. Once you are in, you will become used to it pretty quickly. Move legs about a little after 3-5 mins.
Alternatively stand up to your thighs or hips in cold water, in the sea or water’s edge if an option post race for 10-20 minutes. Mobilise gently by moving about.
Ensure your protein and carb intake straight after your event is of high quality to allow the body to absorb nutrients that help recovery processes at a cellular level more readily. The 30 minute window after your event is a crucial time to refuel and hydrate.
A 20-30 minute walk is effective to lightly mobilise tight muscles and a stiff body, promoting circulation and recovery. If you do feel like stretching yourself out, 10-20 minutes after your walk is advisable, rather than on a non-warmed up body.
Recovery post race – 3-5 days
Light training for up to an hour, prioritising sessions that allow you to ‘check in’ with how your muscles and energy systems are operating such as Yoga, Pilates, stretching, S&C, aqua running, walking or spinning on the bike, on the small chain ring/ super easy.
Have a sports massage and allow a light moving of the soft tissue, muscles and attachments to enhance the body’s circulation and movement of toxins to speed along the cellular repair process.
Continue a focus on high quality, high nutrient value foods. Include fresh juices such as beetroot and carrot with citrus fruit or apples and fresh ginger and / or turmeric. This will provide a super charged boost of nutrients in your daily food intake. Take in good sources of protein 2-3 x per day for muscular repair, with non processed carbohydrates such as sweet potato and root vegetables for high nutrient value. IT will take up to 48 hours for your body to fully replenish glycogen in the liver after a high intensity or long duration workout, which explains why you feel shattered!
Ultimately we want to achieve the most effective line of improvement and progress for each individual, and avoid the ‘smash and burn’ effect. This is where being chronically under-recovered, injured, ill delivers low quality training and adaptation. Usually follows with a situation of the athlete feeling pressure to catch up and stack all the missed training together in a compact time window, predictably creating the same overload factors again. Swinging from one extreme to another is a massive limiter on progress. Staying within the planned progression, maximising recovery and making good use of your rest days are learnings we can take from pro athletes. Smart athletes know their recovery and rest is in many ways more important than the training, where you allow the body and energy systems to adapt and become stronger, fitter and faster for endurance and multi sport events.
Being on top of your recovery will also do you a massive favour leading into races to have the confidence that your body and engine will respond to the demands of the event. You’ll be in a position to ‘lift your game’ and leverage reserves of performance you may not have achieved before. This = PB’s and performance improvement, ongoing both within the season and from year to year as you continue finding speed, strength and endurance.
Enjoy resting and try out some new recovery protocols. See what works well for you. Recovery is as important as your training sessions to allow you to rebuild, get stronger from the training effect and replenish your glycogen stores, which leads to speed endurance gains.