Performance Tips: Reaping the Rewards of Rest and Recovery

by CJ Hitz May 07, 2020 4 min read

Athletic rock climber hanging on under a rock outcrop.

Rest and Recovery Tips

If there’s one area that seems to be underestimated in the world of endurance sports, rest and recovery are near the top of the list. We live in a world where instant gratification is the norm. We don’t mind working hard but we better see the results in a hurry. Who has time for recovery anyway?

When my wife was a practicing Physical Therapist, she had a supervisor who was notorious for being constantly on the go with little down time. He was known to average less than 4 hours of sleep each night. When others would question the effectiveness of that practice, he would often say, “I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead.”

Religions around the world have practiced the concept of Sabbath rest for thousands of years. Having a weekly rest from work is a healthy and rejuvenating practice in order to function at our very best.

Missing Puzzle Pieces

Athletes of all types and levels should also see rest and recovery as the final pieces to the training puzzle. For those who may have forgotten, we break our bodies down during our hard workouts and races.

It’s during the recovery period when all the magic happens. While we rest, our bodies properly adapt to the training stimulus in order to have the ability to go farther and faster in the next hard session.

Push too hard too soon without proper recovery and our bodies let us know loud and clear. Symptoms like fatigue, lingering soreness, lack of motivation, and even going backwards in our training are powerful reminders that rest and recovery are key ingredients in our training recipe.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way on more than one occasion. With spring and summer races being canceled or postponed, Strava has become my competitive outlet of choice.

For those unfamiliar with this app, not only can you record your various activities like running, biking, and swimming but you can also explore “segments” in the area where you live. Segments can be short or long distances and anyone can attempt the course record (CR). When you achieve the record, you’re rewarded with a crown as “king” or “queen” of that segment.

For those of us who are ultra-competitive, going after these segment crowns can be downright addictive. We reason, “It won’t do any harm to grab this short segment even though I went hard yesterday.” And so begins the quest to take more and more “real estate.” Like little Napoleons, we seek to extend our rule and reign in the Strava world.

But there’s always a price to pay for this quick turnaround where rest and recovery have been removed from the equation. At the very least, those of us who have played this game on a regular basis begin feeling worn down and broken. At the worst, we become injured and forced to rest whether we like it or not.

A Few Tips for Proper Rest and Recovery

Here are a few ways to maximize all of that hard earned training…

  • Prioritize Sleep – All kinds of wonderful things happen when we get at least eight hours of sleep each night including the release of our own natural growth hormones. The deeper sleep we can get, the more recovered and less sore we’ll feel in the days immediately after hard workouts.
  • Refuel Your Body– Our bodies have an optimal window of 30 minutes for taking in calories and using them to rebuild the good damage we inflict through training. Whether it’s a delicious smoothie or an energy bar, it’s a good idea to consume something in the 200-400 calorie range within 30 minutes post workout. I like to tell the runners I coach that the most important part of tomorrow’s run is what you do in the 30 minutes after today’s run. Give your body some quality rebuilding material in order to help facilitate adequate recovery.
  • Space Out Hard Workouts – It’s always a good idea to follow hard workouts with a couple easy effort days. Younger athletes will certainly recover faster than those of us who find ourselves in the “masters” category (40 and older). I find that my body seems to absorb two harder efforts each week. Much more than that and I begin getting some of those warning symptoms mentioned earlier. World class Kenyan distance runners are known to go super hard on hard days and really easy on easy days. They understand the value of rest as well as anyone.
  • Take Complete Rest Days – Some people are afraid to take complete days off, thinking they’ll get fat or lose fitness. The truth is that our bodies will many times tell us when we need a true day of rest. As we get better at tuning in and listening to our bodies, we’ll find ourselves even more energized when it’s time to go hard. Multiple time Olympic medal winner Bernard Lagat is known to take one complete day off each week in order to fully recover.
  • Schedule Lower Volume Weeks – Just as many athletes find one complete day off to be helpful, some athletes will schedule lighter weeks throughout the training cycle. For example, a runner might gradually increase mileage volume for three weeks in a row before backing off for a low volume week. Another athlete might maintain higher volume for six weeks before cutting their volume in half for a seventh week of rest. Most athletes will find their bodies feeling fresher and more vibrant after coming off these lower volume weeks.

If we’ll see rest and recovery as a gift to our bodies rather than something to be dreaded, we’ll find ourselves full of energy and reaping the rewards that follow.

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